06 January 2008

Thoughts on Extempore (Extemporaneous) Worship

I hope fellow Methoblogger, Richard Hall, of Connexions won't be embarrassed if I say that he presided at a very fine extempore (that's 'extemporaneous' if you're American) service of communion at the Methodist Bloggers' Meet.

Richard commented at the time that he used to like written liturgy but that he's grown into an appreciation of Methodism's tradition of extempore praying.

I joked during the 24 hours that all of us were together at the bloggers' meet about how I miss my Lutheran liturgical background. This experience of liturgy was fuelled by participating in post Vatican II Roman Catholic liturgy where I saw the fixed form and shape of the written liturgy expressed in a very 'local' way that was meaningful to the congregation. I guess I learned then that written liturgy can be done 'freely' and 'meaningfuly' and that added a whole new dimension to something that I already loved.

Although I have oodles less experience in Methodism and as a minister than Richard, I too am beginning to appreciate the extempore tradition. And, in my opinion, anyone who had participated in the 'bloggers' communion' on Saturday could not have failed to apprecaiate the riches of this tradition.

What's my sometimes gripe with the extempore tradition? I've often seen it done badly. Badly in a way that suggests that someone in back in 1850 didn't quite understand the shape of worship and they started some bad practice and this bad practice has been passed down for four or five generations. Prayers that didn't know whether they were confessions or intercessions or thanksgivings which sometimes resulted in lots of confession and prayers of intercession for ill people in the congregation and not much else. Prayers that don't reflect the entirety of salvation history but which are very locally focussed (totally inappropriate for a 'great prayer of thanksgiving' before communion, for example).

What we had yesterday wasn't anything like that and I've seen other good examples of extempore worship in my time as well as the bad examples. Extempore worship can be wonderful when the worship leader(s) understand the shape and function of different aspects of the liturgy. I'll get to Richard's stage with a lot more practice; there are a few elements of the liturgy I could do extempore now - probably most of the prayers outside of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving - but I reckon that extempore liturgy takes a lot of experience as well as knowledge. I'm definitely not confident enough to do an extempore sermon yet! (I heard a story the other day of a very experienced minister who forgot the entire service at home and had to do the whole thing extempore. Yikes!)


Richard Hall said...

That's very kind of you Pam. I was thinking of writing something about our times of prayer together over the 24 hrs. Without wanting to sound too pious, I thought they were the best bits. (The other bits were good, of course!)

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the communion service. I wish I had been there. The prayer times were quite meaningful (like Richard, I hope that doesn't make me sound pious, either!). Anyway, I wonder what people often mean by extempore (extemporaneous) prayer. In many of my conversations, people can use it equivalent to 'spontaneous' prayer, which of course can be dangerous (e.g., what one hears in many prayers where they repeat 'father' or 'just' every other word). Whereas extempore can be spontaneous or written prayer, but is different because it is appropriate to the congregation and the situation.

PamBG said...

I also found our prayer times quite meaningful. To me, that's all part of the meeting up as physical people which I think is really, really important.

Christians and others can sometimes be so idea-bound that I think we fail to truly appreciate the meaning of being the physical presence of other people.

I did mean 'spontaneous' prayer by 'extempore'. Sorry.