Thanks for a Good Service
We made use of the service of lessons and carols "Unto Us a Child Is Born" (RW 33) for Christmas Day. We had good participation from readers and a child who bore the symbols (banners for the angel and lamb) to a front table where we could all visually appreciate the rich texts of Scripture. We expanded the reading of the shepherds into a first-person account, and we incorporated the Children and Worship manner of telling the story of Jesus, the Light of the World (Christ Candle).
People were taken up by text and song, but also by the profound message of salvation: the Christ who came as an "infant in the manger is none other than the one who died on the cross and rose from the grave, bringing light and life to all."
One woman commented that she hadn't felt ready for Christmas up to that service, but that the clear truths simply presented made her worship experience of Christmas meaningfully deep, yet invitingly gentle. Many others were very grateful for the service. And from a planning perspective, I really appreciated the inclusion of ideas (in this case, symbols) that let young children be captured by the elements of worship.
Thank you for this fine service and for the excellent work that produces a magazine rich in theory/theology and practice. I use your materials all the time.
First Christian Reformed Church
A Visitor's View
(Note: The writer of this letter was a visitor in the service described in the first letter.)
Because Christmas has not previously fallen on a Sunday since the First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto got the new Psalter Hymnal, I decided to go there to see what use they would make of the metrical psalms. (This was, I might add, the eighth service I had attended within twenty-four hours.) As it turned out, they used none; instead, they held the most rewarding Service of the Nine Lessons I remember ever attending, and that with the simplest of means. (They did use an overhead projector for a few of the hymns, but that was to avoid having to announce numbers from the PsaJter Hymnal, whence all their material came.) I enclose a service-leaflet, because I don't see how you can be other than gratified to hear of the Psalter Hymnal's being used so intelligently.
Each lesson was read by a different adult. Then, while the minister read aloud the indented commentary, a little girl brought the symbol (italicized in the script) up from the front pew and laid it on the communion table. You will notice that, somewhat as the Moravians do, the congregation rarely sang an entire hymn, but only such stanzas as applied directly to the point under consideration at the moment.
The real eye-opener was the meditation, which at such services is more often a make-weight. Ms. Hofman pointed out that, although Mary had practically nothing to work with, she took care to wrap her baby up snugly before she laid him anywhere— as nurses in maternity wards still do, although we don't call the wrappings "swaddling clothes." But then she drew a parallel with Ezekiel 16, which I never heard preached upon before—noting how nobody gave Israel even elementary baby care until God took over and did for them all that they needed, with disappointing results. Similarly, he gives us all we need, often without getting the returns he might fairly expect. A snugly-wrapped baby feels secure, even without knowing who did what for him; but we, who know what God has done to render us secure, cannot decently withhold our praise and thanksgiving.
You will appreciate that I can't tell how much of what I see this congregation doing is specific to them and how much is normal CRC practice. But I was fascinated to see the Psalter Hymnal functioning like a really good accompanist, unobtrusively providing at every turn exactly the support the worship needed. Of course a hymnal, no matter how well prepared, is of scant help to people who lack sense; but when people take the trouble to put together a service in which everything fits, they are fortunate to have a hymnbook that helps rather than hinders them.
Hugh D. McKellar