Review: Worshiping Present and Future Hope: A Critique and Proposal

by Warren Dahlstrom

Worshiping Present and Future Hope: A Critique and Proposal by Rev. Paul T. Dahlstrom, Fairway Press, P O. Box 4503, Lima, Ohio, 1996: ISBN 0-7880-0901-X, 114 pp., $10.95

In the Preface, the author writes that this book is about replacing the presider notion of leading worship with "artistic creativity in the performance of Christian worship." He reaches his goal by putting the reader in a seminary class on worship. The course was called, "Worship: Traditions and Practices."

Though reading was assigned, the emphasis was on thinking about worship experience. The students were to go to church to worship, think critically about the actual experience, write a report reflecting on the experience, and present it to the class. After sharing their thoughts and feelings about the experiences, they critiqued their findings together. Six different churches in the community — Catholic and Protestant were selected. Each student attended a different church each Sunday for four weeks. On the final two Sundays, they created and delivered services in a local church, whose pastor attended a conference as part of his or her participation.

Critiquing worship performance and talking about it to each other makes for focus. This may seem a questionable shifting of responsibility from the teacher to the student, but the result was in-depth reflection and comparison, especially with respect to the ways in which music and speech complement the needs of the worship.

This fascinating story is both detailed and intellectually vigorous. Each person struggled with himself or herself, with one another, and with the creation of actual services in a local church. Form, focus, and religious feelings led to standards for the worship service. There was room for variety; the goal was to offer worship that was experienced as uplifting and connected.

Before reading the book, I feared it would be a recitation of platitudes. Not so. It challenges the person who loves worship and cares about what is done on Sunday morning.

Glen Wiberg adds: "Paul Dahlstom believes and writes persuasively that worship is "an art form" as surely as a fine piece of poetry, or a drama or performance of a Beethoven symphony."