Thursday, June 23, 2011

Consulting on Worship

Good afternoon God,
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'.
The joy for me as the minister is that Church lite - aimed at teenagers and young adults will primarily be planned and delivered by people of that age group. Who knows God, maybe one or more of them will enjoy it so much that they might hear a call to minister or preach. It's certainly a step in the right direction.


  1. I can see that we're going to get into a power struggle over this one. A lot of our congregation are from Africa or the Caribbean, and they tell me that they'd like a longer service. As it is, we start with ten minutes of choruses, which we lead, and which are very much part of the service, before we hand over to the preacher. So we subvert the Methodist hour to some extent, and often take a bit longer.

    There's a culture clash with some white preachers, who sometimes like to finish 'on time' as they put it, and we don't want our people going home feeling dissatisfied. I'm going to take this to the LP meeting, and I suspect that before long we'll be telling them officially that we want them to consider the first fifteen minutes' of the service to be our territory, with their hour starting at a quarter past 11. It'll be interesting to see what they say, but I con't see how they can refuse without looking completely unreasonable!

  2. Robert - In Grantham, Harrowby Lane Church Council passed a resolution that the normative form of worship would be contemporary, family-friendly, where the preacher only preached and where the Worship leading team were responsible for the rest of the service. This decision was supported by the Superintendent minister and presented to the LP Meeting. One or two local preachers felt they did not want to work collaboratively with the WL team, but the majority were happy to do so. The preacher generally chooses the theme but the church has also used series such as Just10 for a series of themed services and the preachers have supported this.
    We have tried to exemplify "the ministry of the whole people of God" and involve different people in many differing roles. People have really begun to tale part and to feel ownership of the act of worship.

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