December 17, 2009

Over the years, I have struggled with what happens during the prelude.

In a perfect order of worship, with perfect people, in a perfect church, in a perfect world, the prelude time would be quiet, marked only by the whispers of private prayer as people prepare for worship.  I have served churches in which this was the case.  Whether or not everyone was praying, I don’t know; but there was a hush during the prelude.

I have served churches that the social networking activity during the prelude was like Times Square on New Years Eve as the ball drops.  On one occasion, I could barely hear the prelude.  In my naïveté, assuming that everyone had the same biblical understanding  and demeanor about worship, I would approach the Worship Committee or Church Council for help.  To my surprise, what seemed like a pretty straight forward issue, inevitably exploded into controversy.

To compound things, the moment of the worship service called “The greeting”; “Passing the Peace”; or “Ritual of Friendship”; usually was the quick descent into controlled chaos, sometimes adding anywhere from 5-10 minutes to the service.

Let me say before I go any further, I did not ever find a perfect solution to either of these.

In one conversation, a friend turned to me and said, “The way I see it, we are just loving one another.”  I have pondered that insight for years.  Another insight was that due to the busy schedules of families, Sunday morning was really the only time they could meet, greet, and check up on one another.  It was a community builder.  You can’t argue with that.

So what have I found effective?  Based on the simple principle that you cannot seriously and effectively legislate silence during the prelude or set firm, realistic boundaries on community building.  You have to find other ways to get to where you are going.

  1. Through conversation, I tried to discover what the conversation and noisy social networking meant for the worshippers.  Some were bothered by it as they needed some peace and quiet before worship.  Others loved it.
  2. Rather than trying to control human nature and tradition, I interjected some new things in worship to help keep focused.  Working through the Worship Committee and not approaching it as a problem to be fixed, but an opportunity to help people grow in their faith, we gradually began the following.
  3. I started the worship service on time with a loud, “The Lord be with you!!”, or “Good morning!!”  Some Sundays I had to say it twice.  I didn’t make a big production about it.  After a couple of weeks, the congregation figured out what I was doing and went along.
  4. I would read a verse of scripture dealing with worship, silence before God, coming to God’s house and the like.
  5. I would invite the people to join me in prayerful silence before God, allowing the music of the prelude to enhance the meditative time.  Ushers would not seat people during this time.
  6. I would then say a prayer, call to worship, announce a hymn or some other opening, which could include the choir singing something.  What I wish I had done, and will do again if I ever have the opportunity, is to kneel in prayer immediately after my invitation.
  7. I sprinkled Bible Studies and sermons on worship throughout the year as well as newsletter articles.

The greeting time was another matter.  The closest I came to setting some boundaries was to announce it as a time to greet each other in Christ, and not to share life stories.  That didn’t fly well.  So I went with the flow.  I consistently observed people greeting visitors and one another.  I waded into the crowd myself.  At the proper, I would stand in the sent of the altar area, just waiting.  It worked.   It was a much better alternative that entering the church, sitting through the service, and leaving without acknowledging anyone’s presence.  When the issue came up in Council about the length of the service, someone would suggest cutting the greeting time. That would end the discussion for several months.

There is a tension between community building and reverencing the sacredness of God’s space and time.  I never resolved it-and maybe I never will.  Maybe it is not something to be resolved.

Please share your thoughts by commenting.





October 30, 2009

As I write this, the H1N1 flu and swine flu are making the rounds in congregations. Everybody knows at least one person who has had it, or is suffering with it. People in worship are hesitant to use a common cup, eat bread from a common loaf, or touch pieces of bread handled by others. Maintaining a safe and healthy worship environment is both challenging and essential. The sacrament of Holy Communion is a powerful experience of the presence and power of Christ that we need to continue to observe. It is for times such as these, that the Sacrament speaks words of hope, faith, and God’s loving presence in Christ. Churches and pastors are developing some creative ways to celebrate the sacrament meaningfully in the shadow of communicable disease. Here are some:

1. When using individual cups, the congregant first cups hands to receive the consecrated bread. The server will place the bread in the congregant’s hand with a small set of tongs. The congregant then takes a cup and communes.

2. Similar as above, only the servers have white gloves on and use gloved fingers to distribute the elements. They also can have a plastic glove under the white glove. This idea came out of a discussion with a pastor.

3. Some churches have small bottles of hand sanitizers and tissues in the pews for worshippers to use prior to greeting time, and taking communion.

4. In some churches, as worshippers come forward for communion, an assistant offers them some hand sanitizer.

5. Servers wash their hands in a basin of soap and water and then use the sanitizer.

6. Some congregations purchase the individual cups of grape juice with a bread wafer with it. Each congregant first, peels the top off, taking the bread, then peels the second covering over the cup, drinks from the cup.

People can be really creative when faced with challenges concerning celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Maybe the old adage of cleanliness is next to godliness has new meaning in our day. Have you seen an innovative way of celebrating communion? I’d love to hear your comments