The incarnation of blessing : how do worshipers at First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, NC experience blessing in the confluence of the sermon and liturgical response? / by Michael Shane Lea
The dialogical and incarnational nature of Christian worship provides opportunities for personal encounters with the Triune God. God speaks to people through the “liturgical language” of worship—both the literal and figurative words used and the material signs and symbols of worship practices. Worshipers often respond by describing their experience in theological language (theology literally means “words about God”). Implementing the methodological approach of pastoral ethnography, this research project sought to understand the relationship between the liturgical language of certain worship practices and the theology of worshipers at First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, NC. In particular, how do worshipers at First Baptist Church experience what they had previously described as the “blessing” of God’s presence and love through sermons with concurrent liturgical responses? The researcher utilized the speech-act theory of J. L. Austin’s work "How to Do Things with Words" as an interpretive tool of the performative nature of six sermons with concurrent liturgical responses. The performative impact of these sermons and responses was explored for six consecutive weeks in the one Sunday morning worship service at First Baptist Church. Through data collected from weekly surveys and a handful of focus group interviews, participants revealed the performative nature of the sermons and concurrent liturgical responses, and how they experienced the blessing of God’s presence and love through the liturgical language of the sermons and concurrent practices. The project revealed some important lessons about the performative nature of liturgical language, particularly how members of First Baptist Church experience the blessing of God’s love and presence through sermons and concurrent liturgical responses. The combined experiences of participating congregants and the participating preacher led to recommendations for how the preaching and worship ministries of the First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, NC can continue to be a source of the blessing of God’s presence and love in the lives of worshipers.
Lea, Michael Shane