What’s Next for Worship? Worship that Equips Us for Justice

What’s Next for Worship? Worship that Equips Us for Justice

Fans of the West Wing may recall that (fictional) President Jed Bartlett could always be counted on to ask this question: “What’s next?” 

Whether at the end of a meeting, after a goal was met, or to break a stalemate, Bartlett was always moving ahead.

In the spring of 2017, a group of us found ourselves asking “what’s next” for the future of worship?

The question is not a new one for my colleagues from Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, Columbia Theological Seminary, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship. Our conversation was sparked by their excitement about the publication of the new Book of Common Worship, practices and trends in theological education, and a shared love of liturgy, music, art – of “all things worship.”

Thanks to the Spirit’s work, we pushed ourselves to consider how “all things worship” could make a strong statement for all things justice. Imagining a future of worship can’t exist apart from imaging a future of fairness, restoration, peace, and welcome.

As the conversation flowed, the idea of a conference with an intentional focus on worship and justice took shape.

Needless to say, our focus on “Just Worship” seemed natural.

Take a moment to imagine what the phrase “just worship” might  mean…

Maybe hands lifted to God with tears freely flowing?

Possibly an array of music, songs and dancing or a community gathering of diverse people being equipped to seek justice for an evolving future.

In this case, it means addressing some of the implications of worship such as how is worship itself an act of justice? How do we more justly craft and enact worship, and how are we to do worship so that we can model God’s justice in and for the world?

“Heaven shall not wait,” a hymn in the Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal includes four short words that vibrate in anticipation, excitement and disturbance.

It’s hard to hear or sing them without wondering, “what’s next”?

Maybe the words have such energy because they suggest that God is asking the same question.

Heaven shall not wait for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile, the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord;
he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.


Our prayer is that our time together at this upcoming event will make space for ways to pray, hear, discuss, sing, imagine, and execute the worship and work that help to bring justice to our world.

The Just Worship: Toward a Vibrant and Faithful Future Conference, will be hosted by the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary September 13-15, 2018.

To register and to see the full schedule of topics and discussions, click here.


Written by Eric Wall, Assistant Professor of Sacred Music and Dean of the Chapel at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Eric is the Conference Center Musician for Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. From 1998 to 2015, he was Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church, Asheville, North Carolina.

He has contributed to Call to Worship, the journal of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship, as well as The Presbyterian Outlook, The Christian Century, and the Hymn Society’s journal The Hymn. He has served on the conference faculty for PAM’s Worship and Music Conference at Montreat a number of times and directed that conference in 2005.

He’s worked for the 2017 PAM Professionals Gathering and will serve on the conference faculty in 2018 at the Mo-Ranch Conference. He has also co-led music at Montreat Youth Conferences and been a Hymn Festival presenter for the Hymn Society. He has taught as an adjunct at Columbia Theological Seminary and served as a music and worship consultant in various congregational settings.

Eric received a Bachelor of Musician Organ Performance in 1991 and a Master of Musician Choral Conducting in 1993, both from Florida State University.

Hymn text by John L. Bell and Graham Maule; © 1987 WGRG, Iona Community; admin. GIA Publications, Inc. The hymn is found as #773 in The Presbyterian Hymnal.

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