Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship, edited by Rodney Wallace Kennedy and Derek C. Hatch. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2013. 194 pp. $18.40.
A growing concern exists for the lack of studies in the history and practice of Baptist worship. Editors Rodney W. Kennedy, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio, and Derek C. Hatch, professor of Christian studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, compiled Gathering Together for this reason. The main thesis of the book is that there is a deficiency of richness, depth, and intentionality in Baptist worship as a whole. However, this book offers multiple liturgical activities as remedies so “Baptists might consider how we might worship God more fully and become the people of God more faithfully” (xii).
The book includes ten chapters written by various scholars and pastors. Each author examines a particular liturgical element and presents possibilities for the enrichment of Baptist worship. In the first chapter, Texas pastor Kyle Childress relates personal stories from his pastorate describing how traditional liturgical elements can be utilized to help the church become the body of Christ. Michael D. Sciretti Jr., a minister specializing in spiritual formation, describes in the second chapter how observing the Christian year and following the lectionary can inform our faith and form us into a great priesthood of believers.
Chapters three through nine describe particular elements of weekly corporate worship. Pastor Amy Butler argues for the importance of creating communal ties through ritual actions in worship. Associate pastor Sharlande Sledge of Lakeshore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, highlights the importance of pastoral prayers in worship and provides several examples of prayers from her church. Philip E. Thompson challenges Baptist disdain towards creeds and argues that creeds can help define our beliefs and “strengthen our ecclesiology” (79). In Kennedy’s own chapter, he argues for the intentional connection of preaching to the rest of the worship service, the oral reading of Scripture by the congregation, the use of the common lectionary, and a sacramental understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work in preaching. Scott Bullard examines the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in chapter seven, and Elizabeth Newman examines the ordinance of baptism in chapter eight. C. Randall Bradley describes the power of music when integrated in a participatory manner in the liturgy. The final chapter describes the primacy of worship for empowering Baptists for mission. Cameron Jorgenson explains how both mission and worship are “based on a logic of participation” (138). How the congregation participates in worship will shape how they participate in mission.
Gathering Together presents several helpful examples of how traditional liturgical elements can teach the faith and form disciples. For instance, Childress substitutes “The Lord be with you” for the casual “Good morning” greeting in his church to teach that the congregation’s love is “formed and rooted in God’s love for us in Christ” (6). Sciretti describes how observing the liturgical calendar helps us understand how “Christ’s reign and reconciliation program begins through us” as “we participate in the sanctification of the world” (31). Bullard humbly presents several communion practices, including weekly observance, which would aid Baptists to “think about the Supper as a communal practice rather than a purely inward experience” (109).
Many innovative ideas and thoughtful resources are included in the book. Bradley provides some ideas for integrating music seamlessly with other liturgical elements, including prayer, preaching, communion, and Scripture. The appendices include prayers and hymns for various liturgical seasons, responsorial calls to worship, scriptural and historical creeds, Baptismal and Eucharistic prayers, and orders of worship for the Hanging of the Greens, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.
Although many topics are covered, the shape and order of worship is not addressed except through the provision of a basic order of worship in Appendix I. A chapter devoted to this important subject would have been beneficial. Most of the authors draw from other denominational traditions to provide suggestions for Baptists, which was mostly conducive to the editors’ purposes. However, sometimes the ideas were either odd at best or illogical and contradictory at worst. An example of an odd suggestion was the “Blessing of the Animals ceremony” that could be celebrated on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (34). A contradictory idea was the endorsement of “infant baptisms as genuine” because “God’s grace and promises are present in infant baptism” (123). This pedobaptist view contradicts Newman’s traditional Baptist statement earlier in her chapter “that the Baptist mode of baptism most fully displays the gospel witness” (110).
Seminary students, pastors, and ministers of music and worship would benefit from reading this book. Although some chapters contain a greater depth of analysis and application than others, all present perceptive insights. Much work remains to be done in the field of Baptist liturgical studies, but this book represents an important step towards a better understanding and intentional shaping of contemporary Baptist worship practice.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX