Speaker explores worship in context of culture

By Linda Wilkins
Staff Writer

Students participated in periods of meditation, silence and contemplation as they partook in a shortened version of one of the oldest forms of worship during Chapel services Monday.

Karen Ward, Episcopal priest and pastor of the Church of Apostles in Seattle, guided students through a fixed prayer hour, an ancient Christian system of worship.

Ward will also speak at two other events this week about integrating new worship styles into churches to keep up with a changing culture. Ward is a leading figure in the Emerging Church, a movement that focuses on keeping churches up-to-date with today’s culture by bringing in various art forms to encourage worship.

Ward is an ordained priest who currently serves as curator for the Apostles PopUpChurch. She moved to the PopUpChurch after working with the Church of the Apostles in Seattle for nine years.

Ryan Richardson, associate chaplain and director of worship, said Ward wants to see the people of God speaking against poverty and oppression, and instead nurture beauty, goodness, action and service.

“Karen desires to see new churches and ministries that embed themselves in today’s culture and are capable to speaking to brokenness and hurt and longings,” he said.

PopUpChurch is a mobile church movement involving a group that meets at different locations and does not have an established building, Ward said. The group hosts Wednesday night monastic prayer services, which Ward demonstrated during Chapel.

Ward said the fixed hour of prayer is a tradition the early Christian church developed prior to a similar Islamic tradition, and that it is also the earliest form of worship besides Communion.

“The practice of fixed prayer is making a resurgence in the culture today, especially among young people who are finding value in monastic forms,” Ward said, referencing the new monasticism movement in America.

The hour of fixed prayer progressed in three different stages Ward called meditation, bell and silence and then “The Examen.” First, students participated in meditation, slowing down their mind in order to focus on the “call to worship.” Next, Ward played bell sounds to represent the “call to silence.” Lastly, the students participated in The Examen, a method developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century to help people realize that God is working actively in our society, Ward said. The Examen is a time when people can reflect on passages in Scripture and how they apply to their daily lives, she said.

Ward said she uses fixed prayer during the Wednesday night gatherings she leads for PopUpChurch in Portland.

Graduate assistant Jill Sims, who organized Ward’s visit, said Ward is an innovator in today’s society because she approaches worship differently than traditional Christian services.

“She presented a worship service that is related to the culture by music, but was different in presentation,” Sims said.

Sims said the Emerging Church movement is a way of relating to post-modern culture while maintaining the foundational truths of the Bible. The movement incorporates multiple elements from American culture, such as musical styles and art. Sims said the emphasis for the Emerging Church movement is focused on group worship, as opposed to having one person guide the group in worship. She gave the example of a worship band that may play in the back of the group instead of in the front in order to put more emphasis on the worship itself.

Sims invited Ward to come to the Hearn Innovators in Christian Music Series, which is hosting her visit. The Innovators Series is a program that brings speakers involved in church worship to Baylor. Sims said the series, made possible by the Billy Ray Hearn endowment, is meant to facilitate close interaction of students and speakers by providing a setting for students to ask questions about the speakers’ area of expertise.

“[Ward] presents new and fresh ideas about relating to society and culture as a church,” Sims said.

The Emerging Church movement is a focus for Ward, who will also speak tonight from 4:00-5:00 p.m. at a Baylor Association of Church Musicians meeting about how worship incorporates cultural change. The meeting is open to the public and will take place in Recital Hall II of Waco Hall.

In addition, Ward will attend the Brown Bag Luncheon which is open to all students, at 4 p.m. Wednesday in 309 Truett Seminary.