Affirming science in the congregation is a challenge worth thinking about anew

Sir Isaac Newton’s grave at Westminster Abbey, London. (Credit: Tibor Nemes, cc via Flickr)

So something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately in reviewing our new web resources and talking to people in my own congregation is, how can we honor science as a vocation within our worship service and liturgy? I recently brought this up at our church’s worship and music committee meeting, so I’m open to suggestions here.

Sure there are classic hymns such as “Earth and All Stars.” But how do we pray for scientists? Should we pray for scientists? How should scientists pray? These are important questions to consider.

The Lutheran Book of Worship (or the Red book as it is commonly referred to) has a prayer for artists and scientists. It reads:

Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder, that our eyes may behold your glory, and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Beholding the glory of creation is inspiration for many scientists. In this month’s main feature, CERN scientist Greg Rakness gives his view of how he is a scientist who also believes in a creator. It’s a practical approach that he provides. Although he doesn’t promise to have an elegant theological stance, he clearly describes the concept of asymmetry in experimental physics and what it means to him. It is the assigning of meaning that science is simply not equipped to do in Rakness’ view.

Faith is deeply personal for scientists just as it is for the rest of the population, but as some view the church as an anti-science institution, the need for the church to confidently lift-up its scientists in the pews has become increasingly urgent.

The question remains as to how this can be done. Should scientists talk more in church about their vocation, for example? Perhaps more attention can be paid to science in sermons, although not that many pastors are comfortable exploring science via the lens of the lectionary. Maybe the liturgy could be overhauled to include scientific language. Then there are some classic hymns. And most Lutherans, such as Rakness, immediately think of “Earth and All Stars’” famous stanza:

Classrooms and labs!
Loud boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band!
Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Written by Rev. Dr. Herbert Brokering, the piece is rousing and maybe for modern day congregations a little cheesy too. At its core, it combines faith and vocation. It is also worth remembering that it was written in 1964 – before man went to the Moon, the human genome was mapped and the discovery of humanity’s role in climate change.

As we are now quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the church would be wise to update some of its hymns and liturgy to reflect some of this change of recent decades. We need poets and musicians to lead us in this endeavor and exploration of our rapidly changing world.

However, in this era of new discoveries, we don’t need to change our creeds or what we say we believe. Those leaving their lab coat at the church door have seen their vocation as solidifying their faith although the world may have told them they needed to compartmentalize who they are in a lab versus who they are on a Sunday morning.

Wouldn’t it be great if our “in-house” scientists discovered on a Sunday morning that their work in revealing knowledge about the creation was an important way of helping all of us to see more clearly the world around us as God’s master work?

As Brokering’s hymn says:

Knowledge and truth!
Loud sounding wisdom!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Daughter and son!
Loud praying members!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Amen!

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