Where two or three gather, there's a worship group

I’ve been studying the Quakers more than usual lately. Not just the Friends General Conference — the main fellowship for liberal Quakers, including many who aren’t necessarily Christian — but others, including the Holiness pastoral Quakers, and the Conservatives, with whom I would likely be most at home, should I ever go to the Friends. (No plans, though.) They’re a interesting continuum, and I suspect offer many lessons both personally and for the institutions I care about.

A friend — not a Quaker — pointed out QuakerMaps.com as a resource for finding Quakers in North America and Europe, and its a good ministry worthy of emulation. And one with an actual funding model. (Perhaps not by a U.S. Unitarian Universalist, who are almost entirely in a single fellowship in the UUA; thus causing a duplication of effort.)

But before I saw that site, I downloaded a PDF of the world map of Quakers, by the Friends World Committee for Consultation. Take a look.

The thing that touched me was the implied seriousness with with Jesus’ promise that  “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) The lone worship group in Croatia has (or had) two members. Also in Lithuania. The one in Greece has three; Estonia’s lone group has four. Denmark Yearly Meeting, in essence a national body, has 29 souls meeting in three different places. And I wonder how many more tiny groups are hidden in the statistics of relatively larger groups.

Which isn’t a romantic impulse to tininess. Perhaps members of these little groups are frustrated by their small numbers. Or not. And it must be more work per capita to keep small meetings going, though it isn’t like faith is a wholesale business. And while some may be dwindling, legacy groups, I gather that others are much newer.

I could go back and forth like this all day, so suffice it to say that there’s a recognized place in the Friends environment for the smallest gatherings — even those that have no settled space and meet far less frequently than weekly. (“By arrangement” seems to be the mode of choice in some European countries.)

Recognition and respect — that’s worthy of emulation, too.

With this post, I open the category Quakers.

Selection of hymns for a tiny church

I often think about little-bitty churches. They have fewer than two dozen in worship and worship might be twice a month or less often. It may be the one thing the congregation does with regularity, and it comes with a mix of pride and anxiety. Of course, I also tend to think of the surviving Christian churches within the Unitarian Universalist Association, and this describes many if not most of them.

Needless to say, there’s no hymn resource in print that would suit them well. (The humanist and theologically-mixed ones fare no better.) If I was forced to choose, I’d find a box of the old Beacon Song and Service Book and I wrote (and many commented) about that in 2007.

But that keeps me thinking: what belongs in a selection of hymns like this? Popular, not hard to sing, useful in a variety of settings, perhaps even with an option for guitar chords if the organ (or organist) dies. I’d leave out Christmas hymns — a particular beast — for now. Say, what forty hymns would you want easy access to? I have a few in mind, and will list them — once I distinguish between my own taste and what would be really useful.

Asus Eee, day 2 (with a nod to Tiny church administration)

Well, I’ve decided to wipe the default operating system and, like Fr. Chris had intimated, add a specially-adapted version of Xubuntu (a version of Ubuntu with a lighter interface) in its place.

The deciding factor was a little caution in the user guide:

Removing the pre-installed software is not allowed.

Really? Even though I have no interest in the games, yet they take up a good chunk of the relatively-tiny flash drive?

The transformation will be a bit more challenging than a usual installation because there is no CD-ROM or DVD drive: the installation will have to go in through a USB port or (more likely) a SD flash memory card. That makes me worry for novice and skiddish users. I’ll tell you how that goes tomorrow.

But let’s consider who this little computer would be good for.

  1. Frequent travelers, including some business travelers
  2. Home and office users who will be browsing more than typing (blog entries, OK; writing your masterpiece, perhaps not)
  3. Small-framed persons who would rather not manage something more than a couple of pounds
  4. Among clergy and church-intensive users, in addition to the above, I think it would be useful for

  1. people in churches that rent meeting space, especially if the leadership works before or after worship
  2. people in churches with a very limited technology budget. (Don’t laugh: yes, I wrote technology budget)
  3. those who attend district (or like) meetings and national conventions
  4. those who exhibit at local fairs and denominational meetings and need to capture information or demonstrate media

Now let me work on that operating system installation.

With this post, the category Small church growth becomes Small churches.

The smallest fifth of churches: liturgical planning

Apart from my internship church — which was either the largest or second largest church in the Unitarian Universalist Association at the time — all of the churches I’ve served, regularly supplied or pastored have been small. All but my last pastorate — which would be in the smallest 25% in terms of Sunday attendance — have been in the smallest 20%. I care about these churches, Christian and not.

So much effort goes into liturgical planning and administration that other vital ministries — lifelong education and public service — get shortchanged, if not entirely overlooked.

I’ll be writing about the small church’s liturgical planning needs. If you have a request or a resource — Unitarian Universalist or not — please note it in the comments. I’ll be the first, however, to lift up again the newsletters of the small church consultant and minister Jane Dwinell called Small Talk, which may be downloaded at the New Hampshire/Vermont District web site.

Prayer book blues (or, following the useful links), part four

The Internet has so many resources for our hypothetical churches: too many perhaps. Here are my favorite four, and I’ll only add more if they are at least as good as these.

  1. Online Revised Common Lectionary, with texts in New Revised Common Version
  2. Oremus: “daily prayer and prayer resources on the internet”
  3. Textweek, which is my favorite place to get ideas for sermons and supporting extra-biblical texts
  4. Moravian Church Southern Province “Worship Resource Manual”. This new resource could really cut down on planning time, with week-by-week PDF workseets for worship. I hope they continue to develop resources for years A and B.

More. After casting around online today, I found two more resources (I think I found these a couple of years ago, before the current Episcopal Church site rebuild) worth bookmarking. Both are from the Episcopal Church’s main website:

  1. “Sermons that Work”, sermons which are for implied congregational use, and certainly for study. (Perhaps the wiggly langauge is so not to to step on a bishop’s authority to appoints sermons or not.)
  2. “Lesson Plans for Small Congregations”. Now that’s right to the point. For younger children, older children, and adults. Plus, they’re keyed to church date and follow the Revised Common Lectionary. There are also nice helps such as a priced-out shopping list for a church school. Bless their hearts.

Take a look at these, and we’ll continue with part five.

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.

Prayer book blues (or, help decoding the text), part one

There are Universalist prayer books, and there are Unitarian prayer books, and rumor has it the Episcopalians have one.

One of the big problems with a prayerbook tradition, especially one that is in the margins, is that there is a learning gap between reading the printed text and having directions for the order of worship. This is the difference between ritual and ceremony.

I bring this up, not because I’m a huge devotee of prayerbook worship, but because the proper application of prayerbook use might help the smallest Christian churches out there worship God in a reliable and unabashed way, and in particular, those lacking clergy. And certainly some of those tee-tiny Christian churches are Universalist. (One or two, anyway.) This is a bit of help.

First, you need a liturgy. What you need is something appropriate to the time of day, so for most, it will be morning prayer. Here’s a Universalist liturgy. The Episcopalians have one available online, too. (see here.) I am also partial to services of morning prayer that come from the “newer churches” and two online are from the Melanesian Anglicans (see here) and the Church of South India. But many denominations have one. Look in any hymnals you may have handy. Unitarian Universalists who have an old red Hymns of the Spirit can follow along with Service One. I’ll be using the old Universalist prayerbook, mentioned above.

Now, a term: rubrics. These are the directions, originally printed in red (red::ruby::rubrics) but are more often today in italics or small caps. These are going to be very helpful. Using the rubrics, outline the rite. Here’s mine, with as little jargon as possible. (This field is ripe with jargon.)

  1. Sentences of scripture
  2. “Beloved in the Lord . . .”
  3. First prayer
  4. Lord’s Prayer
  5. First dialog (“O Lord, open . . .”)
  6. Ascription (“Now unto the King . . .”)
  7. Psalm 95 and 96, edited as the Venite “or some other Anthem” with Gloria Patri
  8. Psalms “read responsively . . . from the Selections” with Gloria Patri
  9. Profession of Faith
  10. Lesson “out of Holy Scripture”
  11. Anthem, “or some Hymn of Praise”
  12. Second dialog (“The Lord be with you.”)
  13. Choose between a string of prayers (“the collects”), the litany, or free prayer
  14. The reception of the offering
  15. A hymn
  16. The sermon
  17. Last hymn
  18. Concluding prayer
  19. Benediction

First off, know that nobody does the service “by the book” so don’t start off complaining about how constrained you feel. Little customs and interpretations slip in: some good and some bad.

Go and outline morning prayer (or evening prayer, or “order of service” or “divine worship”) and meet me back for part two.