Written by Dr. Evelyn McMullen
In April of 2020, the leaders of First Presbyterian Church’s adult Bible Study group faced the challenge of engaging digitally with our group. We wondered, “How will our friends, who have such a wide variety of abilities, adapt to learning and worship over Zoom?” Fortunately, our prayer practices already included worship icons, a set of eight images from Barbara Newman’s practical theology guide: Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship. These icons have strengthened our group’s weekly prayer life and are used by many in their homes. They are offered to you in this brief guide in hopes that they will strengthen the worship experience of those who will continue “in-home” worship, whether a parent with a sick child, a family whose teenage son has multiple disabilities, or an elderly church member who can no longer attend in person.
The Calvin Institute of Worship developed the framework of Vertical Habits on which Newman’s guide is based. We recognize them as movements of worship, many of which are highlighted weekly in printed bulletins: Praise, Confession, Lament, Illumination, Petition, Thanksgiving, Service, and Blessing. Worship icons representing these Vertical Habits were developed by artist Bruce Benedict. He has granted permission for their use through PDC’s website, with “(c) Cardiphonia Music” to be included with all uses.
Here are some suggestions of ways that these icons can help people engage visually. They can be adapted for use by other senses. A tactile representation of these icons could be made in relief in paper, wood, or clay.
Print out the Vertical Habits icons. They can be printed separately and laminated or printed on one page. Depending on the ability of your worship group, introduce one or more of the worship icons at a time.
PRAISE: “When are we praising God today?” Hold up this icon or point to it on the sheet when songs of praise are sung or Psalms read.
PETITION or PLEASE HELP: Before the service, ask individuals who they would like to pray for. If possible, print out a picture of a person or the situation. This is a good way to pray with the newspaper (or newsfeed). Save this picture and icon as a reminder to pray.
LAMENT/WHY? Another helpful prayer icon is LAMENT or WHY? Practice with Lament helps all of us cry out to God.
CREED or I BELIEVE: This icon can be used during worship to identify Affirmations of Faith or a Scripture passage. It’s also a tangible way to follow Lament with a reminder of God’s steadfast love. “I don’t understand why this is happening. But I know that you are always with me.”
CONFESSION or I’M SORRY: With clay (play-doh) or colored chalk on paper, create an image of something that you need to confess to God. Then demonstrate forgiveness by balling up the clay image and placing the lump beside a cross or rinsing the chalk picture under water. These physical worship practices are easier to do at home than in a sanctuary!
SERVICE or HERE I AM, LORD: How can we show God’s love through our actions? What can we do for others?
Barbara Newman’s book, Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship includes outlines of a Psalm Study, focusing on each of the Vertical Habits (pages 91-133). Any of these suggestions could enrich worship at home.
Some have found “couch worship” difficult. Some have said that watching a screen does not seem like worship. It may be hard to re-create a sense of awe on our own couches, but by adapting worship practices to a home setting, we may engage with God in new, meaningful ways. The rituals of worship have changed over two thousand years, but they are all sensory ways to engage with God’s Word: choral music, congregational singing, scripture readings, scripture in stained glass and banners, sermons, prayer in many forms, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We can create a worship center in our homes and practice new ways to engage with God’s Word as we worship together.
About the Author: Evelyn was the founder and director of Bright Threads Ministries, a consulting firm dedicated to helping churches weave the bright threads of people with disabilities into the fabric of their congregations.