The Nashville Convention Center was the setting for a religious ceremony that illustrates one of the continuing challenges of historic Protestant churches, which is to recite the church’s “master story” in succinct and believable language.
The occasion was the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on July 9, 2011. Included in the celebration was a montage of familiar church music, liturgical dance, and a sermon dramatic enough that even children closed their books to listen.
The conclusion to this liturgy was the service of Holy Communion, which takes the form of a meal ceremony with bread and grape juice. At the heart of this ceremony, leaders of the assembly and congregants recited a prayer that proclaims the basic story of Jesus and affirms the central meaning of that story for all who participate.
The challenge for many churches is to tell that story so that it is faithful to the tradition and believable by people in our time. The most widespread way to be sure that the story is remembered properly is always to use approved texts for the prayer. Many of these published prayers, however, are worded in ways that worshipers in our time find theologically or culturally difficult. In order to get around this problem, many churches change the language and abridge the prayer. Unfortunately, the result is that the central story virtually disappears. This problem is especially prevalent in Disciples congregations where ordinary practice is for this prayer to be extemporaneous, short, and widely ranging in theme.
At the Nashville Convention Center, however, a better response to the challenge was presented: the communion prayer was proclaimed in a form that is full enough that the master story was proclaimed effectively. It was worded in ways that bypass some of the problems that have been so troublesome to serious Christians in these churches. It incorporates short musical elements sung by congregants so that the prayer become more than a statement by an elder or minister. Rather, it becomes the proclamation of the gospel by the entire congregation of worshipers gathered to remember Jesus.
Because this prayer is such a good example of this liturgical text, it is worth careful study by pastors and church leaders interested in the vitality and effectiveness of churches in our time. Since this prayer was developed for use on a special occasion, congregations would need to make modest revisions in order to use it in regular Sunday worship. Many congregations would discover that their worship was strengthened in a very good way. To read the text, click on 2011GAGreat Thanksgiving.