Title

Playing our prayers : toward more embodied, participatory worship.

Date of Award

5-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry

Abstract

Mennonite worship in North America is thick with words and can easily stay in a very cerebral mode. As a serious-minded people shaped by a practical and service- oriented understanding of faith, accustomed to a style of worship that relies heavily on the voices of a few speakers, Mennonites tend to practice body-stiff and movement- scarce worship. Worship patterns involve lots of sitting and listening on the part of most attenders, with little (other than singing) that asks for other kinds of engagement. Experience in theater and movement, observations of explorations I led in other worship settings, and theological understandings have convinced me physical movement and emotional engagement in worship can yield further openness to God and thus play a significant role in spiritual formation. With the incarnation itself as foundational, other proponents of this view include theologians Samel Laeuchli and Walter Wink, who have done significant work with non-cerebral interaction with scripture. The purpose of this project was to introduce more whole-self--that is, body, mind, and spirit--participation in the Sunday morning worship experience at Salford Mennonite Church, with particular attention to the emotional and physical engagement of worshippers. Through forms based in principles of theater and movement, worshippers were offered greater freedom to inhabit the wide range of spiritual responses of which we are capable. A small group of congregational members learned basic forms of InterPlay, a system of improvisational expression and interaction. During worship services throughout Lent 2013 and on Easter Sunday morning, they and a number of other participants presented theater- or movement-based forms which related to the scripture of the morning or to the congregational prayer. Forms included choral reading, shape and stillness sculptures, free-form movement to music, bibliodrama, tableaux, and interpretative memorization. Additionally, I led the whole congregation (participation optional) in simple movement preceding the weekly period of silence. These worship experiences met with a high degree of receptivity and responsiveness. Resistance was also evident and reflected caution about change, attitudes about worship, and discomfort around the body.