Worship: have you ever thought what a visiting alien might make of the word ‘worship’?


Two people are leaving a church: one asks the other “What did you think of the worship?” and receives the reply “I didn’t get much out of it.” What do they mean? The alien doesn’t know but concludes that worship must be some kind of activity arranged for their benefit by the organisers in that building. Alien resolves to investigate.


Next, Alien is watching the news and sees footage of a congregation leaving a church. The voiceover refers to these people as ‘worshippers.’ Alien now wonders whether ‘worshippers’ is a kind of collective noun for ‘churchgoers.’ Perhaps worship consists of attending church every Sunday. Being a member of the congregation must make you a worshipper. It must be a fairly passive activity.


Feeling that the matter deserves further investigation, Alien attends church one Sunday and listens carefully to what is being said amongst the congregation. “Oh yes, the preacher’s awful but then I only really come for the worship!” From this Alien concludes that ‘the worship’ is only one particular segment of that Sunday morning activities and does not involve the main speaker.


Matters seem to be becoming clearer still when Alien discovers that the church musicians are commonly referred to as the ‘worship group.’ He forms a working hypothesis that ‘worship’ is a musical activity that takes place in and around a church. This is confirmed when he finds out that when a large number of Christians talk about ‘the worship’ they are indeed referring to the music, usually singing.


But then Alien hears the following snippet of conversation: “Oh I only really have my best times of worship when I’m out with the dog, enjoying nature.” Intrigued, he follows the speaker as she walks the aforementioned dog only to discover that she looks and sounds just like any other dog-walker in the local park. There is no music at all in this sort of ‘worship.’    


The last straw, for Alien, comes when he hears someone saying “Well, of course, the whole of my life is worship.” At this point poor Alien is strongly tempted to give up on the whole project. Does this person spend their whole life attending church? Are they singing from dusk to dawn? Does ‘worship’ turn out to be one of those words that means almost anything people want it to and therefore ends up meaning practically nothing?


Well, is it?