This past week Rev. Jim Quigley and I attended the Washington Episcopal Clergy Association’s annual clergy conference. The theme of the conference was, “Unleashing the Power of Worship.” As one might expect there were lectures about liturgy–how we make worship. In between the lecture segments there were small group discussions at round tables in the back of the large conference hall. The group that Jim+ and I found ourselves in consisted of clergy from churches about the same size as St. Alban’s: The Cathedral, St. Columba’s, St. John’s Lafayette Square, Christ Church Georgetown, etc.
One of the questions that was asked of the small groups was something along the lines of, “What part of our liturgy has been formational for you?” (pardon my paraphrase–the actual question was much more eloquently written.)
When I was invited to speak I said that what was most formational for me in our liturgy wasn’t really a part of the liturgy but a single word, “Amen.” Specifically, I was thinking about two moments; the first is the “Amen,” at the end of a sermon, and the second is “The Great Amen,” at the end of the Eucharistic Prayers in Rite II.
For me these two responses from the congregation have been formational for me because they represent both the mood of the congregation and the mood of the celebrant. Very often one influences the other. Example: when the celebrant builds up a long crecendo of both intensity and even voice volume at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and he or she concludes with a loud and strong, “AMEN,” the congregation is often times just as intense as the celebrant. Conversely, when a preacher ends a sermon with a soft or even omitted, “Amen,” at the end of sermon that sends a signal to the congregation which is often responded to in kind with a soft or non-existant “Amen.”
As you may know, the word “Amen,” means: “I believe,” or, “I agree.” So when there is a loud amen at the end of a sermon or the end of the eucharistic prayer it is a sign of agreeance with what was just said or prayed. The “AMEN,” at the end of the eucharistic prayers is the only place in the Book of Common Prayer where the letters of a word are in all capitals. In fact, that “AMEN” is called, “The Great AMEN.”
These sets of “Amens,” have been formative for me because they signaled for me the mood, the feeling, the culmination of the two main parts of our worship service. They are the collective response to the proclamation of The Word of God, and the common prayer that the priest makes on behalf of the congregation in the eucharist.
So, notice when and how the word, “Amen” is spoken in worship by the celebrant or preacher. Then notice the congregation’s response…and notice what is preached or prayed and your own “Amen.”
I wonder, what moment or moments in the liturgy have been formative for you? What part or parts of our liturgy have shaped how you are as a Christian? Won’t you share them with us?