Our worship services at Denver Inner City Parish offer powerful possibilities for acknowledging and addressing our community’s trauma, theologically and spiritually, and for providing a place of safety and a path to recovery. Our services are intimate in size and caring in spirit and practice; congregants participate actively during the service; and every service concludes with a welcoming community dinner. The heart of our worship is Communion, which is celebrated at every service. For our congregation, Communion is the medium through which divine love and welcome are most fully communicated and experienced.
Standard liturgy fails to engage the fundamental and ongoing communal reality of trauma.
The traditional liturgy currently used in our worship services is based largely on the Book of Common Prayer. As beautiful and powerful as this liturgy is, however, it fails to engage the fundamental and ongoing communal reality of trauma; and it provides our congregation with few theological or spiritual resources to help them acknowledge, cope with and prevail over this towering reality in their daily lives. And it may even unintentionally cause harm: I cringe when I hear or use the language of blood sacrifice that is interwoven through the communion service, and fear that the language and underlying theology may re-traumatize or drive away our congregants who have suffered from blood-letting violence.
Our worship services at The Parish do not currently address the crisis of trauma in our community – but they can and they must. Christian worship is uniquely suited to be a safe and sacred place where trauma and its effects can be witnessed to, and where recovery from trauma can begin. Trauma propels its victims into existential crisis, and recovery from trauma requires the long, hard, caring work of rebuilding belief in self, trust in others, and reliance upon a stable ground of meaning. Worship can provide the essential elements needed for recovery from trauma: a safe and caring place where the hard and complex truths of traumatic experience can be spoken; loving relationships with other people and with the triune God that restore both a trusting connection with others and a new valuing of the self; and a new understanding and experience of the unshakeable divine bedrock of love that grounds life and provides meaning, sustenance, hope and courage, even in the ongoing darkness.
A revised liturgy can declare new things to those who sit in darkness and captivity.
Seeking a revised liturgy that engages the fundamental realities of life in our community does not disparage existing liturgies, which speak powerfully to the realities of other communities. Rather, it affirms that the word of God is living and active, that it speaks to all people in their own languages and contexts — and that it can ever be trusted to declare new things to those who sit in darkness and captivity.