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01
Nov

The joy of corporate worship

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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Long will I remember the week in 1997 that I spent in Faverges, a beautiful town in Haute-Savoie in the Rhône-Alpes region in Southeastern France.

I was attending a conference on baptism where contemporary liturgical scholars were to reflect on what systematic theologians and biblical scholars from different Christian World Communions had written on the subject. These liturgical scholars focused on baptism as practiced by various church communions and how such practices may help in bringing about a convergence in our understanding of the meaning of baptism.

Among the liturgical scholars meeting in Faverges were Gordon Lathrop from the United States, Janet Scott from New Zealand, Jaci Maraschin from Brazil, Merja Merras from Finland and Paul Sheppy. It was Paul - a Baptist scholar from the United Kingdom - who first introduced me to the website associated with the South Yarra Community Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia.

I anticipated worshipping with the South Yarra Church when I made my first visit to Melbourne, where I was attending the 18th Baptist World Congress in 2000. I abandoned the plan after my trek to a number of libraries in Melbourne searching for the celebrated book, Diakonia: Reinterpreting the Ancient Sources, written by respected Australian biblical scholar John Collins, ended in failure. I thought I might simply concentrate on enjoying the hectic congress program. Would another South Yarra opportunity present itself in the near future?

Over a number of years, I visited the website -  www.laughingbird.net - and was introduced to Nathan Nettleton. As a busy pastor who was committed to attempting to carefully craft materials for weekly worship where I served, I found Nathan's website particularly helpful. This was the case especially on major occasions in the church's life - seasons like Advent, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost - when, year after year, one needed help in crafting creative liturgies that would stimulate the imaginative powers of worshippers. On the printed Order of Service was the oft-recorded notation, "Source: Nathan Nettleton (Australia)" and I kept hoping for an opportunity to visit and worship with the Christians at South Yarra.

On the morning of Sunday, October 14, while on a visit with Baptists of Victoria who were celebrating the 150th anniversary of Baptist work in their state, I preached twice at the NewHope Baptist Church which is served by an outstanding preacher, Alan Demond, one of the featured speakers at the   20th Baptist World Congress in Hawaii in 2010. The approach to worship at NewHope is decidedly contemporary and the church enjoys the services of a gifted team of worship leaders and musicians.

Worshippers at NewHope should expect to share in warm fellowship in a church that has a rich array of ministry opportunities for growth in Christ, fellowship with fellow worshippers, and service to the community. NewHope models an admissible multiculturalism with its membership drawn from 56 countries all worshipping together as a family without segregation into ethnically defined congregations. My experience of worship at NewHope was rich and meaningful.

In the afternoon of October 14, it was time for me to worship with the South Yarra Church - at their invitation! And what a memorable experience it was for me to share firsthand in the rich liturgical life of the church. I was struck by the creative and very meaningful worship space and was inspired by the intelligent use of religious art. Corporate worship featured a high degree of enthusiastic participation by members of the congregation - young and old. It included ample readings from the Bible, songs from around the world, with some created by the pastor of the church and set to music by Australian composers. I delivered the sermon based on the readings appointed for the day and found the time in corporate worship at South Yarra thoroughly nourishing.

One potentially beneficial feature of Baptist worship is the variety of styles of worship and of music that one may encounter. When these styles reflect careful worship planning and are mediated by thoughtful and suitably gifted and trained worship leaders, they are a wonderful source of the admissible diversity that can enrich people who gather for worship.

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Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.

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