The Ordo

The Center of Liturgical Reform

Toward the establishment of the 
Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship

A July 2004 expansion of material presented to a meeting in Seattle, WA, July 5, 2003. 
Arlo D. Duba


In the last half of the twentieth century we have experienced a remarkable convergence of liturgical thinking within Western Christianity. As we enter this third millennium we find that we have more in common across denominational lines than we do within any one of our denominations. The potential in the recovery of vital worship for congregations, and for the church at large, bears promise for the renewal of the whole church. The renewal of the worship of God and the implementation of the insights of liturgical change are an important factor in the renewal of the Christian church and the enlivening of the Christian life. But the results of this liturgical change are often slow to be realized in the local congregation.

The Need for Liturgical Contributions from the Reformed Tradition

In this context the question is raised regarding any distinct contributions that the Reformed tradition can make to this renewal. Liturgical renewal has not been clearly in evidence in a majority of the congregations belonging to the Reformed family. However, even a cursory reading of history reveals that there has been a strong liturgical current in the Reformed stream of the church.
The Reformed tradition harks back to John Calvin and other reformers basically located in Switzerland. That effort sought to reform the church, including its worship, according to Scripture and practices of the early church. Through the centuries various groups have been formed to mine the treasures of that tradition for the good of the worship of the church, often within discreet denominational entities. In the years since the turn of the millennium a group of people has suggested that the Reformed tradition has contributions that need to be made to the ecumenical convergence of Christian renewal, particularly as these are expressed in the area of Christian worship. At the same time, this group expressed the need for a vehicle that could bind together people of similar background and of like mind, and that would facilitate the reception of liturgical change within local congregations of the Reformed family.
Although there were a number of antecedent conversations, the Seattle University Summer Institute for Liturgy and Worship in July of 2002 provided the nexus for discussion and preparation. This Institute is held on the Jesuit campus, with a Lutheran Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Theological Studies and with Gláucia Vasconcelos-Wilkey, a Presbyterian who is the Director of Ecumenical Liturgical life in the School of Theology and Ministry of Seattle University. She is also the Director of the Summer Institute. In the rich ecumenical mix of that event, voices were heard that began a process bearing promise.
A key contribution to that discussion was a proposal that had been written in February of 2002 by Harold M. Daniels, the editor of the Book of Common Worship (1993) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and shared with several of the persons present at that Institute. The proposal outlined a vision of a group that would promote the Book of Common Worship in the PCUSA. He envisioned a group that would repristinate worship associations that had formed for the support and renewal of worship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Harold expressed a primary concern for a group that would provide advocacy for liturgical reform and mutual support for its members.
The discussion that ensued during that institute, building on that ecumenical context, led to the decision that such a group must be broader than the Presbyterian family. Again and again the word ordo was used. Together with our ecumenical colleagues we acknowledged that we were searching for the deepest meaning of our worship life. The ordo carries connotations far beyond the simple ordering of worship. The word had been appearing in discussion and in liturgical theological books for some time, and we realized that it may well provide the key to understanding the reform of liturgical life as well as the reform of the church.

A Focus On the Ordo

The ordo plumbs the deepest meaning of the liturgical tradition and of the worshipful life. It includes the ordering of public worship and the verbal expression of prayer and praise. It also encompasses sacramental practice, both in the context of public and private prayer and it carries a burden for addressing justice issues in the world. It also includes such factors as the liturgical arts, ritual, and ceremonial. Ordo represents the total ordering of the Christian life as it expresses itself in the assembly and as it leads to and flows from that assembly. It comprehends both the liturgy and “the liturgy after the liturgy.”
This reaching for an inclusive conception for worship is not new. Some in the past have suggested that the word “liturgy” itself could be so used, referring to the total work of the people, both in the assembly and in life. Some have advocated that we should take our cue from the German word Gottesdienst, the service of God. The word “service” is understood to refer to the service of worship and the service by the servants in the world. It has been pointed out that the very word “worship” has always meant the articulation of worth in the assembly and the expression of that worth in the living of our lives. But the use of these words carries connotations that make their use ill advised.
The word, ordo shares some of the same problems, but it has by now a long history that goes far beyond the mere ordering of words and rubrics. It connotes a center in the ordering of the worship of the assembly. It expresses the relationship of that center to worshipful living and it stresses the sending from the assembly for works of mercy and justice that are the fruit of sacramental living. It then returns toward the assembly, again through worshipful living until it arrives at the center of the assembly with the bath, the word and the meal. It includes the personal and the social. Such worship of the assembly is both the source and the summit of the Christian life and of the church.
Discussions at the Seattle Institute in July of 2002 led to the formation of a task force that would seek to determine feasibility. Fritz West, a minister in the United Church of Christ who had done a worship survey in that denomination and who serves as a pastor in Wisconsin, was enthusiastic. Contact was made with the Disciples of Christ, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church and the United Church of Canada. Fritz worked diligently on this project, bringing his connections with folks in the United Church of Christ. Keith Watkins, retired professor from Christian Theological Seminary of the Disciples of Christ expressed enthusiasm and came on board, and Melva Costen, chairperson of the task force that produced The Presbyterian Hymnal and a faculty member at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta was added to the task force on an association of Christian worship. The members of the task force that worked on revising the proposal and its several revisions included David Batchelder, Melva Costen, Arlo Duba, Dennis Hughes, Keith Watkins, Gláucia Vasconcelos-Wilkey, and Fritz West.1 The Proposal went through a number of revisions (these are indicated on revision notes at its end) until it was recast by Fritz West on May 5, 2003 and mailed and emailed to some five hundred persons. From that effort a preliminary mailing list was developed.

Who Will Benefit

At the Seattle meeting we asked questions regarding our audience. Who would benefit from such an association? Our answers included:


Musicians: Musicians have derived tremendous benefit from the Revised Common Lectionary in planning weekly worship. However, musicians who seek a position need a way of knowing in advance of a congregation’s commitment to consistent liturgy, at least based on the lectionary, but hopefully based on a full-orbed understanding of the ordo which is more than words.
Pastoral & Professional Leaders: We particularly recognize the need for camaraderie of ordained ministers who could support and encourage one another. We need a network of persons, at least across the Reformed tradition, committed to liturgical renewal. It would be of great value to have a roster of such people.
People Adept at Liturgy (“Adepts”: lay folk, lay pastors, artists, worship committee members, etc.): Many of us know of folks who have had training in liturgy, who know the multiple dimensions of preparing liturgies, who have experienced liturgy at some point and who long for a liturgical venue. When a congregation moves backward liturgically, these “adepts” are left high and dry.
Congregations: Congregations are often the victims in the “worship wars.” There is a need to cultivate worship renewal, and to educate congregations as to the importance of consistent liturgical leadership. How can we get congregations to stress the importance they place on liturgical leadership in their announcements of pastoral searches? Far too often churches of the Reformed tradition give the pastor virtually full control of the worship of the congregation and thus, liturgical training and a liturgical culture (with its incarnational result in justice) can be disregarded and changed by the next pastor who is called.
Denominational Structures: There is a need for an advocacy voice which can speak from a broad base of membership in highlighting the worship needs and desirable liturgical expression among the representatives of each of the above categories, and for the desirability of giving worship high priority and visibility in the church at large.


It is most important that we find a way of linking all of these members of our audience. We need an organization that is a network of persons and congregations committed to the reform and renewal of the worship of Protestant congregations in North America, especially those in the Reformed family of denominations. We need to link pastors with congregations, congregations with musicians, “adepts” with each other, and all of these with the respective worship offices of our denominations.
Several in the group were members of the North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL), an ecumenical society of liturgical scholars. However, we did not want this new association to be tilted toward the academic community as is NAAL, but some from NAAL knew of students who are presently serving in churches who would be interested in this new association. Again and again the need was emphasized for a grassroots movement of people involved in the liturgical life of congregations. We then went to various denominational sources, the musician groups in the denominations. We inquired of pastors known to us, asking them for those whom they thought would be interested in liturgical renewal. To a large extent it was a word-of-mouth effort. We are continuing in that effort, recognizing that we need to continue reaching persons who potentially comprise our constituency. One of our primary tasks is the development of an extensive contact list.
Where will the boundaries be? Will we build a fence around the “Reformed” group? How will we deal with those with whom several of the Reformed denominations have “formulas of agreement”? Our decision was that we would focus on the contributions and developments particularly with those whose lineage is indebted in some degree to the Swiss Reformation, but with openness to any who find themselves in tune with the principles that we would set out to formulate. Certainly no one would be excluded. The group will be invitational and welcoming of those who share the vision and the passion for liturgical renewal and the renewal of the church.
Through our mailing we received responses from United Methodists, Episcopalians, Mennonites, Lutherans, and several Roman Catholics who were enthusiastic about our effort and who are interested in following developments in such a group of Reformed folk. Some were quite convinced that what is needed is a broadly ecumenical, omnibus association of Christian liturgical persons, congregations and entities. Some suggested a generic emphasis on liturgical renewal.
Our decision was that this broader direction not only would be a daunting but perhaps an impossible venture. Furthermore, such groups are already in existence. We sensed that there is a niche within the Reformed family that is a fertile ground for involvement. It was agreed that the group that was forming has something to contribute to the ecumenical mix, but that a broad ecumenical representation should be welcome. The Reformed tradition has some unique contributions to make to the ecumenical convergence. We are convinced that as we actually worship together, old lines of theological division tend to disappear, whether within our denominations, or among denominations.

The Concept – with Two Foci

As our proposal was developed and as we wrote draft after draft, we found that we were building on two foundational principles. The first, as we have seen, deals with theology and ordo, with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is the first couplet. The second deals with the “liturgy after the liturgy,” the response of Christians to the culture, in the vocabulary of which their liturgy is expressed, in relationship with the multiple cultures of the Christian church, and over against the inimical cultural impingements of cultural expressions that are in conflict with the liturgy and the liturgical life. This second couplet is expressed in the Liturgical Calendar as the sanctification of time, and of daily prayer as the discipline of daily scriptural reflection, commitment, and of vocation in the larger community and in the world.

Ordo and the Assembly

The ordo carries in its bosom the core of Christian theology. We chose three theological words from the center of the Christian tradition that have been highlighted throughout Reformed history. We believe these to be basic to the ecumenical liturgical renewal that we envision. Such worship will be Christological, Trinitarian and sacramental.
  • We believe that the liturgical books that all of our denominations have developed in the last thirty years affirm these things.
  • We believe that these three adjectives describe the ecumenical convergence in worship among all our major denominational families.
  • We believe that these reflect the historic and creedal period of the church.
  • We believe that this is responsive to what the Spirit is saying to the churches today.
  • We believe that this holds the key to the renewal of the church, its rebirth.
  • And we believe that common worship can do more to unify the church as the body of Christ than anything else.
We are stressing that worship must be shaped by a full-orbed understanding of the ordo, beginning with the bath, the word, the meal, the personal appropriation and the sending out into the world. This ordo extends into the home, into the workplace, into works of compassion and into the halls of justice. Such worship will be incarnational, taking on flesh in daily life. Such worship will be in the name and Spirit of Jesus Christ, built on the gospel records, affirming and citing the total work of salvation brought through Christ’s obedient life, saving death, glorious resurrection and his constant intercession for all the saints and for the world. The worship of which we speak will be in the name of the triune God, the great and awesome mystery who is beyond our comprehension but whom we experience when we remain “in remembrance” of Christ. And it will be sacramental, incarnating in a material way the message of the gospel, both in the gathered assembly, and in the scattered church as Christians seek to respond to the gospel by enacting the gospel in love, grace, and justice.
My first encounter with the word ordo was in conversation with Alexander Schmemann and in his writing. I had the good fortune to have had him as a guest lecturer in the worship classes that I taught, and I served with him and two other persons as presenters at an Eastern Seaboard Student Christian Movement conference on the subject of worship. Schmemann’s For the Life of the World had been recently published by the National Student Christian Federation, and was required reading and the center focus of study on this occasion. But also, Schmemann had just published his 1966 Introduction to Liturgical Theology, focusing on his understanding of theordo! He referred to his broad understanding of ordo, illustrating his Eastern Orthodox understanding of worship, repeatedly using this term. Now, almost 40 years later, Gordon Lathrop’s trilogy, (Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology, Holy People: A Liturgical Anthropology,and Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology) all have a major focus on the ordo.
Both Schmemann and Lathrop stress that ordo, while it begins with the ordering of words and the rubrics of ritual, its “total structure” must include the inner appropriation of the “deep meaning,” of worship and a building of life on the sacramental meaning of “the central things,” Baptism, the Word and the Lord’s Supper. This is expressed in the complex juxtapositioning of the often disparate and metaphorical images, concepts, worship acts, life expressions and personal appropriations.
Such worship sees the liturgy—the work of the people—as a continuum, flowing from the gathered assembly and leading back to the gathered assembly. The Eastern Orthodox tradition speaks of the liturgy of the gathered worshiping community, and the “liturgy after the liturgy,” the continuing and connected work of the people of God in their scattered mission in the cultures in which they live their daily lives. It takes seriously John Calvin’s admonition that the place of the hitherto monastic devotion is in the home and in the places of our daily sojourn.
Carol Zaleski, in a recent article in the Christian Century, wrote about the controversy in a Michigan community over the broadcast of the five times a day call to prayer in an increasingly Muslim community. She hazards the suggestion that we all—Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Jews—might be able “to find a way to hear the call to prayer not as an alien voice, but as a summons, a periodic reminder . . . of ‘the one thing needful.’”2 She suggests that to awaken to the words “prayer is better than sleep” should be no more troubling than the jackhammers, jangling garbage trucks and school busses that make up the morning din. She reminds us that it was not beyond the memories of some older folk that the church bells in this country rang out for the same reason, that several times a day we might recall with a blessing, that we are God’s and that our daily work is to be about God’s business.
Such is the comprehensiveness of the ordo, and thus may we learn from our Muslim brothers and sisters. And of course, such is the successful comprehensiveness of the ordo only if it bears fruit in the life of the Christian church and of the individual Christian. Such is the ordo to which we as a group were committed.
It would be well to add a note concerning the trajectory of this understanding. Until the mid-twentieth century, liturgical studies were concerned almost exclusively with texts. Until then liturgical studies saw ordo simply and narrowly as adherence to the text and the rubrics of the service of worship. In the case of free-church Protestantism, it was simply the order of worship that was selected for any denomination or congregation. Dom Gregory Dix began the shift when he saw a shape behind the texts. As the analysis of shape continued to be refined, the pastoral implications of the liturgy began to emerge. Thus, the liturgical center in Paris, France, chose the name, Center for Pastoral Liturgy, and the center in Notre Dame in Indiana chose a name that reiterated that enlarged understanding.
The biblical theology movement, particularly through the work of Oscar Cullman, urged the probing of the deeper meaning of the sacraments by investigating the meal accounts, and the references to water images in the scriptures. Liturgical theologians examined the relationship of worship to daily life and to Christian ethics. The ordo was broadening, becoming more complete. That is the point at which we are today, and we are seeking to make our contribution to that understanding of the ordo, convinced that we are unearthing “meaning,” the meaning that lay behind the formation of the liturgical texts, services and daily practices, always with a critical eye on the impingements of culture upon these developments.

Calvin’s Masterful Synthesis

This completeness is not new in the Reformed tradition. Reformed scholars have reiterated it again and again throughout the last 450 years. It was present in John Calvin in his Genevan reforms. Dr. Elsie McKee, probably the foremost historian of the worship of the sixteenth-century Reformation, summarizes the position of Calvin in what she calls “Calvin’s masterful synthesis.”3 Her summary, though long, deserves to be quoted in full.
Calvinist worship was strongly corporate and was intended to encompass the whole of Christian’s lives. In the list of the components of a full Sunday liturgy, two aspects—the word and especially prayer—spill over into the daily life of the Christian, and a third, fellowship, has its primary place there. First, hearing the word of God was not just a Sunday activity for Genevans; there were daily sermons in several churches, and on Fridays also a regular Bible study for clergy and lay people together. . . . Second, besides the injunction “to pray without ceasing,” Calvinists were instructed to stop at intervals throughout the day to pray, and texts were provided. Chief among these were the metrical psalms that were sung in the liturgy but also intended for private use. In addition, other daily prayers were provided in the catechism and liturgy for use at home and at school; these included prayers for morning and evening, before and after meals, and before school or daily work. Some of these were to be said by individuals, others were for families; parents and householders were expected to train the little churches in their homes as well as they were able.
In the worship service the fourth point of Acts 2:42, almsgiving, was not a major component, but this liturgical expression of concern for others linked Calvinist liturgy with daily life. There fellowship, mutual concern of the members of the body for each other, actually had an important role as a witness to faith. Although Calvin clearly stated that the love and worship of God take precedence over all else, he also insisted that one of the most sincere expressions of the service of God is love for the neighbor. Liturgy can be hypocritical; love and service of those in need can hardly be counterfeited. And so Calvin expected the daily life of Christians to evidence their worship of God; they were to serve the good of all people and honor the image of God in all. The daily vocation of each Christian must also reflect the worship of God; as Calvin said so succinctly, “We are not our own . . . . We are God’s!” (Institutes, 3.7.1) That affirmation should transform our lives.4
One could hardly find a better definition of the ordo of Christian worship than this. McKee’s summary of Calvin’s theology of worship points to the replication or the extension of the liturgy into daily life.

The Sacraments: Extension and Replication

The transformation of daily life of which Calvin speaks, that links the worship of the congregation with the world through deeds of love, is “the liturgy after the liturgy.” It could of course be called the “liturgy before the liturgy,” for here we are speaking of the systolic-diastolic image of the church in assembling—sending—assembling. The sending is prepared by the assembling, and the assembling is the culmination of the sending.
The liturgy itself models the Christian life. It both tells and acts out the gospel. The telling (that which is in words) is “sealed,” vouched for and dramatized by the sacraments. One of the unfortunate results of the disappearance of the sacraments from worship is that the concrete, incarnational, enfleshed expression of the gospel is severely diminished. Let me illustrate by referring to a conversation with Alexander Schmemann.
We were discussing the wording, that part of the ordo that is in our books. He was surprised that we as Protestants had included words such as “set apart this water from a common to a sacred use ,” and “set apart this water from a common to the sacred use to which it is appointed . . . .” (See the Book of Common Worship 1946, pp. 122 and 128). He asked, “Do you have ’holy water’ just like the Roman Catholics?” The question itself made me squirm, but I decided to counter, “Well, you have holy water, don’t you?” His answer was in substance, “Not really. We believe that all water is holy, and we bless the water in the church to remind ourselves that all water is holy. We do these things to show that we live in a creation that God saw to be very good, a creation that we have trespassed, and it is our duty and joy as Christians to return every part of creation back to God in praise and thanksgiving. We do things in church that we want to continue to be doing during every minute of every day.”
Then I realized that Bruce Rigdon, then on the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary and presently the pastor of the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, had told about taking his class to an Orthodox Church on the Lord’s Day when they commemorated the baptism of Jesus. After the emphasis on baptismal water in the church they took the water in procession and poured it into Lake Michigan, with the prayer that the water of that lake, and all water, might once again be holy and pure as God created it to be. I now realize that this is what Schmemann was talking about when he says that the ordo of words must be followed by an ordo of action in order to be complete. He stressed that we must do whatever we can to avoid the short-circuiting of the totality of this process.
Another anecdote, relating to the Lord’s Supper in our Reformed family of churches, provides another illustration. As I understand it, the Reformed both in Scotland and on the European continent structured the serving of the Lord’s Supper so that the words referring to concern and care among community members in 1 Corinthians 11 will be expressed. Members served one another. By so doing they also expressed the priesthood of all believers. At first they did so around tables, speaking to one another as they served one another (note, not as they were served by a pastor or an elder). But what happened when communion was received in the pews?
Soon the receiving of the bread and the cup became the most un-communal, the most private religious act in the church, basically a time of private meditation. It has gotten to the point that people not only do not speak to each other, they often do not even make eye contact with their sister or brother in Christ who is sitting next to them as they hand them the bread or the cup. In “experienced meaning,” the original intent of the mode of serving has been completely inverted. The original intention was that communion would be a most communal act of serving one another in the liturgy in the church, and that this would be carried over into daily life in a liturgy of selfless service to others, just as Christ selflessly served us.
Could it be that the individualistic devotion expressed in these communion services has influenced, or been influenced by, the individualism expressed in daily life? Worship in the world and witness to the world are inherent and latent in every true act of worship.5
As the Word became flesh in Christ, so the word of the gospel must become enfleshed in the lives of Christian people. The Incarnation must become incarnate in the church, the body of Christ.
In the Reformed tradition, persons are ordained to a ministry of Word and Sacrament. The marks of the church are where the word is preached and the sacraments are “rightly administered.” Unfortunately, the understanding of “rightly administered” still refers back to the proper words and the proper rubrics. I wonder how people would answer if one asked members to list the marks of their congregation. They might mention fellowship, or perhaps good preaching, but I venture to say that it would be rare for anyone to mention the ministry of the sacraments, or that “in our congregation we live out the sacraments.”
We in the Reformed tradition are in the process of rediscovering the significance of living our baptism. The renewal of the baptismal covenant is becoming more and more evident in our churches. Presiding from the font for portions of worship each Lord’s Day and the mention of Baptism in our daily “remembrancing” are a sign that there is progress in this regard.
During my thirty years of teaching worship in seminaries I served as interim pastor in five congregations, in four of those instances for a year or more in each. In an experiment in one parish I made it a point to illustrate a portion of the sermon from one of the polyvalent emphases of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I found that that was easy to do. The sacraments express and give expression to almost every theological and biblical concept. I came to believe that the questions, “How does this relate to the sacraments?” and “Is this consonant with what is expressed in the sacraments?” might provide excellent criteria for the appropriateness of any sermon and any facet of worship. An interesting outcome of this was voiced by a woman of one of the congregations who asked me after a worship service, “How come we talk about the sacraments all the time and never do them?”

We Reformed must recover “ministering the sacraments,” enabling and assisting our people to see their lives as the sacramental, outward expression of God’s indwelling Spirit. In the practice of Judaism a pious Jew should find at least one hundred things each day for which to give thanks to the Holy One and say a berakah, which of course is the fertile ground from which our eucharistic invocation, the great thanksgiving springs. The great thanksgiving should be replicated in our lives by at least a hundred little thanksgivings each day. In the same manner the incarnational sacramental acts in the church should be consciously replicated, extended into daily life. An aim of our envisioned association is that pastors might become better ministers of the sacraments, that they might assist others to minister the sacraments, and that Christians might recognize the imperative of living out of that center, of expressing love, grace, forbearance, justice and peacemaking continuously and in every sphere of life.

The Ordo in the “Liturgy after the Liturgy”

What kind of parish leadership and what kind of ethos will provide such a fertile seedbed for the nourishment of such a fulsome Christian and such a witnessing, inviting Christian community? In what ways do our Christian communities fall short of what the Church should be?

The Problem of Multiple Cultures

Each local assembly has “a culture.” That culture may rest on how it has always been done, though the “always” may be a span of only ten years. It may even be the way the pastor has always done it, and that may go back to how her or his pastor did it forty years ago, even though it has been expressed in this congregation since the pastor arrived only two years ago.
Gordon Lathrop speaks again and again about the deep meanings of the central things, namely the book, the bath and the meal, and says that in the larger culture of our churches, the central things have shriveled nearly to disappearance.6 Their meaning is well nigh lost. This is due to many influences, among them:
  • the idea that true religion is resident in disembodied ideas;
  • sacrificing our worship to the current devotion to efficiency (not enough time!);
  • succumbing to the widespread sense of religious individualism;
  • a slavish devotion to the sanctity of the text and the rubrics; or
  • perhaps we fear the power of these signs and their enacting.
And we, in these old mainline churches fight with some real free-church handicaps:
  • a strong, almost exclusive emphasis on preaching;
  • a bias against “books” (except for funerals and weddings!), and
  • little awareness of the deep liturgical tradition out of which we were born.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, the liturgical training of a congregation and a liturgical culture, so difficult to inculcate, can disappear with the next called or appointed pastor. This association is called, to empower pastors, other congregational leaders, and congregations to a vision of the liturgy that is whole and incarnational, and to a firm commitment to that liturgical understanding.
Many pastors find the liturgical books of their denomination, or of any denomination, merely a source for good prayers. They do not see the theological rationale that seeks to unify the Christological, Trinitarian and sacramental, though all our denominational books are built on such a foundation.

The Ordo in Cultural Context

When the word “inculturation” was coined, its meaning was focused on the insertion of the transforming Christian message into ambient culture, as over against the passive enculturation that takes place effortlessly within a culture. Originally it referred to the inculturation of the Christian message, faith and worship in non-Western European settings. It can equally be used to express the effort of the transformation of the culture of a local congregation so that that culture might be more consonant with the Christian faith. It is precisely at this point that the issue of culture comes to the fore. Thus, this association must deal responsibly with culture.
We are indebted to the “Nairobi Statement On Worship and Culture” prepared by the third international consultation of the Lutheran World Federation, Nairobi, Kenya, 1996. The Nairobi Statement is found in Lathrop, Holy People.7 That study states that our worship is always celebrated in a given local cultural setting. This fact draws our attention to the dynamics between worship and the world’s many local cultures, as well as to our theology as stated above. There are at least four dimensions of this relationship that we want to address, as stated in the Nairobi Statement:
  1. Worship Is Transcultural. Worship has (or should have) a commonality among all Christians everywhere, for in the Spirit we all worship the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ.
  2. Worship Is Contextual. It draws on a peoples’ cultural expression for its own expression, and thus it varies according to locale and local situation.
  3. Worship Is Counter-Cultural. It challenges anything in any given culture, either within a given congregation, or any outside cultural impingement, which is contrary to the Gospel.
  4. Worship Is Cross-Cultural. It should make possible a sharing between and among different cultures. It even demands such sharing and cross-cultural affirmation if we truly believe that Christian worship is transcultural. Christian worship in other cultures should be affirmed. But, every expression of Christian worship can profit from admonition from other cultural perspectives. Both affirmation and admonition are to be practiced.

The Formation and Task of Our Association

On November 20-23, 2003, a steering committee composed of Fritz West as convener, with members Alan Barthel, David Batchelder, Melva Costen, Linda Mckiernan-Allen, Gláucia Vasconcelos-Wilkey, together with consultants Alvin Hoksbergen (representing Emily Brink), Keith Watkins and I (Arlo Duba) met in Chicago at the Cenacle. We represented four denominations and varying points of view.
Before that meeting a number of documents had circulated among us. A draft of a vision statement by Bruce Taylor was made available at the July 2003 Seattle meeting. During the meeting, group discussion resulted in a careful refining of the statement. We strove for a lyric quality in that statement. It was far too long for a mission statement, but we said it expresses our vision for worship. Drafts of a mission statement were then shared among us. In Chicago we made final revisions to the vision statement, adopted a mission statement and affirmed the principles outlined above. The production of a news release announcing ourselves was set in motion. Then we selected the name: Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship (AR&LW). There was consensus that we would insist on the ampersand. We were not advocating Reformed liturgical worship, but worship that is Reformed and liturgical.

The Inaugural Meeting

At that meeting plans were made for an inaugural meeting to be held in conjunction with the Summer Institute for Liturgy and Worship of Seattle University, to be held in July. Inasmuch as Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, director of the institute was present, we asked if we could meet as “an affinity group” during the Institute, July 5-9, 2004.
Four committees were formed to cover tasks needed to prepare for the meeting, and responsibilities were assigned. A schedule was hammered out, worship components including a Lord’s Day service of Word and Table were placed in the schedule, and the relationship with the Seattle Institute as a continuing focus and reflection group during the week of the Institute was decided upon. The organizational meeting was set for the Thursday afternoon of the institute.
At that meeting the Rev. David Batchelder was asked to speak to the historical setting, Martie McMane, the Pastor of the First Congregational (UCC) Church of Boulder, Colorado on the pastoral context and Emily Brink, senior research fellow of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and editor of Reformed Worship, on the theological foundation for the new organization. Fritz West made contact with The Liturgical Conference and worked out plans to have the proceedings of the organizational meeting published in the journal, Liturgy, with Harold M. Daniels as the guest editor for the issue.
The July 4-7, 2004, meeting in Seattle was excellently executed. Officers were elected, a budget was adopted, a constitution with bylaws was accepted, and plans were made to meet at least once more in association with the Summer Institute for Liturgy and Worship at Seattle University on July 9-15, 2005, though the steering committee was urged to consider other geographic locations for future meetings in order to make meetings more accessible to people in other regions of North America.

The Task Before Us

We have a very significant heritage to draw upon.
We need to preserve and encourage and enlarge the gains that have been made.
We need to consolidate these gains, to hold them up for full reception (by reception we mean the receiving of the whole constellation of the meaning of the ordo, not merely the use of our liturgical books as an occasional source of prayers).
We need a collegial setting for the affirmation and admonition that a Christian approach to culture demands.
We need young new vigorous leadership to advance our cause.
We need to contribute to the consolidation of the ecumenical convergence, and we need a new organizational initiative to actualize the continuation of reforms toward which all this work points.
We believe that the future holds the promise of a renewed church,
vitally alive church,
spiritually vibrant church,
if we can grasp anew this gift of grace to convey this sacramental,
incarnational vision
work together to actualize God’s gift of renewal.
We believe that we can grasp the key to that renewal in our time and place,
and we pray God’s blessing on our work,
and ask God’s guidance in the discussions and deliberations as we move toward our goal.
May God’s Spirit be ours. 
May God’s only-begotten take flesh among us.
And may God continue the creative and unifying process through us that the church might be strengthened and vivified.
And, to God alone be glory.


Arlo D. Duba is professor emeritus of worship and retired dean 
of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, 
now living in Arkansas in retirement.

This paper was originally published in Liturgy: Journal of the Liturgical Conference, 20.2 (2005) ISSN 0458-063X



1 David Batchelder is the pastor of the West Plano Presbyterian Church in Plano, TX; Arlo Duba is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the professor of worship emeritus at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary; and Dennis Hughes is the pastor of the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington, and former associate for worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 
2 Carol Zaleski, “Time out for Allah” in The Christian Century, vol. 121, no. 12, June 15, 2004, p.37. 
3 Elsie Anne McKee, “Reformed Worship in the Sixteenth Century,” in Lukas Vischer, ed., Christian Worship in Reformed Churches Past and Present (Grand Rapids, MI. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), p. 26. 
4 Ibid, pp. 24-25. 
5 Lukas Vischer, “Worship as Christian Witness to Society” in Christian Worship in Reformed Churches Past and Present, p. 415. 
6 Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 166. 
7 Ibid., pp. 233-236.