Blog takes worship world by storm
Most bloggers are proud to count the annual “views” of their site in the thousands. Christine Longhurst’s blog re:Worship (re-worship.blogspot.com) can get a few thousand views in a day.
Since its birth in April 2011, re:Worship has racked up more than 2.5 million views, receiving visitors and comments from as far away as South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, and Malaysia. Emails of gratitude and encouragement have come from Pentecostals, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox, as well as Longhurst’s fellow Mennonite Brethren.
So what separates this worship blog from the dozens of other resources on the internet?
“There’s lots of good material online,” says Longhurst, “but it’s usually buried really deep. So there’s wonderful stuff if you go four pages in on someone’s site.… My thinking was ‘We’ve got to have a way to more easily access some of this material!’ That’s where a blog is perfect.”
Longhurst compiles worship resources from dozens of sources into one exhaustively indexed hub. For the last two years, she has spent more than 20 hours a week creating and compiling prayers, calls to worship, readings, litanies, benedictions, and other forms of worship.
Refocus on Bible
Re:Worship also meets another goal for Longhurst – to refocus worship on the Bible. “We call ourselves people of the Book,” she says, “but in reality so many of our churches use so little Scripture in worship.” Longhurst chooses resources based on specific Bible passages to encourage churches to consider both the art and its source.
“On the blog, Scripture is always the starting point,” she says, “because I’ve found on a personal level that if I root my worship-leading in the words and the stories and the imagery of Scripture, then as a worship leader, I’m far more likely to be faithful to the God of Scripture.”
Liturgy in lock-up
One of the more unusual places Longhurst’s influence is found is within the Manitoba Youth Centre in Winnipeg, where, every few Sundays, prayers from her blog flow from the mouths of institutionalized youth. Once a month, Jenna Dyck leads 12–18 year-old offenders in worship. The Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) student (and chaplain assistant) uses re:Worship to plan many of the services.
“[The blog has] been really helpful because I like to have lots of prayers included in the services. It’s really easy to bring in a worship band and have them just play for the whole service, but then I think something is lacking,” Dyck says. “I think that part of corporate worship is having that body united in prayer.… I have opening prayers, prayers of intercession, stuff like that. And I get youth to volunteer to read the prayers.”
Her own background in Presbyterianism gave Dyck an appreciation for traditional forms of worship, including use of the lectionary (one form of indexing on Longhurst’s blog). She’s also discovered that many of the First Nations youth who attend the service are more familiar with hymns and responsive prayer than they are with contemporary music and worship styles. For Dyck, re:Worship has been an essential resource.
“It’s just so easy to use,” she says. “I love going in with the search function and if I’ve got a specific Scripture that I’m preaching on that week, then I can just search out opening prayer, or benedictions, or other things that are written based on that Scripture. And so instead of having to spend all sorts of time myself…somebody else has already gone through and compiled everything.”
Of course, Dyck also appreciates the end result.
“It’s really powerful when you can see a group of 50 juvenile offenders all reciting in unison ‘Lord, help us have compassion!’” she says.
Over the last year, Centre for MB Studies (CMBS) director Jon Isaak also recruited Longhurst to create content on worship practices for the archive website. She is in the process of consolidating different types of resources dealing with specific scriptural texts or themes into dozens of posts for the Centre.
While the project is still in its infancy, Isaak hopes it will become a large part of what CMBS can offer on current MB practice, expanding the Centre’s role beyond the historical data for which it’s best known. He has been very impressed with Longhurst’s contributions so far.
Isaak says Longhurst is the perfect fit for the project, citing her doctorate in worship studies, her history of worship leadership in churches and at conventions, and her membership at River East MB Church in Winnipeg. She has the credentials – and “she actually knows what MBs do and don’t do, so it was logical,” he says.
“The point of this is to gather in one place some of these options. And we hope in the future to have other writers, other musicians, other worship planners continue with it.”
As of this spring, the MB Church of Manitoba has also adopted re:Worship as a project, providing some welcome recognition and fundraising opportunities for the hundreds of hours Longhurst has given to the blog since 2011.
“It’s been the comments, people who take the time to say, ‘This matters to me; thank you’ – that’s really what’s kept me going,” she says. “[I’m just trying] to make it easier for our worship leaders and song leaders to choose well.”
—Paul Esau is a communications intern with CCMBC and the MB Herald.