In my experience the word 'liturgy' is not often heard in our modern evangelical congregations. In fact, it's often identified with the words like 'catholic, Roman, mystical, eastern orthodox, traditional, formal...', it is even associated with 'boredom' or something only for elderly Christians.
The liturgy is usually reserved for 8am communion services in Anglican churches, or even considered defunct now that we have contemporary worship bands and songs.
Now, I'm not trying to take a jab at non-liturgical worship (well maybe I am), or to belittle the contemporary Christian style of worship, but instead to draw your attention to the richness of theology, tradition, and majesty many churches in our modern times miss out on.
Here are my experiences and thoughts on both the liturgy and what one can expect in a liturgical church. Finally, a friendly prompt to readers to expect a lot of Christian jargon, so it might help to have a search engine handy when you read this.
My journey so far
I was born into a Chinese Congregational church through my mom, and grew up listening and singing to a diverse mix of contemporary and traditional Protestant hymns such as Consider Christ, Old Rugged Cross (Both English and Chinese), and Amazing Grace.
The mix of English/Chinese hymns with a healthy dose of contemporary worship was really good for my Christian musical understanding. I realised that God, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, can be worshipped in a variety of means. It wasn't until the Palm Sunday of 2013 that I experienced my first ever liturgy in a Roman Catholic mass near my house. At first this was met with boredom and apathy, but by the end of the mass I ended up hooked to the liturgy.
I was surprised that the structure was not restrictive but rather gave sufficient time and place to different segments of worship; singing, chanting, scripture reading, praying, communion, etc.
This experience was so captivating that I began to go to churches simultaneously. I attended a liturgical communion at 8am/9:30am at St. Paul's Burwood, and a more contemporary 9am service at Campsie Chinese Congregational. I did this for about 3-4 months till I failed to wake up on time, and committed more to my original church at Campsie.
I grew up understanding that Sunday church is firstly worship of God, and also fellowship with brothers and sisters. This definition is actually quite good, and sustained me for a while, yet when I encountered the liturgy there was a whole new depth to Sunday worship in church.
Worship in liturgical services are primarily vertical (that is, to God, or heavenward) and aims to put into perspective, but not neglect, the creation/people worshipping. This means there is a whole new language of terminology to be learnt, and one which I am still learning today!
All elements of the liturgy, from the introit (procession of the priests and deacons to the sanctuary), till the final benediction (blessing), are focussed on and flow from the altar, which represents Jesus Christ. This leads to both communion with God (first and foremost), and also correct fellowship with your neighbour.
I found myself going to liturgical services not to meet new people necessarily, or to catch up with friends, but to commune with God and to nurture and understand my faith better.
St. Paul's and some history
The liturgical service I attended is a fantastic High Anglican congregation in suburban Sydney. It's truly a hidden gem amongst the treasures of Sydney Anglicanism, and has retained a lot of the elements of classical Anglicanism as envisioned by the Caroline Divines after the Reformation.
Worship and theology aim to combine both the strengths of Protestantism and the splendour of Roman Catholicism, and the patriarchal traditions of the early Church.
Thus the focus of the entire liturgical service/mass is the sacrament, that is, the bread and the wine, which are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. High Anglicans, like the Orthodox Church, do not believe in transubstantiation (literal changing of the bread and wine to Jesus Christ) but rather hold the sacrament as a mystery of the Real Presence; something that cannot be fully grasped by the human mind.
People who attend liturgical services also tend to make the sign of the cross, use a prayer book, genuflect/kneel, and shake our neighbour's hands in the pew alongside us during church.
When my friends heard me talking about this, some of them said, "Goodness, you're Roman Catholic." My answer: 'Close, but not really.'
Bells and Smells
Aside from all the technicalities and all the jargon, the liturgy is ultimately an experience; an experience of the Living God. The liturgy has some variations, but the basic structure has been in use in Christianity for around 2000 years and counting.
We are blessed with many choices on Sundays, but this is an experience that is unlike any other. With the Real Presence in communion, incense, along with the heavenly music of organ and choir, it is truly something you must experience for yourself.
Jack Liang is studying Commerce and Arts at Macquarie University, he is part of a family of five, his hobbies include computer gaming, football, learning languages, and reading heaps of church history. He is an active part of the English Ministry at the Campsie Chinese Congregational Church.
Jack Liang's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jack-liang.html