The Ordering of Corporate Worship

Ordinary Acts of Corporate Worship

Basic Resources for Corporate Worship

Suggested Orders for Corporate Worship

Orders for Occasional Worship

Leadership of Corporate Worship

The Choir, Musicians and Corporate Worship

The Christian Year and Corporate Worship


The Sacrament of Baptism

Celebrating the Baptism

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

Celebrating the Lord's Supper


Public Profession of Faith

Transfer of Membership or
Reaffirmation of Faith

Christian Marriage

The Christian Funeral

Individual and Family Worship

General Assembly Office



Worship is fundamental to the mission of the Christian church. To worship God is to act out our obedience to the God who has revealed Himself to us, called and claimed us as His people. In worship the initiative lies with God and the focus is on God. God and God's redemptive and creative work are both the object and the subject of worship. To worship is to re-enact the gospel in its fullness and simplicity.

In worship we discover and express our identity as God's people, we participate in the ongoing redemptive work of God in the world and we offer ourselves anew to the One who has created, redeemed and sustained us. We worship because of who we are and who God is.

The dominant character of Christian worship is praise of God. Because of who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised to do, it is in order for us to praise God for that steadfast love which is peculiar to God.

Christians worship in the name of Jesus Christ: in the power of Jesus Christ and in the freedom of Jesus Christ. Jesus through His birth, life, death and resurrection offered up perfect worship to God, and as Christians we are free to participate in that perfect expression of praise. Therefore, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is central to Christian worship, and all Christian worship seeks to reflect and be shaped by that life and ministry. Jesus Christ is the living Word whose presence and spirit alone make valid all of Christian worship.

As human beings we also realize that we worship out of a sense of need. We are not sufficient unto ourselves, and we experience a sense of completeness and fulfillment through the encounter with and worship of our Creator. To worship is to be fully human.

Christians can worship God at any time, for all time has been redeemed by Him in Jesus Christ. From the beginning of Christian worship, however, one day has been set aside for corporate worship: the Lord's Day. This day is the first day of the week and it was designated as the proper day for corporate worship of Christians because it was the day Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. It was "on the first day of the week" that the followers of Jesus discovered the empty tomb and met the risen Lord. Hence the day appointed for Christian worship is a remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus. Each Sunday is understood by Christians at worship to be an Easter day; every time of corporate worship is understood to be a celebration of the victory of God acted out through the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

The Lord's Day also commemorates the first day of creation. On the first day of the week God began creation, and likewise on the first day of the week God began his "new creation." Hence this day is seen as being basic to all good. God created the world and pronounced it good; in Jesus Christ God redeemed the world and claimed it anew for its goodness. Christians worship on the Lord's Day remembering and celebrating God's creation and redemption: God's creating the world and proclaiming it good and God's decisive action in making all things new and good. By designating one day as the Lord's Day Christians show forth what is true for all days and all creation: Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation.


God through Jesus Christ redeems individuals into relationship to Himself and to one another as members of the church, which is the body of Christ. Christian worship, therefore, above all is to be understood as communal or corporate. This means that one's individuality finds its true meaning as a part of the community of faith and that individual worship is never understood to be in isolation from the faith and praise of the community. Moreover, it is in order to emphasize that individual or private worship is an essential part of the Christian life and is needful in order for corporate worship to find its deepest meaning and fullest integrity, just as corporate worship is necessary in order that individual worship can have appropriate substance and shape.

The corporate worship of the church also gives direction, focus and shape to the worship carried out by families. Their worship is guided by corporate worship and they are aware that their worship is done as people who are members of a worshiping community. Indeed, worship in the home is strongly encouraged. Scripture, prayer, hymns and personal witness are all a vital part of the worship of families.


It is appropriate that groups of Christians give thought to the ordering of their worship. Order and design are necessary not simply because worship is a social act in which agreed upon procedures are critical for responsible action by any group, but because God chose a specific form through which He carried out His ultimate act of self-revelation: the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the history of the Christian movement order and design have been critical for corporate worship. Moreover, through the years a certain basic shape and design for corporate worship has emerged and has been adopted by Christians under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This basic design has had at its center the praise and prayers of the people of God, the proclamation of God's Word and the celebration of the sacraments. These emphases in turn have been given particular order and expression so that a distinctive liturgical drama has been developed which is comprised of various components and actions in relationship to each other and to the overall purpose of worship.

Even so, there is no one "right" or "perfect" order or design for corporate worship. Rather, those designing corporate worship are to take thought for what is appropriate for a particular group on the basis of their specific situations together with the purpose and intent of the church's worship, and the liturgical tradition of their ecclesiastical body.

Corporate worship is always to be viewed as the people's service. The worshipers are not to be spectators watching what a few do, but participants who, together with those leading worship, are engaged in a mutual act of meeting between God and His called-out people. Leaders of worship should also keep in mind that they are worshipers too, and that their function is to enable all present to worship God.

The ordering of worship is not intended to prohibit spontaneity in corporate worship. Instead it is proper to design worship in anticipation of spontaneity. A variety of responses meaningful for the worshipers can be incorporated in the people's worship, and genuine, natural expressions of praise and confession are to be encouraged.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America has never adopted any official liturgy. The responsibility for designing corporate worship for groups of Christians is lodged with the judicatories. In the case of the local congregation, it is the session, under the leadership of the pastor, who has responsibility for the design of corporate worship. The members of the other judicatories are responsible for ordering corporate worship for those groups of Christians, which at any given time are under the jurisdiction of that particular judicatory.

Ministers of the Word have special responsibilities for the ordering of corporate worship. They are educated in the history and theology of Christian worship and they are expected to give strong guidance and leadership to all persons who are engaged in designing and leading corporate worship.


Persons designing and participating in corporate worship are to take thought for those acts which Christians historically have found to be valid and necessary expressions of their worship. These acts help us to remember and to understand what we are to do and what we are to say as we meet to worship God.

1. Praise of God. Worshiping God involves praising God. Christians praise God for who God is and for what God has done, is doing and has promised to do. We praise God because God is the Sovereign Lord over all of life.

2. Confession of Sin. While Christians are redeemed and worship as a part of the redeemed community, sin is still a part of their lives. Corporate worship has traditionally provided an occasion when Christians acknowledge their sinfulness and confess their sins to God.

3. Proclamation. Whenever Christians worship, the gospel is to be proclaimed. The gospel means good news and is centered in what God has revealed to humankind throughout history, especially God's ultimate revelation in Jesus Christ. In worship Christians both announce and hear that good news of God's love, grace, judgment, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, and God's gracious call to service.

4. Affirmation of Faith. Stating what the community of faith believes is an ordinary part of Christian worship. That faith both shapes the life of the worshipers and gives expression to the hope and expectancy which is a part of the Christian life.

5. Offering. The worship of the people of God is incomplete without the act of giving. Surely it is well to be reminded that in worship God gives himself anew to the worshipers. Also, in worship those present offer themselves to God, to be shaped, empowered, directed, changed by God; and they offer their gifts to God to be blessed and used by God.

6. Commitment and Commissioning. Corporate worship never loses contact with the world. In corporate worship the worshipers give thought for all the world, and are enabled to move into the world to serve God and participate with God in the ongoing redemption of the world. In corporate worship persons may respond in acts of repentance and faith and commit themselves to serve God and to serve other human beings in the name of Jesus Christ. It is fitting that acts of commitment and commissioning be included in worship.

7. Celebrating the Sacraments. The sacraments of the Lord's Supper and baptism are sign-acts of God's self-giving which are means by which God's grace is made available to us. The sacraments give a peculiar shape to the worship of Christians and are the primary signs of the covenant of grace.

While it is appropriate to include all these acts in any occasion of corporate worship, it is not necessary to incorporate all acts in order to express valid worship. Over a period of time, however, all of the acts mentioned above should be expressed, and thought should be given by those responsible for designing corporate worship to ensure that such is so.


The resources used by those designing worship are to be tested for suitability by the purpose and intent of worship itself. Historically the resources used by the church are as follows:

1. Scripture. Scripture is the written word of God and has a preeminent place in all aspects of the lives of Christians and the life of the church.

The reading of one or more passages of scripture should be a part of every corporate worship experience.

Those responsible for reading scripture in worship are expected to be very familiar with the selected passages and read them in such a manner that they are readily heard by the other worshipers. Scripture readings should be selected so that over a period of time the entire witness of scripture is read as a part of worship.

In addition to the reading of the Bible in worship, scripture is also the fundamental resource for the opening sentences or call to worship, the invitation to celebrate the sacraments, the assurance of pardon, the blessing, prayer, and proclamation. Indeed, scripture itself proclaims God's word.

2. Prayers. Prayer is inseparable from the Christian life. To be a Christian is to pray and to join others in prayer. Prayer therefore is an essential aspect of all Christian worship.

Christians pray not primarily to "receive" something from God, but as an expression of their creaturehood and their dependence upon God as their creator. The primary purposes of prayer are: (1) to enter into the presence of God to experience anew God's judgment, grace and power; (2) to praise God, and (3) to invite God into our world and into our lives.

All prayer in corporate worship is informed by the Lord's Prayer. Its customary use as a vital part of worship is encouraged, and the nature and character of that prayer should serve as a guide for all prayer.

Christians also have the prayers that have been handed down through the church's history to use in corporate worship and to use as a guide for all prayers prayed in worship. The prayers of the "great cloud of witnesses" which surround us are our prayers, too, and enable all the saints, living and dead to participate in corporate worship.

It is in order to formulate new prayers for worship which are based upon and added to this prayer tradition. But whether new prayers are formulated or ancient prayers prayed anew, the matter of first importance is that they be in accord with the prayer tradition of the church.

Whether prayers are written or not is of no prime importance. What is important is that ordinarily the prayers be prepared and that they be prayed so that all present may participate in the prayers.

Prayer involves, among other emphases, the following: adoration or praise of God, confession of sin, offering of thanksgiving, interceding on behalf of others, supplication and surrender, offering of ourselves and our gifts.

3. Music. The earliest records of the Christian community make clear that music was an integral part of the worship of believers. Singing their praise and prayers was customary and meaningful.

Music enables worshipers to offer their worship in a more complete way. It is imperative therefore that music provide the occasion for people to focus upon God and God's will, to experience the presence of God and to worship God in spirit and truth.

Selection of music is to be done with utmost care, giving thought to the quality of the music, and its appropriateness for Christian worship and for the particular worshipers.

4. Hymns, Spirituals and Gospel Songs. Throughout the ages Christians have sung their faith as a part of their worship. Hymns, spirituals and gospel songs vary in content and focus and may be used as a part of the many different acts of worship: praise, confession of sin, proclamation, commitment, affirmation of faith.

From these resources for worship, care should be taken to ensure that the text expresses some aspect of biblical truth, and that the tune reflects music quality and is suitable for the people who are to sing it.

5. Sermon. In corporate worship the sermon is central to proclamation. Its purpose is to present some aspect of the gospel in a manner which will enable all present to be engaged once more by God's good news, have their lives claimed anew by God and invite a response of obedience to God's call.

Sermons are based upon scripture and shaped by scripture. In preparing sermons it is necessary to be guided by all of scripture in order that all aspects of the gospel will be proclaimed. Orderly selection of scripture passages upon which those preaching base their sermons, such as some form of lectionary, is encouraged.

Sermons should be preached in a manner which reflects informed communication skills.

6. Creeds. Creeds are one form of expressing what the community of faith believes. The Bible contains numerous creedal statements which summarize the faith of various worshiping groups. Scripture passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Deuteronomy 26:5-9,

I Corinthians 15:3-7, Philippians 2:6-11 represent creedal statements likely used in corporate worship.

The ancient creeds known as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed still serve worshipers well. In addition, other creeds have been produced which may be used in worship as a means of expressing personal and corporate faith. It is appropriate for Christians to write new creeds for worship, so long as they are in accord with the biblical witness.


While there is no one order for worship which is appropriate for all Christians, there is a classic shape to corporate worship which informs all our worship. That shape is one of God's action and our response to God. The following orders for Christian worship are informed by that classical shape. The first order includes the celebration of the Lord's Supper, since the Lord's Supper is an act which gives the peculiar shape to all Christian worship.

1. Corporate Worship Including the Lord's Supper


The corporate worship begins as Christians present themselves to join together to worship God. The music chosen for a prelude should enable people to focus their attention on God and God's kingdom. Worshipers are to be instructed that the prelude is a part of their corporate worship. It is not a "mood setter" or a time to "get ready" for worship. Perhaps ringing a bell before the prelude begins, or some signal form the leader of worship prior to the prelude indicating that worship is now to begin would be helpful. The liturgist may simply say "Let us worship God." Then the prelude can begin.

Opening Sentences

Traditionally these sentences have always been scripture with the focus being on God and our relationship to him. The classic model for Presbyterian worship has been Psalm 124:8, "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth." Many other passages of scripture can be used as opening sentences, and may be said responsively. But whatever passages are used, they will emphasize why the participants have gathered and what they are about. The use here of any material other than scripture should be carefully examined as to substance and intent.

Hymn of Praise

The dominant purpose of Christian worship is praise--the joyful response of the people to God's unspeakable gift in Jesus Christ. It is highly appropriate, therefore, that the people sing their praise to God following the opening sentences. The hymn should be one whose tune and text point to God's greatness, majesty, love and goodness.

Prayer of Adoration

Ordinarily the prayer following the hymn of praise continues the theme of praise and adoration. Care should be taken to shape the prayer as one of adoration, and remember that other prayers in the service will be shaped by other appropriate prayer emphases.

Confession of Sin and Declaration of Pardon
or Words of Assurance

The confession of sin and the assurance of forgiveness are an integral part of worship, just as they are an integral part of the Christian life. Historically this act is found in one of two places: following the act of adoration or before the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

It is in order to call the worshipers to confession through the use of scripture passages. The prayer of confession follows and often it is most meaningful when prayed in unison. If it is prayed by one person on behalf of all, it should be carefully planned and thoughtfully prayed so that it can indeed be a corporate prayer in which all may participate.

The act of confession is to be followed by a strong affirmation or declaration of pardon. Here again scripture provides the best treasury for such affirmation, and needs no comment of any kind. For example, I John 1:9 is often used: "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Responses of Praise

A response of praise appropriately follows the act of confession and the granted forgiveness from God. This response can take several forms. Psalms and canticles (songs from the Bible other than those contained in the Psalter) have long been used for this purpose. The reading from the Psalter is appropriately followed by the singing of the Gloria Patri ("Glory Be to the Father"), or some other response of praise.

The Hearing of God's Word

The reading, proclaiming and hearing of God's word constitute the second major movement in the order of worship. We gather to hear God's word addressed to us through the reading of scripture and the preaching of the sermon. Here proclamation is central and uppermost.

The reading of scripture is of critical importance to proclamation. Whoever is responsible for reading it should be adequately prepared and possess the ability to read well.

In selecting the scripture passage or passages to be read careful thought is to be given to providing the worshipers with all the many and varied themes and emphases of God's word.

The use of a lectionary for corporate worship is highly recommended. A lectionary is a systematic ordering of scripture to ensure that the many themes of scripture will be read and provide the basis for proclamation. Traditionally lectionaries are developed around the Christian year and prescribe specific readings for each Sunday. It is also appropriate for those who design worship to produce a lectionary for use.

Customarily the reading of scripture is preceded by a Prayer for Illumination which calls upon God to enable us to be receptive to his word.

It is appropriate that the scripture readings be separated by an anthem or canticle or hymn.

The sermon appropriately follows the last scripture reading and ordinarily is to be based upon one or more of the readings. Care should be exercised that the sermon not violate the integrity of worship nor compromise the biblical witness. A prayer or Ascription of Praise appropriately follows the sermon.

Affirmation of Faith or Creed

The affirmation of faith by the worshipers has from the early years of the Christian movement been a central part of corporate worship. Historically the recital of the Creed or personal Affirmation of Faith was the basis on which worshipers were admitted to the Lord's Supper. Only those persons who were willing to say "I believe..." were allowed to participate in the worship of the people of God at the table. Also, the Creed or Affirmation of Faith functions as a response to our hearing of God's word.

It is fitting also that an appropriate hymn be sung to express further the worshipers' belief or faith.

The Prayers of the People

The people's Affirmation of Faith is appropriately followed by the Prayers of the People. These are prayers that may be offered by a minister or a layperson to which all present can respond by saying "Amen."

The Prayers of the People may include thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, and conclude with the Lords' Prayer. Thanksgiving lifts up the expression of gratitude common to all those present and may include appreciation for the church; supplication focuses on the needs of the worshipers both individual and corporate; intercession incorporates the needs of those not present but whose needs are well known, especially the needs of those who are not members of the Christian community; the Lord's Prayer is the model of all our prayers and enables all present to pray according to Jesus' teaching and understanding of prayer.

The Presenting of the Gifts or Offering

Historically the offering was the occasion in corporate worship when the elements of bread and wine which were to be used in the Lord's Supper were presented. It is appropriate to bring them to the communion table still, or if the table has already had the elements placed upon it, they are at this time prepared for the Lord's Supper which is to follow.

At this point in the service, money and other offerings are brought forward. The giving of money is to be seen as an act of worship, a symbol of our commitment as individuals and as a corporate body to the redemptive work of God in the world. Even if there is no money to be given as a part of a particular service of corporate worship, some act of self-giving is in order for that service. The Doxology may be sung as an act of praise following the giving of our gifts, and the act of giving may conclude with a Prayer of Dedication.

The Celebration of the Lord's Supper

The celebration of the Lord's Supper is central to Christian worship. In this liturgical act a visible presentation of the word is joined to it and proclamation. Together, sermon and sacrament bear witness to God's redemptive actions in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is always appropriate to include the sacrament as a part of corporate worship.

In celebrating the Lord's Supper, those designing worship should be guided by the acts which have traditionally accompanied that necessary part of corporate worship. Those acts may be identified by different names and be clustered under different headings, but essentially they are these:

a. Invitation to the Lord's Table. The minister who is to lead the congregation in celebrating the Lord's Supper invites all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to participate in this celebration.

b. Words of Institution. Scripture passages which establish the warrant for this celebration are read or recited by the one who is designated to officiate at the communion table. Appropriate words are found in I Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:19-26, and Luke 22:19-20. Other passages of scripture which relate Jesus' meeting with his disciples for a meal after the resurrection may also be used for this purpose.

c. Prayer of Thanksgiving. This prayer most often includes an expression of thanksgiving to God for who he is and what he has done in Jesus Christ, a calling upon God to send the Holy Spirit upon the elements and the people, and an offering of the lives of the people to be used by God.

d. Breaking and Pouring. Action at this point in the liturgy is most meaningful. The acts of breaking the bread and pouring the wine dramatically remind us that Christ's body was broken and his blood was shed for all. It is important therefore that such action be thoughtfully done and clearly visible to all present. A loaf of bread of sufficient size needs to be provided for the breaking, and a chalice and flagon are necessary for the pouring. After the pouring, the chalice can be elevated for all to see. If the act of pouring is omitted, the chalice may still be elevated.

e. Partaking of the Elements. Different ways of distributing the elements have developed in the life and worship of the church which are appropriate. Congregations of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America have traditionally followed the procedure of serving the worshipers in their pews. Using this method, the minister may partake of the elements, then serve the ruling elders, who in turn serve the congregation; or the minister and ruling elders may serve others first and then serve one another.

Another method used is having the members of the congregation come forward to partake and be served by the minister and ruling elders. Still another approach is to have the worshipers come forward and be served while seated at a table.

In each method used, worshipers may stand, sit or kneel.

Many worshipers have found the use of one loaf of bread and one cup (traditionally called the "common cup") for all worshipers to be most meaningful. Some congregations use the common cup only for the minister and the ruling elders.

f. Post Communion Prayer. A prayer of praise, commitment and intercession may follow the distributing of the elements. A canticle of the church or a hymn may appropriately follow this prayer.

g. The Dismissal/Charge/Benediction. Corporate worship may conclude with a dismissal signaling the concluding of worship, or a charge in which the people are exhorted to go into the world to be the people of God, or a pronouncement of a blessing upon the people, or any combination of the three. Leaders are encouraged to use biblical material for this act.


Like the prelude this music should be chosen with corporate worship in mind. Moreover, if it is to be a part of worship, then all present should be requested to remain silent and listen to the postlude and make it a part of their worship. If this is to happen, it means that in most instances the postlude will be brief. If the postlude is not to be understood as a part of worship, then it is recommended that it be removed from the order of worship and that the service conclude with the dismissal or benediction.


Persons responsible for designing corporate worship will need to think through how the making of necessary announcements will relate to corporate worship. Some congregations will choose to present all necessary announcements in a bulletin and expect the worshipers to read them without any mention of them being made as a part of worship. Other congregations may decide to make announcements prior to the beginning of corporate worship. Another option is to make announcements after corporate worship.

Those congregations which decide it is the wise choice to make announcements as a part of worship should give thought to how this can be done without disrupting worship. One possibility is to make announcements just prior to the Prayers of the People, and incorporate the concerns of the announcements into the prayers. Whenever announcements are made as a part of corporate worship, they should be restricted to announcements which relate directly to the on-going mission of the congregation and have relevance for all members of the worshiping community.

2. An Order for Corporate Worship Without the Lord's Supper

Opening Sentences
Hymn of Praise
Call to Confession
Declaration of Pardon
Psalter Reading
Gloria Patri
Prayer for Illumination
First Scripture Reading
Ascription of Praise
The Prayers of the People
The Offering
Offertory Anthem
Prayer of Dedication

3. A Second Order for Corporate Worship Without the Lord's Supper

Opening Sentences or Call to Worship
Prayer of Adoration
Hymn of Praise
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
Responsive Reading
Gloria Patri
Invitation to Give
Giving of Offering
Prayer of Dedication
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading(s)
Prayers of the People
Hymn of Consecration
Silent Prayer

4. A Third Order for Corporate Worship Without the Lord's Supper

Opening Sentences or Call to Worship
Processional Hymn
Prayers: Adoration (the people standing)
Confession (the people seated)
Assurance of Pardon
Gloria Patri
Scripture Reading(s)
Prayers of the People
Lord's Prayer
Recessional Hymn
Dismissal and/or Benediction


There are various occasions other than the Lord's Day when groups of Christians gather to worship. Families are encouraged in worship, different meetings and programs appropriately include worship, and through the week opportunities may be given for Christians to join together to pray and praise God. The following orders, or some adapted versions of them, are recommended for voluntary use.


Order 1

Scripture Sentences
Responsive Reading
Gloria Patri
Scripture Reading

        Order 2

Scripture Sentences
Hymn of Praise
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon
Scripture Reading
Special Music
Silent Reflection
Charge and Dismissal

Order 3

Opening Sentences or Call to Worship
Scripture Reading
Silent Reflection on Scripture, or
Brief Interpretation of Scripture
Closing Prayer

Order 4

Reading of Scripture
Brief Interpretation of Scripture
Silent Prayer
Lord's Prayer
Dismissal and/or Benediction


General Guidelines

Thoughtful, responsible and imaginative leadership is critical for corporate worship; weak, careless and sloppy leadership diminishes significantly the worship of the people of God. The purpose of the leadership is to enable the worshipers to unite in their praise and homage to God, to act out the liturgical drama, and to respond obediently to God's claim on their lives. The leader directs the people with respect to actions or words.

There is no one way worship is to be conducted; the leadership will depend greatly upon the situation and the person or persons responsible for the leadership. The general rule for leadership is to do and say whatever is necessary to enable the worshipers to be certain what action is to take place or what is to be said, but do no more than is necessary. Some additional guidelines for leaders of worship are:

a. Present yourself as a worshiper along with the others;
b. Avoid any action or comment which primarily calls attention to yourself as a leader or distracts people from their worship;
c. Be direct and forceful in your leadership;
d. Plan carefully all comments and leadership actions;
e. Be brief and clear with all directions;
f. Learn how to lead non-verbally, and
g. Make use of the historically liturgical language in directing or leading the worshipers.

While the ordained minister is frequently the person most active in leading corporate worship, leadership of the worshipers is in no way restricted to the clergy. Various members of the congregation may function as leaders of worship and are encouraged to do so. The choir and instrumental musicians provide leadership for the parts of the worship involving music, and other laypersons also provide various types of leadership. It is paramount, however, that anyone who functions as a leader of worship be carefully prepared.

Symbols and Vestments

Through the centuries the Christian community has made use of symbols and vestments to aid in their worship. Christians can choose from this vast storehouse of symbols or create their own for use in the place designated for worship. What is crucial in use of symbols is that those who are asked to use them understand clearly their meaning and their function.

Vestments worn by leaders of worship may also enrich and enhance corporate worship. Robes worn by choir members and other musicians, clergy robes, albs, chasubles, stoles can all serve a useful purpose if they are properly introduced and understood. Vestments can fittingly symbolize the function of the leader of worship and can direct attention away from the individual to the responsibility the person is carrying out on behalf of the worshiper.


The primary choir for all singing in worship is the worshiping congregation. Where there is an auxiliary choir to provide liturgical leadership, the members of that choir should always understand themselves as worshipers offering their special gifts to God so that the congregation can sing and worship more faithfully. When a choir sings responses or anthems, it is representing the congregation, just as ordained ministers do when they pray or preach.

Choir directors and other musicians have knowledge concerning music which is valuable in planning and conducting corporate worship. They should work closely with ministers and others in designing the worship service. Ministers and musicians especially should work creatively with each other, sharing knowledge and understanding and learning from each other.


As worship developed in the Christian community during the first centuries, an ordered attempt was made to ensure that in its worship the church would represent the whole of the gospel and the full spectrum of Christian truth. This ordering became known as the Christian year. The primary emphases of the Christian year are the birth, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the empowering of the church for mission. Various "seasons" (designated days or weeks) were developed so that suitable attention could be given to the various aspects of the gospel.

Worshipers are encouraged to be instructed by the seasons and emphases of the Christian year in order that their worship may more nearly reflect the whole of the gospel.


Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the two sacraments instituted by Christ, are part of the full expression of corporate worship. They are understood to be signs of Christ's presence with us and thereby belong to the regular worship of Christians. The primary importance in both sacraments is what God does and the reality of God's self-giving in and through the water, bread and wine. Like all aspects of worship they are corporate acts in the deepest sense, and they always point to the saving grace of Christ and Christ's benefits offered to us. Especially do the sacraments re-enact the redemptive acts of God by which we are united to Jesus Christ and made one in Christ.

The power and meaning of the sacraments depend upon the presence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word. They are also linked to the proclaimed word, and are inseparably connected to the Word, incarnate and proclaimed. They are in a true sense a visible Word. The Word and sacraments together give the fundamental shape to all Christian worship.


Baptism is a sign of God's love for us and of Christ's grace extended to us. In baptism God claims persons as his own and marks them as peculiarly His, heirs of the covenant of grace. Baptism signifies and represents the forgiveness of sin, the engrafting into Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, and the death and resurrection to new life. It is both proclamation and affirmation. It proclaims that God's grace and love reach out to people before they are able to respond, and it affirms our new identity as members of the body of Christ. It sets people apart form the rest of the world, and claims them as participants in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

No person is worthy by her or his own merit to receive the gift of God's grace conferred and proclaimed in baptism. Whether it is a believer who is baptized or a child of a believer, each is totally dependent on God's grace and forgiveness freely offered in Christ through his church.

Baptism is an act of worship of the whole church. It should, therefore, ordinarily be administered in the context of corporate worship. If there are compelling reasons to administer the sacrament in some other context than the regular worship of a congregation, members of the congregation should still be present and scripture, proclamation, prayer and affirmation of the faith of the congregation should be a part of the act.

The meaning and significance of baptism are never limited to the person receiving the sacrament, but its benefits relate to all, as those present who have been baptized recall their own membership in the covenant community, the claim of God upon their own lives, and their dependence upon God's grace and forgiveness freely given.

The nature and character of baptism dictates that it can be administered only once to each person. The sign and seal once administered last for the whole course of our lives.

The proper recipients of baptism are believers and their children. The sacrament is to be administered by an ordained minister.


It is recommended that prior to the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, the person to be baptized or the parent(s) of the child who is to be baptized should receive thorough instructions from the pastor and the session as to the meaning of baptism and its significance for the church and the one receiving the sacrament. After adequate instruction has been given, a date should be set for the celebration of the sacrament. The date should be a time when the regular worship of the congregation is anticipated.

The sacrament is administered during corporate worship in the context of affirmation of faith and may occur before or after the preaching of the Word. At the time in worship appointed for the sacrament, the minister may begin the celebration by simply asking that those who are to be baptized will come or be brought to the baptismal font. The minister, along with any others who are to assist in administering the sacrament, will then join them at the font. A hymn reflecting one of the themes of the sacrament may be sung.

Once at the font, with the participants in their proper places, the minister may then read or recite scripture passages which set forth the deep meaning of baptism found in scripture. Such texts as Isaiah 40:11; Acts 2:39; Matthew 28:18-19; Psalm 103:17-18, and Mark 10:15-16 are highly appropriate, as are many other texts.

The minister will then state for all to hear the meaning of baptism, emphasizing the notions of the covenant of grace, God's forgiveness of our sins, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives and declaring that through the sacrament we are marked as members of the household of faith.

The parents of those to be baptized, or each believer who is to be baptized, will next be asked to make affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and they shall be asked to declare their willingness to be obedient to Christ through serving Christ as a member of Christ's church. Parents of children receiving baptism are also asked to declare their intention to teach their children of the love of God, to instruct them in the Christian faith, and to assist them to live lives obedient to the gospel.

The following questions and responses are suggestive of questions which could be used for the purposes stated above:

1. Who is your Lord and Savior?

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

2. Do you trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation?

I trust only in Jesus Christ.

3. Do you intend to be Christ's faithful disciple?

I do so intend, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The next two questions are to be asked only of the parent(s) of the children to be baptized:

4. Do you seek baptism for your child?

I do, confessing its meaning for my salvation and the salvation of my child.

5. Do you intend to teach your child of the meaning of baptism for a person's life, the love of God and the meaning of Christian discipline?

I so intend, relying greatly upon the Holy Spirit and the community of faith.

The members of the congregation are then to be asked if they will accept, witness to, and support the persons who are to be baptized, recognizing them as members of Christ's church. A question such as the following could be put to the worshiping congregation.

Do you, the people of God, members of Christ's church, promise to share with this new member the good news of the gospel, to surround (him/her) with love and compassion, and to support (him/her) through prayer, fellowship, and direction?

We do so promise and we so intend.

The response of the congregation being given, the minister will then lead the congregation in prayer, giving thanks for God's grace and forgiveness, God's love and mercy and for the church of Jesus Christ. Other biblical themes concerning baptism may be used to enrich the prayer. Moreover, it is in order to pray for the blessing of the water and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of the one to be baptized.

Following the prayer, the minister shall ask the Christian name of the one to be baptized. The congregation will then stand for the act of baptism.

Pouring or sprinkling water on the person who is to receive the sacrament the minister shall say:

"__________________, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

After the act of baptism the minister shall charge the congregation with respect to their responsibilities. A hymn may then be sung, or testimonies presented by members of the congregation. Or the minister may give witness to the fact that Christians are no longer aliens but fellow workers with Christ.

When persons being baptized are to be received into the church, the session may receive them before the act of baptism, or after the act of baptism, or at a meeting of the session at a later date.

Prayers may conclude the celebration, prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. The prayers may be in unison, silent or bidding in form. A blessing or peace may then be pronounced.


The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is not to be thought of as an addition to corporate worship; it is rather to be understood as central to Christian worship. It gives distinctive shape to the worship of Christians, and it should be celebrated frequently enough that it is clear to everyone that the Lord's Supper is a central part of corporate worship.

In the Lord's Supper God acts to give those who come to the table in faith the spiritual nourishment necessary to sustain them in their Christian lives. The quality and growth of one's life as a Christian are tied inseparably to this sacrament.

This sacrament is more than a memorial to, or a reminder of, Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection. It is a means, instituted by Christ for His disciples. through which the risen Lord is truly present with his people as a continuing power and reality. While the meaning of Christ's sacrificial death is at the heart of this sacrament, it is a resurrected, living Christ whom we encounter through the bread and the wine.

The time and place for each celebration of the Lord's Supper is to be set by the church judicatory which has jurisdiction over the group of Christians who are to celebrate the sacrament. The sacrament is to be offered freely to all who express personal faith, but all who are to partake were to be encouraged to confess their sins, to be reconciled to each other and to all human beings, and to come in humility and hope to Christ's table.

Celebrating the Lord's Supper

The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated as an integral part of corporate worship. Its administration will ordinarily follow the reading and proclamation of the word.

The celebration of the Lord's Supper may begin with the minister, or an elder authorized by the presbytery to administer the sacrament, reading or reciting scripture passages which speak of Christ's invitation to us to come to Him. Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 5:6; Luke 14:29; John 6:35, 48-51; John 10:10-11, and Revelation 3:20 are passages which may be used, but there are many others which may be used.

After the hymn has been sung the minister then reads or recites the biblical words of institution. These are passages of scripture which tell of Christ's institution of the Lord's Supper: I Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 22:14-19; Matthew 26:26-28, and Mark 14:22-25.

The minister after presenting the words of institution then leads the worshipers in a prayer of thanksgiving. This prayer and its emphasis of thanksgiving has been so critical to this sacrament that the sacrament often is referred to as the Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word in the New Testament, Eucharisto, which means thanksgiving. It should include thanksgiving to God for the gift of Jesus Christ, thanksgiving for Christ's life, death and resurrection, and thanksgiving for Christ's presence among his people. Traditionally the prayer has also included a petition for the coming of the Holy Spirit to bring about our union with the risen Christ. It is appropriate that the Lord's Prayer follows the prayer of thanksgiving.

The minister may then break bread in the presence of the people, voicing Jesus' words: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

It is in order for the minister and those assisting the minister themselves to partake of both elements, and then distribute the bread and wine to the other worshipers. As the elements are being passed, a hymn may be sung, or scripture may be read or silence observed.

As the minister gives the elements to the other worshipers, the minister may say: "This is the body of Christ; take, eat, and remember Christ died for your sins, and was raised victorious over sin and death."

and "This is the blood of Christ; take, all of you drink of it, and remember that Christ died for your sins, and was raised victorious over sin and death."

or "Jesus said: 'I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst.'"

and "Jesus said: 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing.'"

When all the worshipers have been served, the minister may remind them of Christ's grace or bid them Christ's peace, using such phrases as: "The peace of God be with you" or "The grace of our Lord is yours."

The worshipers may then praise God by singing or reading a psalm, or by singing a hymn of praise.

It is proper that a brief prayer of praise and thanksgiving follow, after which a hymn may be sung. Following the hymn the worshipers may be given a charge and commissioned using such words as the following:

"Go out into the world in peace and be the people of God; be of good courage; hold firmly to all that is good; return no person evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help those in need; treat all persons with respect and compassion; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit."

or "Rejoice in the Lord always: Let all people know your gentleness and compassion and patience. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything trust Christ who has promised to be with us always. And the peace of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

The service properly concludes with a blessing, after which the people may respond by saying:

"Alleluia! Amen!"



It is expected that corporate worship will be the occasion for persons to make public their professions of faith. This will be so for persons who are baptized as children of believing parents and also for persons who come to faith from outside the church. Both are reason for joy and rejoicing and for giving praise to God.

Such professions can appropriately take place in worship after the preaching of the gospel, and just prior to or as a part of the congregational affirmation of faith. Certainly professions of faith should be included in worship before the Lord's Supper is celebrated.

A variety of procedures may be used to incorporate into worship the personal profession of faith of individuals. An invitation to Christian discipleship may be extended following preaching of the gospel, and persons may present themselves to make public professions of faith at that time. Or groups of individuals who have received instruction may be presented to the congregation by the minister or a ruling elder. Again, sponsors may bring the persons forward and present them. Whatever procedure is used, it should honor the purpose and focus of worship; the procedure should never be seen as an interruption of worship or an intrusion into worship.

Once persons present themselves or are presented, they should be given the opportunity to profess their faith. Most often this is done according to the ancient custom in the church of asking questions. However, a congregation may give persons the opportunity of giving a statement of their personal faith in lieu of responding to questions.

When those making a public profession of faith desire to affiliate with the congregation, the following form of church covenant may be used:

1. Do you repent of your sin and believe Jesus Christ to be your Savior and the Lord of your life?

I Do.

2. Do you believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired word of God, the source of authority for faith and practice, and will you read and study them for guidance in living the Christian life?

I do so believe and I do so promise.

3. Do you promise to be a faithful member of this church by participating in worship, sharing in its ministry of witness and service, supporting the government of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, and loving your brothers and sisters in Christ?

I do so promise.

4. Will you strive to overcome temptation and weakness, grow in knowledge and grace, and practice love in all relationships, being strengthened in your personal discipleship by your life in the community of faith?

I will so strive.

5. Do you promise to be a good steward of the life, talents, time, and money which God has entrusted to you, giving of these gifts to the church?

I do so promise.

An alternate form of church covenant which may be used is:

1. Who is your Lord and Savior?

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

2. Do you trust in Jesus Christ?

I do.

3. Do you intend to be Christ's disciple, to obey Christ's commands, and serve Christ?

I do, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

4. Do you intend to be a faithful member of the part of Christ's body called the Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, worshiping and serving as a member of a local congregation, giving of yourself, your time and your substance?

I do so intend, relying upon God's grace.

After the questions have been answered, or the testimonies given, the minister shall acknowledge those professing their faith to be disciples of Jesus Christ, saying to each one something like the following:

"________________, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are a fellow worker with us and with Christ. You are privileged to participate with all of Christ's disciples in Christ's redemptive work in the world."

A charge or commissioning may follow this declaration. Indeed, the minister may prepare a charge or commissioning statement for each occasion. The statements which follow may serve as a guide:

"Jesus said: `As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' Christ sends us into the world, as He was sent into the world, not to be ministered unto but to minister. May it be so for your life and for us all."

or "Be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Live a life worthy of the gospel, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the body of peace. Be an imitator of Christ. Walk in love."

After this charge, the church session may act to receive as members of the congregation those persons making a profession of faith. Or the session may act to receive them at a meeting soon thereafter. Then all present may join together in stating their common faith, using a traditional or contemporary creed.

Transfer of Membership or Reaffirmation of Faith

If persons who have previously made a public profession of faith desire to unite with a different congregation by transfer of membership or reaffirmation of faith, they may be acknowledged at this time. If they have already been received by the session, they may simply be introduced and recognized. If they have not yet been received they may be asked to declare their intentions publicly at this time and then be welcomed as members. An appropriate question would be:

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and do you transfer your membership and loyalty to this congregation?

I do, rejoicing in the opportunity to worship and serve God in this congregation.

After all individual professions of faith and declarations of intent have been stated, it is fitting that the session act to receive as members of that congregation all who have reaffirmed their faith. Or the session may act to receive them at a meeting soon thereafter. It is then highly appropriate that all present join together in an affirmation of faith, using one of the traditional or contemporary creeds of the church.

A prayer suitable for the occasion should follow, after which those who have been received as newly commissioned members are welcomed into the ministry of Jesus Christ to the community which the congregation serves.


Christian marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman in which they pledge their love to each other, commit themselves to one another, promise mutual fidelity and covenant to live together as husband and wife. Christians believe that God has ordained such a relationship for the welfare and happiness of humankind. While it is not necessary to be married to be an obedient Christian, and indeed not everyone should marry, it is in order for Christians to marry and to advocate marriage. Jesus Christ blessed the relationship of marriage, it has been honored in the church throughout the church's history, and it is to be held in high esteem among all people.

Marriage is a relationship recognized and defined by both the state and the church. The state views it as a civil contract among a woman and a man and the state with certain legal requirements placed upon all who enter into the civil contract. Moreover, the state requires that numerous requirements be met with respect to age, health and soundness of mind.

The church views marriage as more than a legal contract. Marriage is understood to be a relationship which is patterned after God's relationship to human beings in Jesus Christ. It involves self-giving, unselfish love one for the other and a profound sense of living their life together under the guidance and providential care of God.

Ministers are expected to counsel with a woman and a man who come to them to be married. That counseling will include instruction of the couple with respect to the biblical meaning of marriage, exploration of the commitment which the man and the woman have to each other, the requirements of the state, the design of the marriage service and the religious commitments of those who present themselves to be married.

Each minister will decide, based upon counseling with the couple, whether she or he can participate with the couple in the marriage ceremony. In making such a determination, the minister should consider matters such as the following: the concepts of marriage held by the couple, their commitment to Jesus Christ and the Christian church, their emotional, personal and financial suitability for marriage and their commitment to a marriage relationship. It is prudent for ministers at times to seek counsel from other ministers or laypersons in reaching a decision concerning his or her willingness to officiate at the marriage service of particular couples.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America views a Christian service of marriage as a corporate worship experience. Consequently everything in principle which applies to corporate worship applies to a marriage service. The focus should be kept upon God and God's Word. All present are expected to participate. Indeed, it is highly appropriate for a man and a woman to be married as a part of a regular worship service. The man and the woman, as well as all members of the wedding party, engage in the scheduled corporate worship of the congregation, and come forward for the wedding service after the sermon and before the dismissal and/or benediction. It is also acceptable to have a service of marriage after the dismissal and/or benediction, with all members of the congregation invited to stay.

The essential elements of a marriage service are the following: (1) A brief statement of the meaning of Christian marriage by giving particular emphases to biblical material and themes. (2) Prayers for the couple as they enter into their new relationship. (3) An exchange of vows, appropriate to the Christian understanding of marriage between the woman and the man, and an exchange of rings if desired. (4) Scripture reading. (5) A charge delivered to the couple. (6) A public declaration that the man and woman are joined in marriage according to the ordinance of God and the law of the state. (7) The pronouncement of a blessing upon the couple.

The minister should provide counseling for the couple with respect to music. Any music which is a part of the Christian marriage ceremony should focus attention upon God, who sanctifies marriage. Hymns for congregation singing are recommended. If the minister lacks skill and knowledge in this area, it is highly recommended that counsel be sought from a competent, qualified musician.

Flowers, decorations and other appointments can add to the marriage service; however, care should be taken to avoid ostentation, excessive expense and that which is unduly elaborate.

At times a woman and man previously married in a civil ceremony may desire that their relationship be blessed by God through God's church. In such a situation, the minister will counsel with the couple, and if they demonstrate a Christian understanding of marriage and are genuinely seeking God's blessing on their marriage, then an appropriate service similar to a regular marriage ceremony may be performed as a part of a regularly scheduled service of corporate worship, or as a separate ceremony.


Christians recognize the inevitability of death, and the Christian gospel powerfully addresses the reality and the experience of death. Christians are expected to affirm their confidence in Christ's victory over death and the grave and to proclaim that death cannot separate human beings from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Such is the faith by which Christians live and in which Christians die.

The belief of Christians in the resurrection from the dead is not a belief which denies the reality of death or suggests that persons have within them some form of immortality. Rather, it is a belief that God's love and power are greater than the power of death, so that though we die and cease to exist, we are given new life, a new existence in God's eternity. All this, Christians affirm because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the first day of the week.

The Christian community has special responsibilities toward persons who are dying and toward those who are bereaved. Persons who are confronted with imminent death should not be isolated from the Christian community nor should members of the community try to convince them that they are not dying. Instead they should be supported with love, and affirmed as persons loved and forgiven by God.

When a person dies, the minister should be notified immediately. The minister, as well as others in the congregation, should go immediately to make contact with the family. It should be remembered that what is important on such an occasion is not what is said, but what is important is one's presence, and whom and what one represents. The minister should listen and be sensitive to the needs of those bereaved. It is expected that prayer will be offered with the family during the initial contact. If the minister of the congregation is not available, then one or more of the ruling elders should represent the church.

Ministers need to realize that the funeral is a cultural event as well as a religious event. Consequently ministers should be sensitive to customs regarding death and burial of the dead which are characteristic of each particular community and honor those customs whenever possible. This necessitates that ministers work creatively with funeral directors to ensure that there is adequate understanding on the part of the minister of various funeral practices and that there is an informal understanding of the funeral director with respect to the minister's theological understanding and practice.

The Christian funeral service is understood as a service of worship and should be approached as such. Thought should be given to the designing of the service, and it is expected that those present will participate in corporate worship. The singing of hymns, reading of scripture, preaching of the gospel, confession of sin, affirmation of faith, the celebration of the Lord's Supper are all appropriate to the Christian funeral service. In designing such a service, the family should be consulted and their desires should influence the shape and design of the service. It is strongly recommended that Christian funerals be conducted at the church. The casket shall be closed at all times during the service of worship.

It is not necessary to have the body of the deceased present for the service of worship which is occasioned by death. Services of worship with the body being absent are recognized as appropriate and equally meaningful as when a casket is present. Such a service may be scheduled before or after the committal service, if the body is to be interred.

The committal service should be performed with dignity and simplicity. It is to be brief, with scripture, prayer and a statement of the Christian hope.

In all matters pertaining to the burial of the dead, ostentation, excessive expense, preoccupation with the cosmetic are to be avoided. The church is encouraged to support the wishes of the family of the bereaved with respect to memorial gifts in lieu of or in addition to flowers. At the church the use of a funeral pall is strongly recommended.

Christians have a responsibility to think through the different acceptable methods for disposing of the body of one who has died. Persons are urged to consider the matter long before death is imminent and make a decision with respect to the disposition of their bodies at the occasion of death. If the decision has not been made prior to one's death, the family should be assisted by the minister to examine the options. Interment, cremation and donation of the body for medical purposes are all Christian methods of disposing of the body.


Individuals and families should order their lives so that time is available on a scheduled basis for prayer, reading of scripture, meditation and informed personal examination. They are to look to the church, particularly ordained ministers, for guidance and instruction in the nature, character and practice of prayer. All human beings need to be taught how to pray just as Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.

Family worship is also advocated to be practiced on a regular basis. In designing family worship, all members of the family should be considered, and worship should be designed so that all members can participate in the worship. Creativity and imagination are urged, and a variety of forms and approaches are desirable. Guidance from the church is to be sought.

It is important always for individuals and families to remember that their worship is to be regarded as a part of the worship of the church, the family of God. No Christian worship can ever be private worship; it is always a part of the worship of the great cloud of witnesses, living and dead, the universal church. One worships in the name of Jesus as a part of that church which is the body of Christ.