One of the characteristics of the newly dubbed “emerging church,” is a return to ancient church practice which, for many youth and young adults, means a return to liturgy and its more formal structure. Indeed, it’s not so unusual to find that teens prefer a liturgical service and more traditional hymnody over against praise bands and praise choruses. There are a lot of middle age, boomer types who don’t really understand this, who prefer to believe that amplified praise music is what youth and young adults prefer. It’s not that teens reject the more “contemporary” out of hand. But, they are definitely attracted to what many consider traditional, liturgical and mysterious, even mystical, aspects of the faith.
Lutherans, with their very strong liturgical worship practice, could stand in the liturgical forefront of what some are calling the “emerging church” and its seeming tendency towards ritual. Along with Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and the Orthodox, we have what many are looking for. This trend to a return to liturgy is very real and, in fact, many have noted that the Orthodox church is one of the fastest growing in this country because of its liturgical traditions including the use of lots of candles, incense and icons.

If you are interested in taking your youth in some new (albeit old) liturgical directions, here are three books you should contemplate adding to your library.

The Book of Uncommon Prayer: Contemplative and Celebratory Prayers and Worship Services for Youth Ministry. This book, published by Youth Specialties in 2002, was written by Steven Case. The book came about from his exposure to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer when he was youth minister at an Episcopalian parish. The book is a rich collection of “worship services, prayers, readings, Scriptures and devotions that all teenagers and youth workers in Jesus’ church can enjoy and benefit from.” This is an excellent resource for youth workers charged with putting together youth worship services and opportunities, e.g. retreat programs, lock ins and “even sunrises and sunsets.” There is an outstanding collection of responsive readings, prayers and liturgies which are easily adaptable to any Lutheran youth setting. For people who have been looking for a resource to help plan and organize youth lead worship services, this should be a part of your library.

But, that one book is not the end to “Uncommon Prayer.” Last year (2006) Case and Youth Specialties added The Book of Uncommon Prayers: Prayers and Worship Services for Youth Ministry. It’s not just more of the same. Yes, there are more service outlines and there’s Case’s take on liturgical practice. What I really like about this book is the amazing collection of prayers and a chapter called “Private Prayers for Youth Workers.” The collection of prayers is rich in the subjects it covers including summer, vacation, hotel workers, hospitalized youth, mission trip (servant event) blessings, anxiety, babies, boldness. There are 54 pages of prayers; I wish there was a master index just of the prayers. The “Private Prayers for Youth Workers” is a great section for those of us who work with youth and all the things we confront or address. There is also a CD included, a collection of contemporary, edgy, emergent liturgical music.

The last book I want to recommend might appear to be a little self-serving and so I apologize if that’s the way it appears to you. For All the Saints: Involving Youth in Worship is a book I wrote for Concordia Publishing House (2005) to help teenagers understand the Lutheran liturgy. Additional commentary was added by Greg Wismar, the chairman of the LCMS Commission on Worship. While teens may really like liturgical worship, they may not know what they are doing and why we Lutherans do it that way. This book is intended to explain the parts of the liturgy and also suggest ways to make liturgy real and relevant to a young adult. In addition, there is a collection of cheers, litanies and responsive prayers that I have written. All these liturgical pieces are included on a CD and can easily be “imported” into a service outline. This is really an excellent resource (if I do say so myself) for helping teens understand the parts of the liturgy and could be a good resource for adult worshippers as well. For All the Saints could be especially helpful with the introduction of the new Lutheran Service Book.

St. Paul wrote twice, in Ephesians and in Colossians, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-20; also Colossians 3:16) Paul’s thoughts suggest to me that there is not just one way to worship; any given hymnbook or worship resource is not the last word in worship. BUT, it is also clear to me that these days, our liturgical heritage is a wonderful blessing and resource as we work to provide youth with meaningful worship opportunities that speak to their hearts, minds and spirits. For Lutherans we don’t have to invent something liturgical to meet these trends; it’s a part of our fiber as a liturgical church. It’s a part of what it means to be Lutheran.