I well remember the first time that I tried to persuade members of a congregation to assist in the planning and preparation of worship 'Does that mean you've run out of ideas' someone asked! No, I explained, but worship shouldn't be something that just happens to you, or is 'done to you'. Worship at its best is a corporate act, from start to finish.
Hence the worship consultation meeting; once a quarter, those who are interested in the worship of the Church gather to plan our worship for that 'Season' in accordance with the mission of the Church.
We have been using 'Season's of the Spirit' to help us plan and prepare worship that enables the whole Church to grow in grace. It follows the revised common lectionary and provides a staggering range of resources for different age groups, including prayers, liturgy, modern art, modern music from around the world, home Bible reading notes, poetry, articles, web-based games, resource sheets, etc.. It's not the cheapest resource available, but the language is inclusive and contemporary and the ideas always fresh and pertinent. It actually makes me believe that Worship is a part of modern life and that it isn't necessary to step back in time to fuzzy felt and children's addresses, or throw away your brain in order to worship and pray effectively!
But resources can only take you so far - they have to be used to be effective, and sometimes, the more people that are involved in the planning, preparation, and even the delivery of an act of worship, the better it can be as a means of grace. This is not always easy in Methodism where we seem (peculiarly) to have adopted the bizarre notion that the right to determine how a Church will worship belongs to the local preacher - not the congregation. Over time this has led to a terrifying congregational passivity; all that is required of a those who attend worship is to sit and listen, sing a few hymns and say whatever is printed in bold. It's no wonder fewer and fewer young people feel called to ministry or preaching - what experience do we give them of leading or participating in worship? Putting the occasional 'LA' on the plan is not enough!
Last night the consultation agreed to explore different ways of using evening worship so that the Church might serve the needs of the whole congregation and perhaps even attract others! Currently evening services tend to be 'traditional' Methodist hymn prayer sandwich services. Depending on the preacher however, the congregation can fall to as few as 8 people (including organist and stewards!)
The consultation therefore decided to try replacing those services by a combination of:-
- 'Church lite' - a half an hour service consisting mainly of praise and prayer with space for a short reflection.
- 'Opening the Word' an hour of interactive Bible Study on the set Lectionary for the week (similar in style to the sort of studies that were part of the Lent BigRead.)
- Cafe Church - a meal of Scripture, politics, social justice and contemporary affairs which currently provides our largest evening congregation in spite of the fact that it has no hymns or sermons or even 'talks'.
- Holy Communion - a reflective quiet service using (for example) Iona or Celtic liturgies as well as those 'in the book'.