About the Liturgical Service

"Early Church"--the 8:30am liturgical worship service at the La Sierra University Church--came to life on Sabbath, January 22, 1994. It was started by a group of church members who felt a need for a more quiet, meditative worship experience but did not want to ask the pastoral staff to prepare another, entirely different kind of service. The liturgical service is a contem­po­rary Seventh-day Adventist expression of the rich tradition of historic Christian worship. Its focus is Scrip­ture, thought­­fully heard and prayerfully received. Its style is parti­c­i­­pa­tory, involv­ing the congregation throughout the ser­vice. Its spirit is contemplative, including struc­tured periods of silence for re­flection and prayer.

Each week’s worship service is an ordered unity. The homily and the hymns are integrated with the readings from the Bible, which follow a pattern to which many Christians around the world also adhere. The offering is not an adjunct to the service, designed simply to raise money: it is an expression of our gratitude and openness to God. Every aspect of the service is structured to contribute in a coherent way to our spiritual pilgrimages. At various times we have included baptisms, baby dedications, a memorial service, and (recently) an annual All Saints' Day remembrance of persons who have died.

The Scripture readings for each Sabbath are selected according to the Revised Common Lec­tion­­ary, a widely used schedule of texts for Christian worship. Over the course of three years, the read­­­ings rep­re­sent the whole range of Scripture. At the same time, each year we recognize the tradi­tional Christian seasons, reflecting the life and mission of Jesus: his birth as the incarnation of God, his suffering and death as the supreme revelation of the character of God, and his resurrec­tion as the confirmation of his identity as God’s unique son.

In our service the homily, a brief meditation on one or more of the Scripture readings for the day, is important but not dominant. Like other participants in the service, our homilists include pastors of the church, members of the con­gre­­gation, university faculty and staff, and occasional guests.

The group remains small (35-60 people), but seems to be an important part of the spiritual lives of those who attend.

Learning takes time. Making a vision our own takes time. That’s why we use many of the same readings nd prayers week after week. As a work in progress, the service will continue to be refined. But we hope onsistently to place each week’s scripture readings and paraphrases, hymns, and homily in context—in he context of God’s ongoing work in nature, in history, and in our own lives. Repeating “the old, old tory” in the increasingly familiar words of this service can enable us to internalize it, to own it.

Making the service structured and predictable helps us avoid getting bogged down in the details of performance. We need not worry about being surprised by unexpected developments that may distract us from our central focus—God’s grace in God’s world, and so in our own lives. Knowing the form of worship intimately, we are able meditatively to reflect on what really matters instead of concentrating on the mechanics of our activities as worshippers.

Worship is a verb. We worship because of what God does and who God is. So each of us has a part in this iturgy. We respond to the readings, sing the hymns, and join in the prayers because worship is not a spectator sport. By doing, instead of merely listening passively, we enter more fully than we otherwise could nto the experience of engaging with God on Sabbath.