I am a low church kind of girl. I supposed if you look at a spectrum of high church to low church, we aren’t as low as you can go, but we are close.
The Churches of Christ are doggedly democratic in leadership. We really believe that every person in a congregation should be given an equal invitation to participate in leading our Sunday worship services. Prayers, communion meditations, even song-leading and preaching in some instances are done by a whole range of people, some of whom show no particular suitability for their assigned task other than the desire to participate. Thus, Churches of Christ around the world are led every Sunday by a rag-tag group of men. (Therein lies the catch, of course. We are not as committed to inclusivity as we’d like to think we are. We have a whole host of biases that lead us to value certain members over others, the most obvious of these being gender. But I digress… )
Another one of our low church commitments is to extemporaneous prayers. Prayers are not read. In fact, few are even composed by the pray-er ahead of time. Generally prayers are composed and prayed on the spot. There may be a prayer list in the bulletin that is read during an intercessory prayer, but generally there is no template. So the idea of liturgy is completely foreign to us.
Now I should add, most churches do use a liturgy in their services, they just don’t realize it or call it that. We often talk about the “two songs and a prayer” pattern in churches, and the words “guide, guard and direct us” were never canonized as an official prayer ending, but in certain circles they are as predictable as “and also with you” would be in other denominations.
In some ways I believe this low church tradition has served me well. There is something so beautiful and so true about being invited to speak to God straight from the depths of your heart. I’m grateful that I was introduced long ago to a God who really wanted to hear from me.
But I have a problem. I have found that I personally have trouble sustaining a prayer life made of extemporaneous prayers. I want to pray. I was to pray often. But I grow weary of hearing my own words. And often, I just don’t have the wherewithal to compose.
I know I’m supposed to speak to God like I’m speaking to a friend. I know. But sometimes I start to feel like I’m just talking to myself. Or my mind wanders off and before I know it I’m not even praying any more. And sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, I long to approach the king of the universe with beautiful words. The way you should speak to a king.
So I dabble in liturgy. I use it a little here and there when I lead the church in worship. But I use it more personally. The phrase I have found most helpful recently is this. “Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.” This is a very common phrase included in the prayers of my high church brothers and sisters. I love to say it, and I love to pray it. Because when I am asking God for help – for healing, for protection, for rescue – I am appealing to the mercy of God. The phrase helps me to remember that God is merciful and hears my prayers.
Indeed, God’s mercies are new every morning. Hallelujah.