Prayer book blues (or, sifting though the culture), part three

Now that you have some sense of the words and the surroundings, we can move on to the customs. High-church Baptists and priestless Anglo-Catholics (neither is a contradiction in terms, just minority realities, like “trinitarian Universalist”) would likely apply the same rite in different ways. Members in a blended setting, like an expat Anglophone church in a non-English speaking country, would probably want to make some deliberate compromises. An existing church would have customs a new church wouldn’t.

Whether you meet with others, or are in a position to make these decisions yourself, consider what customs will fly, and which won’t. Don’t pretend you’re as free as the wind: the same people who claim to be “non-liturgical” often have very strong opinions about if or how an offering will be taken, or when the announcements (if any) should be. These too are part of a church’s liturgical custom. Some things to consider: who and how many will read parts? will some elements be used every worship service? how would you describe the normal mode of music? what role, if any, will children play? how will national and patriotic observances be recognized, or not? As you might guess, any initial list of customs will need to amended later. Denominational culture, space, size of congregation, and the rite itself will affect what you can and cannot do effectively. Let’s return to the rite you worked after step one.

I’m imagining a small hypothetical congregation: fewer than twenty in worship, no regular minister, and no musician. They’ve been around for generations, and their building isn’t so large since a part is partitioned off for worship, and fellowship is held in another part. They worship twice a month. They wouldn’t want to be too liturgical, but they have no problem with responsive readings from their dog-eared hymnals. Despite all these issues, the one that gets the most complaints is “who will type and have the order of service copied, now that Mrs. Miller is in the nursing home?”

From the core members, there need to be selected at least three to read the parts of morning worship. These readers need to be as honest about the strengths and weaknesses they bring to this ministry. (Always watch out for reading too softly or too fast.)

Next, use the ecumenical calendar, because so many good resources are available (often for free over the Internet) if you do. In particular, I would suggest this church stick closely to the Revised Common Lectionary for at least a year, and every year from Christmas to Easter.

Worship cards, easily laminated at a teacher’s supply store, can be a replacement for the order of worship. Parts read by the readers are listed only as headings, with the congregational parts listed in full. This does tend to encourage as simplification and regularization of the service, and therefore it is important to know what customs are “everlasting.” In this church, hypothetically, it is the singing of the Doxology (which they can manage without accompaniment) and the taking of the offering before the sermon.

Further simplifications I would suggest give a service that now looks like

  1. Opening psalm: the psalm appointed by the lectionary, read in unison by a reader
  2. “Beloved in the Lord . . .”
  3. First prayer
  4. Lord’s Prayer
  5. First dialog (“O Lord, open . . .”)
  6. A metrical version of the Venite.
  7. Profession of Faith
  8. First lesson, either the Old Testament or non-Gospel New Testament lesson
  9. [On occasion, a simple hymn cam be sung here, unaccompanied.]
  10. A mediation on sacred scripture
  11. Prayer dialog (“The Lord be with you. . . .”)
  12. Prayers; namely, the collects beginning with one appropriate for the day and occasion.
  13. Announcements
  14. Special services, like adding new members, Scout promotions, or gift presentations
  15. The reception of the offering
  16. Doxology
  17. A sermon, if one is appointed for the day
  18. Concluding prayer
  19. Benediction
  20. Closing sing: “God be with you till we meet again”

The two questions that will probably come up are variations on “who will preach?” and “how can we sing?” Though this order leave a place for a sermon, it takes the often-exhausting pressure off finding someone to preach. The mediation, read by a reader, fills some of that role and will be discussed in the next part.

Likewise, by reducing the hymnody to three unchanging pieces of music, with one added as the need presents itself. The Venite remains, but with a familiar and singable tune. Two viable options are “Now with joyful exultation” (sung to Beecher, in, #95 in the Christian Reformed Church’s Psalter Hymnal or “Come, let us sing to God on high” (text only, but and “Duke Street” recommended, the same as “Unto thy Temple, Lord we Come”) in A New Metrical Psalter by Christopher L. Webber, and published by the Church Hymnal Corporation (Episcopal Church). Or perhaps selections from 1696 Tate and Brady (“New Version”) version “O Come, loud anthems let us sing” also set to “Duke Street.” (I’ll keep searching for good options.)

But, how are all the resources going to be gathered up to make this work? And what about that sermon? Think about your worship customs and we’ll pick this up next time.

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