Donald W. Howard, Jr., Renewal of Worship: Caring for the People, A Resource Guide. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005. 233 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-7618-3047-2, $35.00.
According to the back cover of this book, our author is a veteran pastor of twenty-two years in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and is now an educator in New York as a consultant for New York State Charter School aspirants.
The basic concern of the book is that pastors must know their church members intimately in their daily life in order to make the worship of the church meaningful. He states that the decline of the church is directly related to the irrelevance of what transpires in worship to the lives of those seated in the pews. To remedy this, the pastor must meet the people where they are: "at work, whether a school, home, hospital, gas station, supermarket, factory, nursing home, courtroom, or barn. It means sitting on the curb talking with a teenager about school and home pressures, sitting in a fishing boat with a lonely widower, or walking through the woods on opening day of buck seasonwherever your congregation works or plays becomes the place for the pastor to visit" (18-19).
The book is divided into two parts. The first part takes the theme of the book and develops it along five lines: Worship as pastoral care; The role of the pastor; The role of the laity; Getting into the field: the pastor as sower, cultivator, and gleaner; and finally, Bringing in the sheaves: the resultant meaningful worship.
In the second part, he develops his thoughts about the various parts of the worship service. In the previous section he has already talked about the centrality of the word, so he does not have a separate chapter on that in this second section. Rather, he spends his time on the Liturgy.
He spends three chapters on the sacraments. He advocates making infant baptism a very special occasion by giving to the child a candle (as in a birthday) and then writing him/her a letter to be placed in a scrapbook telling of the importance of the occasion. He does not think it is a good idea for the pastor to take the child and go parading up and down the aisles of the church showing him/her off to all of the worshippers.
He also asserts the importance of celebrating the Lord's Supper weekly, but not without the preaching of the Word. "The Word and the Sacraments are understood as events in worship for the entire congregation. If either the Word or the Sacraments are emphasized to the exclusion of the other, this results in an incomplete and distorted experience of worship" (88).
In dealing with special services, he has four chapters on hatched (baptism), matched (marriage), and dispatched (funeral). He finishes this section with three chapters, each one dealing with prayer, music, and the liturgical year. In the latter, he advocates using the liturgical calendar, going through the year from Advent to Pentecost. His reasoning is, "the liturgical calendar helps the worshipper see the redemptive work of God through His Son Jesus Christ. The calendar shows that worship is more than an isolated act, separated from one's everyday life experiences. In worship the church participates in the movement from Christ's birth through His sufferings, to His resurrection and Kingship. In following these events as its pattern for worship, the church encompasses all the dimensions of God's plan for the salvation of His people" (187-88).
In his final word, Pastor Howard says, "In order to insure that the service remains meaningful and participatory, the pastor requires knowledge of his or her congregation. Here, pastoral care comes into the service of worship. This book was intended as a means to revive the notion of pastoral care as essential to the worship of God" (211-12).
In assessing this book, we must say that the author has a point. It is important that a pastor know the members of his congregation. And this knowledge will influence the way that he conducts worship. However, although the book does have moments when it deals with Scripture and also church history, for the most part it is pious advice. This advice you will at times agree with and at other times disagree with. For the most part you will be better advised to spend your time on something more edifying.
J. Peter Vosteen