Football Time in Tennessee

IT’S FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!  Our new exec ended his weekly email to staff with that line, but messed it up by following the phrase with a few dots and then another statement, “Roll Tide!”  (Johnny Coggin will probably increase his Cooperative Program gifts).

I got to banter back and forth a bit via text messages with threats of “Rocky Top” in chapel and so forth (careful if you ever threaten your boss).  Good hearted fun and a refreshing indication of our new exec’s sense of humor.

The phrase that Randy used in his email provided some food for thought.  Non-football fans, bear with me.  (Bama fans relax, I’m talking about the first phrase, “It’s football time in Tennessee.”) The phrase was an introductory trademark of the “Voice of the Vols,” John Ward who announced Tennessee football games from 1968 to 1999.  Ward had other trademark phrases and his unmistakable voice inflections helped many a football fan locate a radio station of the “Vol Network” on any given Saturday in the Fall.  Any of you who have ever been to a UT football game (even if you were wearing the wrong colors, Johnny) know something of the unrelenting traditions, the Vol Walk, the parade of the Pride of the Southland Band, the “Power T” and the repetition of “Rockytop” with every Tennessee touchdown, field goal, and impressive defensive stand.  The holiday weekend provided me an unusual opportunity to listen to the Derek Dooley show (DVRs are great).  It was especially fun to hear him share impressions from these great traditions and even to reintroduce a tradition that had been lost in recent years, the volunteer.  Dooley modified the “Vol Walk” to include gathering at the circle for the team to be reminded of the spirit and attitude exemplified in the volunteer, a torchbearer statue on the campus.  The Dooley era has begun.

Pardon the analogy, but there are some parallels for worship gatherings.  The traditions of sports teams and the universities they represent develop and become an integral part of the experience through repetition.  I am certain that every repetition does not carry equal levels of passion and intention, but the repetition comes nevertheless.  This is clearly ritual.  Interestingly, I never have heard of anyone saying, “Let’s start a contemporary ‘Vol Walk,” or “I get tired of standing every time they score a touchdown.” 

Let’s make the jump to Christian worship.  There are announcement phrases in worship that indicate the beginning of a season in the repeated telling of the story of Christ.  There are songs and phrases and a book that are referenced and become familiar refrains.  The sounds of worship are familiar to the point of being unmistakable.  Even when we are scanning radio channels we can hear familiar refrains and sounds that tell us “that is worship,” whether a band, a choir, or a soaring pipe organ.  There is a richness in the ritual of Christian worship that needs to be reintroduced from time to time by a leader, whether a new leader who brings fresh eyes, or an older leader whose eyes have been refreshed.  We need not fear repetition in worship for repeating allows our passion to be expressed in familiar strains.  In fact repetition can actually make our environment more hospitable to newcomers who need repetition in order to hear and understand, much less join the refrain.  Perhaps we need to revisit some former, if not ancient, practices that have dropped along the  way in worship, but may have merit to reinvigorate our ritual today.  I recall that when I was a child there were certain songs that were part of the flow of worship.  They were sung every Sunday, part of the repetition:

            “The Lord Is in His Holy Temple”

            “Gloria Patri”

            “Doxology” to OLD 100TH

            “God Be with You ’til We Meet Again”

            Sevenfold Amen

Those expressions were included in the hymnal as “service music,” aptly named.  Ancient church phrases and ritual might serve us well in our postmodern age of spiritual interest and longing for community.  What if we rediscovered:

            The Invocation

            Prayers of illumination

            “The Lord be with you” . “and also with you”

            “the kiss of peace”

            “words of institution”

            “prayers of the people”

            Old Testament reading

            Epistle reading

            Gospel reading


What if we had freedom to practice different worship postures through the flow of the service; bowing, kneeling, raising hands, embracing one another, without the level of self-consciousness that has robbed us of such practices due to conflicts that arose over the years. 

Saying “it’s football time in Tennessee” does not make football happen, it is said because it is happening.  Proclaiming a “call to worship” does not make worship happen, it is a reflection that it is happening.

May the Lord help us to engage in the repetition of His Story through our worship in such a way that reflects Him and His glory!

The Lord be with you,


Explore posts in the same categories: Leading Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

One Comment on “Football Time in Tennessee”

  1. John Fielden Says:

    Paul, Great article, thanks very much.

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