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Ruth A. Meyers

Ruth A. Meyers

The rules of our Five Questions interview series are simple: we send authors a long list of questions. Some are serious; some are . . . not so serious. They choose their five favorites and respond.

Our guest today is Ruth A. Meyers, who is dean of academic affairs and  Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California. An active participant in many liturgical circles, Myers has served as chair of the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music since 2009, and she is the author of the recently-released Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission: Gathering as God’s People, Going Out in God’s Name.

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What led you to write Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission? Put another way: What’s the story behind the book?

I became a scholar and teacher of worship because I’m intrigued by the connection between the way people worship and what they believe. So I started studying congregations — worshiping with them and asking members about their worship. What did worship mean for them? How did worship affect their daily lives? What excited or inspired them?

Through my work with the innovative clergy I taught in a Doctor of Ministry program, I became interested in the missional movement in contemporary churches. Rather than viewing mission as a program of the church, a mission-shaped church understands mission as a way of life — the way Christians participate in God’s outpouring of love for the whole world. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church says that the church participates in mission “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” Mission, the prayer book says, includes both worship and Christian service in the world.

So I began to ask how worship celebrates and enacts mission, and how worship relates to mission in the world outside worship. In the book, I explore this question, drawing on my experiences of worship in different communities.

Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission

Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission

What makes Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission such a unique contribution to the field?

The book introduces two models for the relation of worship and mission: a spinning top and a Möbius strip. In workshops and classes on missional worship, I’ve asked students to make a Möbius strip (Chapter 1 includes these directions). Having a tangible model has helped students imagine a dynamic connection between worship and mission. The spinning top on the cover of the book offers a visual depiction that I hope will also inspire people’s imaginations.

In the book, I propose that missional worship isn’t a matter of particular techniques but rather an approach to worship and to all of congregational life that places God’s mission at the center. Having memorable models invites people to think creatively about a missional approach to worship.

What’s the best advice you can offer to pastors and worship leaders seeking to embrace a missional approach to worship?

Look outside your doors. See who is in your neighborhood and ponder how God is at work in your context. Ask how your worship can more fully express the needs and hopes of your community and how your congregation can respond to the needs in your neighborhood.

In chapter 9 of the book, I introduce a worship matrix as a tool for preparing missional worship. Take one part of that matrix — perhaps the gathering with which worship begins or the way you arrange and use your worship space. Consider how that aspect of your worship can more fully express God’s love for the world and draw the assembly into deeper communion with the triune God. Experiment a bit — try one new thing in worship and see what happens.

Most importantly, pray and study the Bible, listening for the still, small voice of God and opening your eyes to the ways God is already at work in your assembly for worship and in your neighborhood.

What are you reading right now for work? What are you reading right now that has absolutely nothing to do with your work?

For work: Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland? edited by Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, which revisits a series of consultations on worship and culture held by the Lutheran World Federation during the 1990s. The Nairobi Statement, one outcome of these consultations, proposes that Christian worship relates dynamically to culture in several different ways, and I draw upon this statement in my book.

For work, indirectly: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, who tells the story of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to northern cities during the twentieth century. This history becomes concrete as she narrates the journeys of three people who were part of this migration. These stories help me understand more deeply the issues facing the US as people throughout the country protest the killing of black men by police.

Nothing to do with work: I love murder mysteries. I just finished Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman. Next up: A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming.

What are you doing when you’re not writing, reading, teaching, or answering questions for EerdWord?

​Swimming laps, taking a ballet class, or cooking. In the summer I’ll be camping and hiking with my husband.

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Click to order Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission.

Debbie Head

Debbie Head

Debbie Head works in the marketing department at Eerdmans and handles many things Web-related. When playing Two Truths and a Lie, she declares her love for snorkeling, confesses her weakness for Indian food, and pretends she can sleep in until noon.

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday. Today, thousands of volunteers around the United States will take a “day on, not a day off” to serve their neighborhood and nation in memory of the great civil rights leader who dreamed of a better society. This service is a fitting response to the incredible legacy left by Martin Luther King Jr.

When I visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit for the first time last summer, I was reminded of just how long and difficult the African American struggle for freedom and justice in the United States has been, and how I have benefited from it. The exhibit’s opening film documented much of this painful history including the abysmal journey from African to American soil and the formative changes that shaped them into a new and distinct people.

As an American who was raised in postcolonial Africa and has since lived there as an adult, I have wrestled with my identity when living in cultures that were not my own. I have also listened to young African friends wrestle with theirs as urban, westernized Africans. And so, I was struck by the film’s portrayal of the deep, personal loss experienced by the people who arrived in the slave ships—they lost the freedom to retain who they were. As I watched the film, I sensed the magnitude of that crisis in a new way and felt a greater level of respect for their accomplishment as a people. Together, they created and held on to a new cultural identity, and their struggle through the civil rights movement to secure equal dignity and justice for that identity secured my freedom to value and hold on to my own.

The Beatitudes

The Beatitudes

So much more than the freedom to be ourselves and to be friends with those who differ from us came from the hard work and service of people who lived before Dr. King. He followed in their footsteps with his sacrificial dedication to bring liberty and justice for all.

Who else, then, should we remember and honor through service today? Who else gave their lives for the dream that Dr. King expressed? Carol Boston Weatherford and Tim Ladwig’s beautiful children’s book, The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights, illustrates the Sermon on the Mount with images of some of those heroes whom we should also remember alongside Dr. King today.

Richard Allen

Richard Allen organized the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black denomination.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman led countless slaves out of bondage.

The U.S. Colored Troops gave their lives in the Civil War.

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman college.
Rosa Parks made a public statement.
Ruby Bridges Ruby Bridges had the courage to be the change.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned freedom and justice in America.

These men and women gave more than a day of service for freedom and justice. They gave up their comfort, their security, their energy — even, sometimes, their lives — for a cause that still needs to be served.

As an average citizen, I have often wondered how I can ever contribute to a cause as grand as that of “freedom and justice.” I am not a civil rights activist or a lawyer. I am not a dynamic speaker or a famous author. I may never start a college or lead a demonstration. In fact, I probably never will.

Over time, I have come to realize that I can only play a part in any cause, and that although my role may be small, that’s okay — as long as I play it. So, today, I can tell you about this little book that teaches children about justice, care, beauty, and the long, courageous struggle for racial equality in America. Tomorrow, I can give people who are different from me the freedom to be themselves. I can even be their friend. And every day thereafter I can live with less so that I have more left over to share with those who play their own role. In any case, I am daily given the opportunity to shoulder my God-given responsibility to serve.

Martin Luther King Jr. and many others served in memorable ways. Hopefully you and I will follow their example. My own goal is not to let myself become discouraged when I fail or my efforts appear insignificant (or I feel complacent), but each day to make the small choices to serve that together could add up to a lifetime of service. Perhaps today is a day for you to remember your goals as well and to renew your commitment to serve as one of the thousands across the United States.

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