The Church Service Society was formed by three young ministers of the Church of Scotland in 1865 – a time when Presbyterian worship had lost some of its classic expressions and had become rambling and verbose.
Their object was “the study of the liturgies – ancient and modern – of the Christian church, with a view to the preparation and publication of forms of prayer for Public Worship and services for the administration of the Sacraments, the celebration of marriage, the burial of the dead etc.” In their day, the concern of those founding members was thought to be eccentric, even suspect. Early publications were scholarly editions of the books prepared for corporate and family worship around the time of the Scottish Reformation.
Nowadays, the situation is quite different. In all major branches of the western Church there is a new and creative interest in forms of worship, in architecture, music and hymnody. The Society published Euchologion in 1867, the first corporately produced service book available to the Kirk since John Knox’s Book of Common Order, and which continued through eleven editions up to 1924, until the Church itself (the main Presbyterian denominations reunited in 1929) took on the responsibility. Since then there has been increasing provision of worship resources in the Scottish churches. It might seem as if the vision of the founders had been amply fulfilled.
Yet the sheer diversity of contemporary worship makes it as important now as in the 1860s to distinguish between the permanent and the transient, between the authentic and the artificial, between what is helpful and what is merely novel. The search is no longer for what is liturgically correct, as if there were some fixed way of worshipping that applied to all places and times. The current quest is for worship that is catholic and continually reforming, that is scriptural and topical – big enough to let our congregations glimpse eternal truths and mysteries, yet earthed in their experience and their resources. The Church Service Society contributes to that search – through meetings, study days, lectures and its journal, the Record.
The Society - at first Presbyterian but now ecumenical, with members both within and beyond Scotland - is a fellowship of members, ministers, elders, and church musicians who are all convinced that worship is the Church’s fundamental task and privilege and wish more fully to explore its possibilities. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015.