Cheryl and I worshipped at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church this morning. It is the church that has hosted her for her stay here in New York. There were many things to appreciate about the service, but I missed being at New Covenant. I am more at home in Pentecostal worship. It seems appropriate however to honor our hosts by highlighting the strengths I saw in their worship.
First, Scripture was highlighted. As with most mainline and liturgical churches, there were readings from the Old Testament (I Kings 21: 1-21a, Psalm 5), the Epistles (Galatians 2: 15-21), and the Gospels (Luke 7: 36 – 8:3). It should be noted that each of the readings represented an entire periscope. That is, enough text was read to provide the full context and meaning. I was impressed with the reverence and feeling each reader brought to the various passages. They were not theatric in style but rather reverential and expressive, giving the impression the Scriptures are both sacred and accessible.
Second, sound doctrine was sung and expressed. Four hymns were sung in their entirety. Each was instructive in sound theology (at least from a Presbyterian perspective). Although there was a choir, the congregation sang these hymns and thereby expressed their faith. The liturgy also included a “Summary of the Law” or pastoral recitation of Jesus’ statement concerning the two greatest commandments; my impression is that this is a regular part of their worship. The Nicene Creed was recited (also done weekly) as was the Lord’s Prayer (“debts” reading not “transgressions”).
Third, the service was peppered with prayer. Different members of the clergy led in a variety of prayers: Confession of Sin, Prayer for Illumination (before the Scripture readings), Prayer of Dedication (tithes and offerings), Communion Prayer, Intercessions, Prayer of Consecration, The Lord’s Prayer, and Closing Prayer. The congregation also sang a few responsive refrains of prayer interspersed throughout the service.
Fourth, there was shared leadership of the service. Granted, it was dominated by the clergy and soon-to-be clergy, but there was a real sense of shared oversight (very Presbyterian of them). This was seen in a smooth flow from one pastoral staff member to another and their working together in the prayers of intercession and the Eucharistic prayers. The laity assisted with the distribution of the elements.
Finally, although the Lord ’s Table was a little too much like a Catholic Mass for me, I appreciated the reverence and breadth of the ceremony. I also appreciated that it was woven into the larger service. Some of the choral responses and the prayers of intercession were included in this portion of the service which was labeled “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” This section actually comprised about one half of the entire service.
In sum, the Gospel was preached, Christ was honored, doctrine was emphasized, the church was instructed and edified, and the death, resurrection and return of Christ were remembered. It is good and pleasing that all God’s people gather weekly for these purposes.
New York, NY
June 13, 2010