Karen Westerfield Tucker is one of America’s foremost liturgical scholars. An ordained elder, she has a keen understanding of the history, theology, and practice of worship, which she teaches at Boston University’s School of Theology.
She is also a great worship leader, as I learned in 2006, when she led hundreds in worship during World Methodist Conference sessions in Seoul, Korea. On the days that she led the singing, her melodious voice repeatedly inspired the large congregation to raise their voices in glorious song.
Best of all, she brings her expertise to bear on the historical development of Wesleyan worship in America.
American Methodist Worship examines John Wesley’s own worship concepts and practices and then examines the continuities and discontinuities between him and his American disciples.
Context is everything, Tucker makes clear. Wesley operated within the context of an Anglican state church. His revivalism was never at odds with essential Anglicanism but a means of reviving it by extending the church (over the objections of conservative stick-in-the-mud bishops and clergy) to the poor. American Methodists, however, were in a vastly different milieu dominated by an over-arching Calvinism and the social and religious instability of a wide-open frontier.
Tucker examines the development of Wesleyan ideas surrounding the Christian Sabbath; the “great festivals” of Methodism like the love feast, camp meeting, New Year’s Watch Night Service, and the indoor revival (these were all favorites of Phineas Bresee, who carried all four practices into his personal incarnation of the Church of the Nazarene); the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; weddings and funerals; family worship and public prayer; and houses of worship.
The bulk of Tucker’s work is essential background for understanding the roots of Nazarene worship. Nazarenes made very few innovations and were largely inheritors of Methodist worship practices, which were rooted in historic Protestant Pietism, of which Methodism was the primary vehicle in the English-speaking world. The Nazarene prayer meeting, camp meeting, Sunday school, and indoor revival all derived from Methodist sources.
So what should Tucker’s Nazarene readers expect to learn from this book? First, she provides a solid historical background for the origins of our primary worship practices, particularly how they evolved from the 18th century through the 20th. Second, she provides a satisfying discussion of the rationale and theological basis behind each aspect of worship, including shifts in theological rationale.
To give one example, her chapter on “The Music of Methodist Worship” is essential background to understanding Nazarene music, both early and late. The “worship wars,” for instance, are nothing new. After criticism of earlier hymnals, the 1923 edition of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s hymnal states that its editors were making “an attempt to bring back the old hymns and tunes that people love to sing.”* Truly, what goes around comes around. Similarly, the chapters on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and on “Devotion and Discipleship” are particularly helpful. This book is an excellent resource for the Nazarene pastor, particularly the one who wants to know why we do what we do.
STAN INGERSOL serves as denominational archivist for the Church of the Nazarene.
*Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, American Methodist Worship (2001): 170.