In Public Work and Public Worship Christian Scharen examines how participation in church liturgy shapes people for service to the larger world. Scharen is interested in promoting a better understanding of the public role of the church from both a theological and sociological perspective. He rejects a simple linear model of the relationship between public worship and social ethics, common in contemporary discussions of liturgy and ethics, that people are formed in Christian-likeness by their worship and bring this re-formed self directly into the public realm through acts of justice and service. Scharen argues that the relationship between worship and service is considerably more complex. He believes that the connection between liturgy and service is greatly influenced by the unique conditions of each congregation and its surrounding environment. The type and intensity of a congregation's connection with the "world" will be strongly guided by its history, its leadership, and its perception of its identity.
Following an informative review of the literature in ritual and moral formation, Scharen presents in-depth studies of three Christian congregations, all located in urban Atlanta. He selects these churches not because they are representative of congregations in general but because they provide good examples of the identity issues that he finds so crucial to how congregations connect with their communities. The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Central Presbyterian Church differ in their denominational affiliation, their polity and hierarchy, and their membership. They are alike in that each had its beginning in downtown Atlanta before the exodus to the suburbs changed the shape of this and many other cities. They are alike, as well, because despite the struggle for survival in membership and finances each church made a decision to remain in Atlanta and to adjust itself to the realities of a changing community. Each congregation has a conscious public service agenda that is significant part of its church identity and each highly values its worship and liturgy.
Scharen does a masterful job of making each of these churches come alive so that the flavor, the harmony, and the tensions help the reader comprehend each congregation's unique sense of identity. At the Shrine conflicts and discomfort with the pastor's outreach to the gay community drive some congregants away but cause others to find the vital connections between worship and inclusion. Big Bethel's spirited preaching and music requires a constant balancing of the lively and the staid to meet the members' wide range of expectations but the message is always uplifting and the outreach focused on self-empowerment. Central is proud of its history as The Church That Stayed (the title of a book about the congregation published in 1979) but recognize that their outreach ministries must address current needs not just rest on history. The introduction by the pastor of more liturgy into their worship has caused unease, but not unrest, for some parishioners. The differences among the three congregations in history, liturgy and worship, membership, and vision for community service are dramatically portrayed. The interconnectedness of these factors makes each congregation unique and, consequently, each envisions and implements its community outreach in very different ways.
Having successfully demonstrated the complexities of the relationship between worship and service, Scharen analyzes the linear model of liturgy and public service in light of his findings. He then proposes a more comprehensive "interactive model" for understanding the role of community identity in connecting worship and public service. He proposes a model that includes a congregation's view of "who we are" and "how it should be done" (p.222). A graphic depiction of his model (p.223) provides a succinct description of the ongoing influences of both worship and identity on the public service that evolves from the Christian community.
This is a helpful book which adds thought-provoking insight into the way churches, and people in churches, involve themselves in the community. Worship is not discarded here in favor of social influences but rather is viewed as affecting people in the midst of and in conjunction with the many conditions that influence human beings "in the world." The examination of these complexities and the resulting model for study are useful additions to how we view the connection between liturgy and ethics. The descriptions of the congregations are compelling works in themselves.