As I reflect on this issue of Reformed Worship, the words “longing” and “journey” come to mind. Longing is what sends us out on our journey to discover what more there is to life. Ever since the fall, people have been longing for things to be the way they were meant to be. We long for the restoration of relationships gone wrong. We long for a creation restored. We long for an end to war and violence and hunger and pain. And so we journey on in faith and hope.
We long for more. Especially at Christmastime, we long for more. I don’t mean the common longing for toys and family, carols and jolly feelings, eggnog and Santa. I mean a real, deep longing for something that actually fills us up and satisfies. We long for Christ to be with us.
Somewhere inside the busyness of the “real world” there’s “rest,” but it can be hard to find. Although we look for it in various places, it is often elusive or fleeting, at best. Today, I want to introduce you to a man who was forced to learn the hard way to find rest. Zechariah was a priest. You can find the word “rest” inside the word “priest,” but Zechariah had a hard time finding it. His story helps me, and I hope it helps you too. This is the story of Zechariah.
Reading and hearing the biblical narratives leading up to the birth of Christ seems countercultural these days. Commercial establishments begin celebrating an “instant” Christmas the day after Halloween. But when there’s no room for Advent celebration, there’s no “prepare the way of the Lord,” no waiting and working for Christ’s kingdom.
First Sunday in Advent
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
Advent is a time of waiting, but it can also be a very meaningful time of confession. These four litanies for confession and assurance are designed for consecutive use during the four Sundays in Advent.
First Sunday in Advent
Song: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (st. 1-2, sung by choir) LUYH, CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154
In the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) yearns for something better. But, beginning with his father’s untimely death, circumstances beyond George’s control thwart each of his plans to escape the runty town of his birth. George doles out his life helping small people live their small-town dreams. All the while, he believes he is missing something. He longs for something more, something exotic and adventurous, and audiences all over the world have identified with his longings for more than sixty years.
This Christmas Eve service tells the story of God’s salvation plan from the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ resurrection. It shows how all of Scripture is one big story of God calling his people back to him. The service is appropriate for people of all ages and all stages of the faith journey, and can be used in a wide variety of settings.
Christmas can be a beautiful time to incorporate movement into your worship gatherings. Christmas Eve candlelight services provide an especially wonderful atmosphere for introducing a simple dance done either in a group or solo. Christmas programs are also a perfect time for children to lead movement and get comfortable worshiping through motion. And what better occasion than Christmas Day, the birth of our King, to get the whole congregation involved in a processional with simple side steps and clapping?
One of the challenges when planning a hymnal is deciding where a particular song belongs, knowing that though the index in the back of the hymnal may suggest multiple places for a particular song, the location of the song has greater influence on when it will be sung. The challenge in this Noteworthy is to think outside the hymnal placement, as each one of these songs can be used both during the time from Advent to Epiphany as well as at other times of the year.
Q: Sometimes I worry that the kids I teach don’t see how the Bible fits together. How can I help them get “the big picture”?
Several recent books have lamented that while many people know some Bible stories, they really don’t have a sense of “The Big Overarching Story” of God’s mission in the world. Some people wonder whether worship reinforces this problem by jumping around from one part of the Bible to another.
Christian or not, you can’t help but wonder if the world is about to implode.
No, this isn’t another Harold Camping-esque attempt at prophecy. It’s just a simple statement of fact. The world as we presently know it will end. This truth is as certain as the birth and resurrection of Christ.
Week 1: Jesus, Our Good News
Colossians 1:1-8, 28-29
Lighting of Advent Candle
Ringing of Bells
After wrapping up last year’s Advent series at our church, Pastor Dale proposed the idea of using the book of Ruth for our next Advent series. Although my thoughts kept rolling around the question How will he get Advent and Christmas out of the book of Ruth? I didn’t say anything. By July, when it was time to select bulletin covers for Advent, the question was still there.
I needed to know how to correlate the Advent candle wreath lighting with the sermon theme. What evolved became one of my favorite Christmas series.
This article is the second in a series introducing “Worshiping the Triune God,” a working document published following the inaugural meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in June 2010 (see Part 1 in RW 100).
Every year Christians celebrate the two great festivals of Christmas and Easter that give meaning to our lives: Christ’s coming to earth in human form and in humility, and Christ’s return to his Father in a glorified human body. This year, Advent begins on November 27 with the Scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary for Year B.
The following theme, objective, and structure outline is reminiscent of the lesson plans teachers prepare for their classes. As worship planners it would be a great discipline to use similar categories for our planning.
A seven-year-old friend of mine showed me his sketchbook after the service last Sunday. It was a drawing of one of the electric guitars used by the praise band of our church. He was quite proud of his work, but he was quick to point out that the strings weren’t quite right. They were a little heavy-looking, but it was a very well-drawn picture for a kid his age. Afraid Sam would quit drawing guitars because the first one he drew wasn’t perfect, I told him how in art school you get to draw and redraw the same thing over and over until it feels just right.
The book of Isaiah has long been appreciated for its vivid imagery depicting broad messianic themes: the Anointed One, the Coming One who will bring about God’s redemptive purposes in history; the Messiah as King who “will judge the needy with righteousness and with justice will give decisions for the poor”; but also the Messiah as an obedient servant whose suffering unto death works God’s redemption. As a consequence, Isaiah has often been called “the fifth gospel.”
Dear God, be with my cat. Be with my grandma. Be with my friend who broke his arm.
The prayers of young children, in spite of their “me-centeredness,” often reflect concerns with their immediate world. These basic intercessory prayers show that kids work to develop their own prayer life. They also prompt us to guide our children well in learning the full range of a rich prayer life with God.
Q. I don’t want to go into all the details, but our congregation has had a really tough year. Our worship planners are weary and worried about guiding the church through the “joyful” Christmas season. They don’t have a lot of joy and wish they could skip ahead to the New Year so we can start over. Do you have any ideas to encourage them?
You go for the kids. At least that’s what you tell yourself. You know the story, and though the songs may change from year to year, little else does. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable; it’s just that it’s so predictable. The story doesn’t change, and you don’t expect it to change you—not after all these years.
Q My church sings contemporary music, but with piano accompaniment rather than guitar and drums. It doesn’t sound very contemporary. Why can’t the music be led by a band, like it was designed to be?
A There are a lot of layers to this question. Some churches don’t have a praise band because they don’t have people with the necessary skills. Others prefer piano or organ or have discerned that in their context piano or organ accompaniment leads to the best possible singing. All of those judgments need to be made contextually.
Because Advent can be a hectic time of year, our Creative Arts Team wanted to give worshipers the opportunity to slow down. For the four Sundays of Advent we intentionally set aside time at the beginning of each worship service to enable worshipers to take a breath, reflect, and focus on the coming Savior. It was our hope that this slow-paced opening would help us all “wait for the Lord.”
Psalm 150 declares, “Praise [God] for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (KJV). God requires our very best, and we dishonor God if we offer anything less (see Malachi 1:8).
Most of the worship leaders I know strive for excellence, and most of the conferences I attend encourage excellence too. But what does excellence in worship mean to you? How do we know when excellence is achieved? What standards do we look to?
It’s not surprising that the topic of lament is generally ignored in November and December. During this time, when sparkling window displays surround us and manic Christmas music streams from every department store, lament seems shockingly discordant with the season—an inappropriate drifting from “the Christmas spirit.” Though some churches do seek to minister to those who experience grief, loss, and loneliness during Advent, lament is not generally a part of our church services.
This article is taken from a 1980 editorial in Liturgy and Music in Reformed Worship, the precursor to Reformed Worship. Unlike back issues of Reformed Worship, the jewels in these newsletters are not available online, so we decided to share a few of them with you. You may be surprised at how much hasn’t changed in the last 30 years.
All families develop rituals and traditions. In one family, the grandmother always cut off one end of the Easter ham and baked it in a separate pan. When someone eventually asked Grandma about the symbolism behind this ritual, she laughed and said there was no symbolism. For the many decades she’d been in charge of the Easter feast, she’d never had a pan big enough to hold the whole ham, so she always cut it. It was as simple as that.
Awhile ago I happened to be reading one of the minor prophets when I came across a prophecy about the Messiah. I wondered why this prophecy was not included in the traditional service of lessons and carols made popular by the King’s College, Cambridge. My interest piqued, I decided to try to create a new service of lessons and carols using different lessons than those we usually hear.
We Did It!
I thought I would send you some photos of what our visual arts committee did with your idea. The back cover of Reformed Worship is always our favorite. Thanks so much for all of your work and ideas.
Worship Director, Brookfield CRC,
is at the root
is at the heart
and not for one day only
but for each waking day.
At the heart
of Christ’s incarnation
is the truth
that God makes extraordinary things
in ordinary places,
that heaven and earth
holy and earthly
God and human
The wonder of Christmas
Lately I’ve been struck by the frantic pace of life. Some folks are complaining about being overloaded; most simply look tired. Meanwhile, I feel increasingly compelled to help people rest in God’s presence.
Sometimes, having an art education can be a problem when choosing books for your kids. There are many fine storybooks out there, but there are also many so-so offerings with overly simplistic storylines and color
palettes that include only primary colors.
And then there are the picture books of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert. Clever and beautifully illustrated with cut and torn paper, they are a treat for kids and the adults who read with them.
All in the Family
Afew years ago, we designed a worship service for the first Sunday of Advent to introduce and explain the general themes of the season, including the lighting of Advent candles. In past years, the latter had received cursory attention, consisting of a short Bible reading followed by the lighting of the corresponding candle. I saw value in giving the Advent candle themes more attention, perhaps by “illuminating” their meanings (hope, love, joy, peace) visually. We decided to create a banner for each Advent candle.
This dramatic reading was written to show how the announcement of a coming Savior fit snugly into the history and expectations of God’s
people, how the Lord Almighty is a God of justice who watches over the needy, and how this God will be manifest in Jesus.
Forty or fifty years ago, there wasn’t much question of what you’d find when opening a hymnal: congregational songs displayed in four-part harmony. Glorious SATB! There is nothing like the sound of a congregation raising its praise in a robust balance of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Many of the best singing congregations in Reformed, Mennonite, and Lutheran traditions don’t even need the support of an organ or piano to complete their harmonies.
Discovering fresh worship music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphanycan certainly be a challenge. In no other season is the pressure to singfamiliar songs so evident. And yet, in this season we are surrounded bywhat we already know. We hear the old Christmas strains on our commute,at Starbucks, and in the mall.
To help my faith community stay spiritually awake in December, I usetwo methods: creatively arranging old favorites and introducing newworld and modern songs. Here are a few suggestions for doing both.
I can’t imagine worship through the cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany without music. Through the centuries, composers and arrangers have offered the church a wealth of music that is consistent with the themes of worship for these seasons.
Note: The readers’ parts should be adapted to fit the “voice” and experience of the readers as well as the context in which this script is used.
[Violin plays through “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154 one time.]
Reader 1: When I was a child, I had no patience for family reunions or for the drawn-out discussions about family genealogy that occurred over Sunday morning coffee at my grandfather’s house.
It’s coming, just like it always does, ready or not: the moment when the congregation becomes quiet and everyone’s eyes turn toward you. The moment when you take a deep breath and then do your best to unfold the mysteries of Scripture. The moment when you find out whether the sermon that seemed so compelling in your office can compete with this week’s episode of The Office.
Every preacher faces that pressure. But different preachers may take very different approaches.
This is the second of three letters from Tapescrew to his nephew Woodworm, in which he delights in the human tendency to resist dependence on “the Enemy.”
My dear Woodworm,
The following article, though not typical for Reformed Worship, is well worth spending some time on. Pastors, musicians, and worship planners alike can benefit from considering the pairing of text and tune and the challenges that arise from a plethora of choices. In addition, several denominations are in the process of developing new hymnbooks for congregational song. This series of articles provide a peek into some of the detailed discussions that take place when considering the pairing of texts and tunes.
I admit it. I’m a self-professed worship nerd. I’ve been known to match the color of the runner on my office table to the current season of the church year. In fact, just about all the décor in my office and home is liturgical in nature. I like to surround myself with reminders of who I am in the much larger scheme of God’s plan of redemption. At Christmas, of course, the décor includes a nativity set.
Q My pastor was explaining John Calvin’s understanding that in the Lord’s Supper “the Holy Spirit lifts us up so that we commune with Jesus in heaven.” This sounds beautiful—but it also sounds pretty far-fetched. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t feel, taste, or look like heaven. What are we to make of this?
For this Advent series we created dialogues where parents would speak informally with their children about who Jesus is. Each week we sang Graham Kendrick’s “Meekness and Majesty” (SNC 109), which contrasts Jesus’ divinity with the humble circumstances of his birth. These dialogues accompanied the lighting of the Advent candle each week.
The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise & Worship
Robert H. Woods and Brian D. Walrath, eds. (Abingdon, 2007)
This excellent study seeks to give a balanced assessment of both the text and music of contemporary worship music by studying the seventy-seven most commonly used songs in American churches as reported by CCLI (the copyright licensing company).
How far and deep does the meaning of Advent go? Christmas can easily become sentimentalized with nativity scenes or mistakenly celebrated as the beginning of an escape to heaven. Our worship planning group tried to bring out a sense of the deep adventure that Advent really is by drawing in the cosmic scope of Christ’s incarnation in the world.
New Search Engine for RW
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This service is modeled after the renowned “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” heard every Christmas Eve over BBC radio. It was first drawn up by Archbishop Benson when he was Bishop of Truro for use in that Cathedral. In 1918 it was simplified and modified for use in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England, by Eric Milner-White, who, at age thirty-four, had just become dean of King’s College.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle is a time of newness: a new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. A new year on the secular calendar begins before the cycle is done. And let’s not forget the new babies in the stories!
For Christmas last year, my daughter, a sixth-grader, was given a sturdy box filled with 365 pieces of origami paper—one for each day of the year. On the back side of each brightly colored “tomorrow’s” sheet of paper is a pattern for “today’s” origami.
As I write this, we are at day 148, and she has folded 148 pieces of paper, almost to the day. She’s like that. Oh, and of course, we save each and every one.
This children’s Christmas program, which incorporates questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism, follows the well-known structure of “sin, salvation, and service.” It is a celebration of God’s love for us and our response in faith.
Many hymnals have a large section devoted to Christmas. In actual practice, this section gets used throughout Advent (thereby shortchanging the character of Advent). If you take a few moments to page through the Christmas carols and hymns in almost any hymnal, you’ll find that narrative and folksy, sentimental lyrics easily outweigh songs with a theological treatment of the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.
“We Three Kings/Bell Carol,” arr. Foncannon
“Songs of the Season,” arr. Keveren
Eternal God, you have made yourself known to people of all ages, all times, and all walks of life. As the magi were overjoyed when they saw the star, so may we be filled with joy as you reveal yourself to us this morning. Amen.
A shy female student stepped to the microphone and prayed: “Bring peace to regions of conflict, especially Sudan, Israel, and Gaza.” A tall male student bent over the same microphone: “Bring consolation and companionship to widows and orphans.” Another student, standing on tiptoes, adjusted the microphone to her mouth: “Renew our nation in the ways of justice and peace.”
Our church can be described as a singing church. As part of our worship pattern, once a year we usually hold a hymn-sing, gathering to worship God specifically through song. This year our pastor preached a series of sermons based on various psalms, so instead of a hymn-sing we decided to hold a psalm-sing.
The season after Christmas and before Lent can often seem like a “down” time in the church year—as if we’re simply marking time while waiting for another grand celebration. Whether it is because people are suffering from holiday fatigue or influenced by gloomy winter weather, the season of Epiphany can go by unnoticed and unheralded.
C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters consists of an imagined correspondence between the senior demon Screwtape and his young nephew Wormwood. Screwtape gives advice on tempting and leading humans astray. Lewis uses this correspondence to make some insightful and often biting observations about the human condition, and how easily we are deceived by the forces of evil.
Each year four churches in Woodstock, Ontario, gather for a combined service to celebrate Reformation Day. Those four churches are Knox Presbyterian, Emmanuel Reformed, Maranatha Christian Reformed, and Covenant Christian Reformed. In this service the focus was on remembering that God is present in all facets of our lives.
Welcome and Announcements
Silent Prayer (Concluded with singing “I Love You, Lord”)
This versatile drama presentation, based on the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer, can be included in a worship service in a variety of settings and stages. The reading can be adapted to include five to twenty or more student readers. For Part 3, you’ll need three different colors of T-shirts for three small groups of two to three students—each of the small groups puts on a matching color T-shirt to identify them as a group. (Inexpensive colored T-shirts are available at most large craft stores.)
The purpose of Reformed Worship is to support the creative and discerning process of worship planning and leadership. We hope that churches will adapt all the resources included in this journal, but sometimes we wonder how they’re doing that.
We were encouraged by the following note from Mary Winters, particularly because her whole church got involved in the project. We share this with you in the hope that you will find it equally encouraging. —JB
If you’re like me, you find the cover of this issue of RW thought-provoking. Chris Stoffel Overvoorde’s That Glorious Form stops us short and makes us think. The Christ child in a crown of thorns? It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not the typical picture of Advent and the Christmas season. If given the choice, we would rather focus on the perfect, beautiful baby in the manger with the loving gaze of his mother and father falling upon him. We prefer the pretty picture.
Three New Song Collections
Of the making of hymnal supplements there is no end, it seems. Actually, the term “hymnal supplement” is hardly an appropriate name anymore. The old pattern of hymnals being replaced in about a generation by a new hardbound hymnal has all but disappeared.
After I led a group of people with cognitive impairments in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Sarah approached me to ask a question. I had difficulty understanding her because I don’t know her well and because she has trouble articulating certain sounds.
Finally, I understood that she hadn’t come forward to take communion that evening because she has a swallowing disorder. Sarah feared she would choke in front of everyone as she took the elements. She asked if we could go to a more private place where I could serve her. I was delighted to do so.
Q We’ve had complaints of having too much of a “minor-key Advent” in our church. How would you respond?
A It all depends!
Advent is a time of great hope. But it is also a time to dwell honestly with the fact that our full hopes for Christ’s second coming are not yet fulfilled. Advent is also a time of waiting.
Human nature is such that we prefer the sweet to the sour, the easy to the hard, the light rather than the darkness. But for the light to seem bright, we first need to spend time in darkness. Similarly, we need Advent to comprehend the gift of Christmas. This series allows us to dwell in Advent, to notice that we’re living in between the two advents, to dare to look at the world’s darkness in order to better see the brightness of Christ’s light.
Q We’ve had complaints of having too much of a “minor-key Advent” in our church. How would you respond?
A It all depends!
Advent is a time of great hope. But it is also a time to dwell honestly with the fact that our full hopes for Christ’s second coming are not yet fulfilled. Advent is also a time of waiting.
During Advent we wanted to draw all the generations in our congregation into the wonderful messages of hope, love, peace, and joy. To do that, we wrote dramatic scripts to reflect God’s command to tell the children the stories of his faithfulness. Storytellers represented the gospel characters who had received God’s message directly from angels: Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.
We distinguish between these holy books
and the apocryphal ones. . . .
The church may certainly read these books
and learn from them
as far as they agree with the canonical books.
—Belgic Confession, Article 6
Last December, our worship committee was looking for an idea for our annual candlelight service. For our Advent worship we had used the series “The Places of Christmas” (RW 77), which traced the places along God’s story of redemption. To build on this theme, our worship team came up with “People and Places of the Nativity”—a service looking at the significance of the ordinary people and places of the nativity story.
Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” Christ Community Church takes this quote by cultural critic Neil Postman seriously. According to the church’s vision statement, it “desires to be a vibrant, spiritual community that shapes the next generation of God’s champions.” One way this happens at Christ Community is by involving kids in creating visual art that helps lead the congregation to worship God.
"Why are there no good Christmas songs?” one of my college students asked last December. He was frustrated in his search for contemporary songs to use in our Sunday evening worship service. Though he found several good hymns and carols to use, he wasn’t coming up with anything new.
Snow falls gently outside the window. Inside, the fireplace spreads its mellow warmth through the family room. Firelight plays on the walls and ceiling as the children snuggle around you on the couch. There are cookies and milk, your favorite tattered Bible, and expectant eyes and ears. It’s time to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 again. What a beautiful family tradition!
Our Approach to God
[Sound of clock ticking; the words, “Teach us to number our days” appear one by one on screen. Piano plays “Now Is the Time to Worship” as PowerPoint slide dissolves into the words of the song. Throughout the service, words of all litanies and songs are projected on screen.]
Here’s the typical music director’s dilemma: you want to use instrumentalists in the service because that adds a unique dimension to your worship, but you also know there’s a wide range of ability among your willing volunteers; many, if not all, are amateurs.
How can you select repertoire that honors their capabilities and helps them reach their full potential in using their gifts to serve the Lord? Here’s some practical advice for doing just that.
The following is the first of a three-part series based on a transcript of a lecture given by Dr. N. T. Wright at Calvin College on January 6, 2007. Much of this lecture is based on his previous writings, especially Simply Christian (HarperCollins, 2006). We are grateful to Dr. Wright for allowing us to share this lecture with our readers over the next three issues. In this issue the focus will be on the sacraments in general; RW 90 will focus on baptism; and RW 91 on the Eucharist.
Involvement in the arts is an important way for kids of all ages to find their place in congregational life. Church is a place where someone can recognize and respect children’s gifts and then work with them to create something unique that contributes to the whole congregation’s worship. Be that person!
The construction of this hanging is simple and the amount of potato printing required will give everyone plenty of opportunity to perfect the technique.
I Say Potato
Here’s how it’s done:
When we gather for worship on New Year’s Eve, we do so to praise God for the past year—to thank God for the wonderful gifts he has given us and to remember his wonderful deeds. But what if our year has not been good? What if, when we think back on the year, all we can remember is pain and heartache? What if we lost someone we dearly loved? What if we drifted away from a loving friend? What if we lost our job and are struggling to make ends meet? What if we’ve fallen into sinful behavior and find it difficult to break free? What if we feel abandoned by God?
The idea for this service began in late November 2007. As a congregation we were not planning to hold a New Year’s Eve or a New Year’s Day service. So we asked the question, “How will we begin the new year on Epiphany Sunday?” The idea that stuck was to ask members of the congregation to submit Bible texts that had sustained them, given them hope, and challenged them in the past year or two. The members responded with nearly one hundred submissions!
One Sunday I (Steve) served as visiting preacher at a church that had planned a mission emphasis service. As I took a seat near the front, I was impressed by a colorful display of flags representing the countries touched by the congregation’s missionaries. The music carried the energy of the large and growing majority-world Christian movement. A little later in the service, a PowerPoint presentation projected scenes of Christians from around the world gathering to worship the crucified, risen, and reigning Christ.
Scan the crowd at one of Madison Square Church’s well-attended Sunday services and you’ll see something rare: a group whose demographics actually looks like its diversely-peopled promotional materials.
Imagine standing in the arrivals area at the airport, your heart pounding. Your beloved has been away on a long trip, and any second he or she is going to walk through those doors. In your mind you can already see the dear, tired face lighting up as your eyes meet.
What a sense of excitement there is when something eagerly anticipated finally arrives! That same kind of anticipatory joy characterizes our waiting for Jesus in Advent. In fact, our sense of joy during longed-for events in our lives is mild compared to the joy of what God has done, and is still doing, in Jesus.
Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Announces 2008 Worship Renewal Grant Recipients
When church leaders talk about worship, they tend to talk about style, techniques, and equipment for worship services. But many congregations are dedicated to reflecting on the deeper meaning and purpose of worship and congregational life.
Still Relevant After All These Years
I was recently looking for some resources on Seder suppers when I ran across your publication. In RW 6 (Winter 1987/88) I found just what I needed (Steve Schlissel’s article). Although I was able to read the article online I ordered a back copy of the issue so I could have it to read in print. What a treasure!
This article continues the conversation begun in RW 84 by Martin Tel on the state of congregational song. —JB
Martin Tel’s article “They Just Don’t Sing Like They Used To” (RW 84) outlines several cultural and architectural challenges to congregational singing.
First, our culture has turned music into a commodity that is professionally produced and passively received.
These three songs for Advent and Christmas are scheduled for inclusion in a forthcoming hymnal based directly on New Testament texts copublished by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Faith Alive Christian Resources. The committee charged with selecting Scripture texts that are most likely to be connected to preaching texts for the collection has found it a very interesting exercise.
Though written from the perspective of someone living in the United States, the insights in this article apply to citizens of all nations. In the next issue of Reformed Worship we will address the same topic from a Canadian perspective. —JB
How should pastors prepare themselves and the churches they serve to participate in communion?
Each time we gather as a congregation there are those among us who are struggling with sexual temptation. As worship leaders we are called to help God’s people present our struggles—even the ones we’d rather ignore—before God and receive God’s care. We need to come before God honestly.
Advent is a time of waiting and expecting thecoming of our Savior. The Hebrew people faithfullyawaited the promised Messiah during atime of captivity, and we also live and wait amidpain and suffering. We await the second comingof our risen Christ and we anticipate the fulfillment ofGod’s promises, even in the face of global tragedies.
AIDS is one of those tragedies. With more than 12 millionchildren orphaned by AIDS (www.avert.org) and entiregenerations of people dying, it is time for Christians totake a stand.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys waiting. We do whatever we can to avoid it. We scrutinize each checkout line to predict which one will be the fastest. We speed up to make it through the yellow light so we don’t have to stop for the red. We use ATM machines, automated lanes, and Instant Messaging in hopes that we won’t need to wait. But try as we might, waiting is unavoidable. Christians are a people living in advent—an in-between time, a time of waiting.
This New Year’s Eve service is really a series of three services connected by music sung by the congregation. Each section focuses on a different part of the Old Year or New Year.
In the first section we thank God for what he has done for us in the past. In the second section we ask God to forgive us as we enter into a New Year, and in the third section we are reminded to start out the New Year with a solid foundation. Each section consists of songs, Scripture
readings, a short reflection on the topic and the Scripture reading, and prayer.
Some years ago Bill Murray starred in a movie that riffed on Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol . Murray played the Scrooge figure in the film: a hard-nosed television executive who disliked everything about Christmas except for the fact that his TV network could make a lot of money off the holidays.
Q I feel that lay participation in worship has gotten out of hand in my church. People use the line “priesthood of all believers” to justify everything and the kitchen sink. Is this really what Luther had in mind when he stressed this doctrine?
A My guess is that there’s more to your question than simply this doctrine, perhaps having to do with good communication within the congregation. Here I’ll simply address the doctrine itself.
In April 2007, Robert E. Webber finished his eightmonthbattle with pancreatic cancer. There have beenand will be many tributes to him (see http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/aprilweb-only/118-12.0.html). Webber influenced countless worship leadersthrough his books and articles on worship renewal, histeaching in countless classes and seminars, and his expansiveand entrepreneurial vision in producing the amazingComplete Library of Christian Worship and in forming theRobert E.
This is the first of a two-part series on the church year. Part 1 presents a general context for the use of the church year and a brief introduction to the Christmas Cycle (Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany). Part 2 will discuss the Easter cycle (Lent, Easter, Pentecost)—the most ancient of the church seasons, as well as the twentieth-century developments that have pointed us back toward this useful tool for telling the good news.
O ComeEmmanuel:A MusicalTour of DailyReadings forAdvent andChristmas byGordon Giles.ParacletePress, 2006.
This daily devotional for Advent andChristmas by Gordon Giles, vicar ofst. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Enfield,North London, presents one entry foreach day from December 1 throughJanuary 6. Each daily entry includesthe text of a hymn or carol, the authoror source of the text, and a tune nameoften associated with it.
Faith formation is an important part of a church’s ministry. This is the first in a series of articles with suggestions for how to encourage faith nurture in your worship and in your congregation. One denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, is celebrating a year of focus on faith formation; for more information visit the website www.walkon.org.
The following readings have been adapted from those in Reformed Worship 57, pp. 3-13.
Reformed Worship Wins Awards!
Reformed Worship is a member of two Christian journalistic associations—theAssociated Church Press (ACP) and the Evangelical Press Association (EPA).Both hold annual awards competitions for member publications in variouscategories; entries are judged by professional writers, journalists, and visualartists. These awards are the church press equivalent of the Oscars. OK, notnearly as glamorous . . . there’s no red carpet and we don’t get to make aspeech when we receive them.
Advent draws our attention to Christ. When our attention is focused on him, our attitudes are transformed from our human reactions to his life-giving way.
The characters in the Advent story experiencedthe transformation of their questioning and fearfulhuman attitudes by encountering God. Through theseAdvent services, we encountered God, confronted ourhuman attitudes, and experienced and celebrated the transformingpower of Christ’s love on Christmas Day.
Visually many of our celebrationsaround Advent and Christmasfeature light as a main ingredient.Lighted trees, sparklingstars, warm candlelight, glisteningsnow, bright reflective wrapping andbows—all are turned on “high” duringthis season. Yes, we’re fighting off longgrey days and even longer dark nights—but in so many ways we’re remindingeach other that even though darkness isall around, the Light has come.
Let’s be honest: those of us who plan and lead worshipare often exhausted by January 1. Too oftenwe pour our imagination, energy, and time into theworship services and programs of the season andthen crash afterward. After a few decades of thiscycle, a few lessons have emerged for me. Try them on forsize, and just for fun use the lyrics at the end to sing themto the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Genealogies often look like a grocery list of names. But if you
take the time to “listen,” a genealogy reveals a story—a thread
woven into the history of a family that connects one generation
to the next.
The genealogy in Matthew 1 tells the story of Christ’s human
ancestors; evidence that God became flesh and dwelt with us. Jesus
was born into a family whose history, like ours, is filled with stories
of heroes and stories that people might prefer to leave hidden.
At Inglewood we try to involve all age groups inworship as much as possible. For this servicethe children created a banner of many of thenames of Jesus; Scripture readers representedevery age group; high schoolers distributedcandles; the junior high group lit the candles. Both adultand children’s choirs participated in the service. Thenames of Jesus were projected on a screen as the serviceprogressed.
All the readings and music in this service intentionally focus on light; the service is appropriate for Christmas Eve, Christmas, or Epiphany. Multiple songs are listed; we encourage you to choose songs that would work best in your worship setting.
In RW 80 the column “Songs for the Season” featured the song “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” which has been changed in some hymnals to “Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer.” The fact that RW on this occasion did not change the text prompted Bert Polman to write this challenging and informative essay.
"I want more of that!” a toddler loudly asserted during the children’s worship time one Sunday morning. She had just eaten bread during “the feast,” and her appetite had been whetted. Those nearby smiled, the meaning not lost on them. Many in this congregation had a similar desire to experience more, in particular more of God’s nearness through extended times of worship. A typical Sunday service is just a snack. They wanted to feast.
Nestled in the heart of Central Valley California is a church that daily exemplifies community and growth. First CRC in Visalia, currently pastored by Rev. George Vink, is a vibrant and active congregation dedicated to serving the community around them while caring for the spiritual growth and well-being of their own members.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:2).
These days hospitality may most often be associated with a Martha Stewart-esque home decor complete with fluffed pillows and fresh flowers placed just so. In Scripture, though, it means something quite different than creating the perfect environment. Instead, hospitality refers to creating a space in which relationships can develop.
I despise change! That may be an odd statement coming from someone who has moved repeatedly, attended four post–high school institutions, and worked as a high school teacher, youth pastor, research assistant, and editor, not to mention the biggest change of all—adopting an infant. Regardless of all that change in my life, I am no fan. Change destabilizes, creates tension, and requires us to adapt. Frankly, it is often uncomfortable, at least for a while.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Ministry
[This prayer is included in the bulletin for people to pray during the preservice music. Worship begins when entering the worship space.]
“Glimpses of Glory” marks the beginning of a new column, Reflections. It is our prayer that Reflections will be a source of spiritual encouragement as you are used by God in the leading of his people in worship. —JB
What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2b).
In “Leading with Light: Practical Ideas for Using Video Projection in Worship” (RW 76, p. 39), Steve Koster outlines various ways to use projected images that enhance rather than detract from worship. In this article Koster asks further questions: What does worship media look like? What can it be compared to? What is its unique identity? Koster suggests that our answer to that question will further influence our use of projection media.
Every Christmas at our church the Sunday school and catechism classes (preschool to grade 12) prepare a program for the evening service of the third Sunday of Advent. When some of the high school students objected to a proposed plan, they were challenged to come up with a better idea. Two of the girls wrote the pageant based on the Christmas story from the book of Luke presented here. Along with a narrator, they included songs and dramatic scenarios for the Sunday school classes.
As we plan weekly worship here at Fuller Seminary, the worship interns and I have been talking quite a bit lately about three persistent and related problems.
Our church renovation committee has been talking about our sanctuary. One of our members thinks this term is misleading. Is “sanctuary” a good term to use in church architecture?
The term “sanctuary” can be misleading if people begin to think that the worship space is in itself more sacred or sanctified than other spaces.
Keith Getty has played an important role in developing modern hymns for the church. With Stuart Townend, he has written “In Christ Alone” (see RW 71, p. 33) and “The Power of the Cross” (RW 71, p. 28), both sung around the world today. These hymns aim to teach the truths of the Bible for multigenerational Christian worship.
We are unable to provide midi files of these songs on RW’s website. However, they are available at www.gettymusic.com.
When singing a hymn, it is often interesting to learn which came first, the text or the tune. And if written separately, who put them together? Those who write new songs for congregational worship fall into three main categories.
RW Goes Online
In case you missed the announcement in RW 80, all past issues of Reformed Worship are now available online at www.reformedworship.org—though without the music and art you’ll find in the print magazine. Beginning with this issue, only subscribers will be able to access the latest issue. You’ll find log-in information on the inside front cover of each issue.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6
Thanks for a Great Finale!
A warm and heartfelt thanks to the many of you who took the time to write and e-mail personal notes of appreciation for the past twenty years of RW; I’ll add them to the delightful memory book I received from the staff at Faith Alive. And what great fun to open RW 80 and see pp. 7-9—three pages the RW staff had not let me see until they were in print. I loved the cartoon and picture!
Our service will begin with fifteen minutes of contemplative music for healing. During this time you are invited to come forward and light votive candles as a visible sign of your prayer(s) of remembrance and hope.
Lighting Candles for Others, Ourselves, and Our World
Music for Healing
Hymn: “Jesus, Remember Me” PsH 217, SFL 168, SNC 143, WR 285
Whether you know it or not, your church likely has the potential for creating an orchestra or instrumental ensemble among your own congregation. Why should you consider doing so? As the psalmist so exuberantly proclaims in Psalm 150, because tambourine and trumpet, strings and flute—even loud crashing cymbals—offer fitting praise to our Lord! You’ll find that using the talents of church members is an excellent way to add variety and interest to hymn accompaniments and other music, as well as involving more people in the ministry of the church.
The large platform in the front of the church I belong to is made of wood. Recently, an hour or so before worship was to begin one Sunday morning, a large light fixture decided it had had enough and fell with a loud clatter to the floor—that is, we assume it was a loud clatter. No one was present to witness it. Because the area of the wood floor where the lamp hit had to be repaired and refinished, everything had to be removed from the platform. The platform furnishings were brought down into the worship space helter-skelter so the repair people could go about their business.
The following service from First Presbyterian Church, Slidell, Louisiana, was planned cooperatively with a conscious effort to include the congregation. The whole congregation was involved with singing and some Scripture reading. In addition, the church choir sang, six narrators took part in various readings (including those marked unison), and the children created covers for the service booklets (which included the words to all the music and readings).
When is the last time you said amen out loud at the end of a prayer that someone else led in worship? And what’s the difference whether you say it aloud, or let the person leading the prayer say it? What does it mean to say amen?
The growing attention paid to the “emerging church” has certainly got people talking. And whatever the “emerging church” is, it seems to be quite a chameleon. Depending on who you talk to, it’s either the latest threat to biblical faith or that which will save us from two thousand years of error!
Robert Webber has been an editorial consultant for Reformed Worship for many years and has written for RW several times. To help us start off our twentieth anniversary year, we asked him to reflect on “what we’ve learned along the way.” This article is the first in a series by a variety of writers associated with Reformed Worship since we began twenty years ago.
In this column, I want to explore the great-granddaddy of worship websites, the expanding-by-the-day website of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (www.calvin.edu/worship). This site reflects the wisdom of a whole congregation of worship gurus, clustered around the vision of CICW and its director, John Witvliet. That vision encompasses both rigorous, high-level scholarship and wheels-on-the-pavement ministry practice.
The Big Picture
Ordered for Impact: Using the Revised Common Lectionary's Scripture Choices for a Rich Celebration of the Incarnation
A mother and father travel to meet their teenaged daughter, who is returning home after a year in Argentina. On the trip the parents snap pictures: (1) the departure, (2) a stop to swim in a mountain lake, (3) pictures of that lake shot from an overlook, (4) the airport, (5) the daughter’s arrival, and (6) the rainbow crowd of passengers disembarking the plane from South America.
An abundance of new materials for church pianists was published in the last twelve months, with many different repertoires and styles from which to choose. Because of space constraints, I have chosen to list no more than three representative titles from each volume. You can find more information, including complete tables of contents, at publisher’s websites, your local print music dealer, or website stores such as burtnco.com or pianolane.com. Within great latitude, volumes are graded E=Easy, M=Medium, and D=Difficult
How well do you “hear” Scripture?
For some people the spoken or written word is powerful. But others “hear” more clearly through other senses. Worship leaders face the challenge of presenting the Scripture to people who have a variety of intelligences and learning styles. How can we help all these people hear the Word of God with greater clarity and understanding?
Jane Rogers Vann. Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004. 192 pp. $19.95.
Here is yet another book on worship, but one that stays clear of the “contemporary versus traditional” debate. In Gathered Before God, Jane Rogers Vann encourages church renewal, not through programs but through worship. She then offers an educator’s perspective on how liturgy might accomplish that goal.
The last Sunday of the Christian year (this year very early, on November 20) offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce the new year that will begin on the first Sunday of Advent. This past year we decided to celebrate it in a special way with scriptural readings from nine major events in the life of Jesus. While we used about a dozen different readers, as few as four or as many as twenty-plus could effectively be used. (For all the Scripture readings, arranged for various readers, see below.)
The church I attend celebrated its fortieth anniversary a couple of years ago. The pulpit furniture—lectern, baptismal font, and Lord’s Supper table—had been there from the beginning. During those forty years, the building’s interior had been updated but the furniture had not. It was time for something new.
How often do we really think about “place” in connection with the Christian life?
In our highly mobile culture, many of us know what it means to feel displaced or removed from “home.” When I first returned to my childhood home in southwestern Ontario, I was struck by the sense of solidarity I had with this place—not merely with the people, but also with the topography and landscape that had been part of my childhood background. This place had shaped me.
Two Letters from Readers in Asia
I have read the brief song analysis by Bert Polman (RW 71) on your website. It is quite interesting and it has given me more understanding about the songs. However, I think it would be helpful if you could add some historical background of the songs.
For centuries churches have played out the Christmas story in drama and song. Todd Farley looks far back into the origins of nativity scenes and liturgical Christmas dramas, and then offers some intriguing ideas for enlivening worship today. His ideas for a complete Christmas service involving the entire congregation are not spelled out in detail; every church would need to consider their own resources and abilities.
2005 Worship Renewal Grants Announced
The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has announced this year’s grant recipients through its Worship Renewal Grants Program, now in its sixth year. This year the Institute awarded nearly $700,000 to fifty-four churches and organizations.
When our worship committee selected Peter Hoytema’s series “Six Biblical Characters, Six Traditions of Faith” (RW 65) for the 2002 Advent season, I scrambled to find a series of children’s messages that would complement the services. Unable to find what I was looking for, I turned to Hoytema’s article to see what I could glean for use with the children of our congregation.
Roger Bergs offers fresh treatments of three traditional hymns, one each for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. On these pages, Bergs, a published composer, not only provides arrangements for piano and/or organ or choir, but also offers them without charge to Reformed Worship and to our readers—a generous gift! We did not have room to include all the music, and some of what we did provide is too small for easy reading. To print your own copy of this music (PDF), please click here.
John D. Witvliet prepared this prayer for his ordination service into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Christian Reformed Church.
This prayer is based on the ancient “O Antiphons” that are also the basis for the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (see also p. 38). The elipses (. . .) are places for possible extemporaneous additions.
Kristy Ruthven has two titles at Princeton Christian Reformed Church: youth director and director of worship and music. In the eyes of Ruthven and her congregation, the two jobs are integrally linked. Princeton worships with a vision for intergenerational unity, and the task of reaching out to youth cannot be separated from the practice of worship.
This resource page is the result of collaborative work during the Calvin Seminars in Christian Scholarship titled “Gather into One” held in June-July 2004. A group of scholars, theologians, musicians, and educators worked together and planned worship with a global focus for those who were participating in seminars that summer.
A vibrant and living church is also a confessing church—a church that hears the good news, experiences the gospel power, and uses its own language to say what it believes. Already in the Old Testament, Israel confessed their faith in their own context: “Yahweh, One God, Yahweh, Our God” (Deut. 6:4). This confession protected true religion from the polytheism of the Canaanite idolatry. The early church confessed that “Jesus is Lord” (Rom.
A year ago, I received a brochure inviting me to the Calvin Symposium of Worship, 2005. Even though the dates precluded my attendance, I could not put down the striking booklet, full of black and white pictures of hands: clapping, praying, welcoming, signing hands—hands performing on musical instruments, in drama and painting. The photographer beautifully depicted hands not only engaged in communal worship but also in preparation for worship, across generational and cultural divides.
Q. Recent conversations I’ve heard dismiss Mother’s and Father’s Days as Hallmark holidays not suitable for worship. Aren’t these important pastoral topics in an age in which family life is so threatened?
It’s been five years since we tried using those O Antiphons (see box) at LOFT. I’m thinking of introducing them again after one of the new worship apprentices mentioned reading about them in Webber’s Complete Library of Christian Worship. But if memory serves, the last time we tried to use them, the service didn’t go so well.
To do: Look at notes from last Antiphon service.
This service was prepared for World Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October, at Blythefield Christian Reformed Church. The service included songs from around the world sung by the congregation and/or choir, with several instrumentalists, and also a procession of flags of countries from around the world.
The three songs chosen for this column all come from England and are found in a new hymnal, Sing Glory, produced by Jubilate Hymns, Ltd., the publishing arm of a group of about sixty British clergy, authors, and musicians that have been active in preparing new songs for the church since the 1960s (see box on p. 31 and a review of Sing Glory on p. 47). The first song predates the formation of the Jubilate Group; the other two are by active members of the group.
It’s 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re feeling every degree. Another car alarm goes off across the narrow, pothole-ridden street; you pay no mind and neither does the police unit that’s just rolled by. The inhabitants of row houses lined block after block spill out onto their front porch stoops because it’s hotter inside than out. A mother, too young to vote, cradles her infant as she watches her nieces and nephews joyously splash in the opened fire hydrant offering cool relief.
We can never find enough musicians for our worship band or enough leaders for our worship committee.”
“Our church is dying. Once the kids turn sixteen or seventeen they leave the church and never come back.”
Comments like these represent two major crises in churches across the country, in both urban and suburban contexts:
Some models of campus ministry center around student worship. Many do not. Regardless, articulating a Reformed identity does give rise to some thoughts about what characterizes distinctively Reformed worship. Here are a few thoughts on Reformed worship from the “back door” of campus ministry.
Iappreciate a good gadget. Many times a day, I reach into my pocket for my personal digital assistant (PDA) in order to look up a phone number, schedule an appointment, or update my to do list. When I do, no one around me looks twice. However, if I pull out my Palm Pilot (one brand of PDA) to do a pastor-specific task—look up a Bible verse, write out the melody to a new song I’ve just heard, review my prayer list, or brush up on my Greek at the bus stop—peers and passersby rubberneck without shame.
When I first started editing the Psalter Hymnal in the early 1980s, the story then making the rounds was that permission for including the song “How Great Thou Art” in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship was finally granted with a handshake at a cost that would remain secret.
Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom. Eerdmans, 2003. 170 pp. $18.00.
It’s December. Shoppers and worshipers alike greet each other: “Merry Christmas!” “Happy holidays!” Maybe even (on Sunday): “Peace and joy!”
Some years ago, I was leading a Master Class workshop at a local church with some of the LOFT gang. We arrived to discover that the church’s “band” was a rather odd assemblage of musical talent. Accompanying the vocalists was an electronic keyboard. And a piano. And an organ. I listened to a couple songs, and then asked, “Are you all playing the same music, the same notes?” When they responded affirmatively, I blurted out, “Well, stop it! Don’t do that any more!
Araw, gritty wind swirls through the dark night as I lock my bike on the crowded sidewalk. Turning around, I step toward a cordoned-off area, behind which policemen, their hats pulled down and collars pulled up, bark at the jostling crowds, urging them to stop pushing and stand back. Several thousand people form a line snaking along the sidewalk, funneling down to one person at the narrow gate.
Since music is such an integral part of worship, selecting a hymnal that will meet a congregation’s needs is an awesome responsibility. But it doesn’t have to become a nightmare.
Following the steps of the process described below can help a committee choose a hymnal that will serve its congregation well for years to come.
Our Advent series was prepared by a group of Christian Reformed pastors and others from five different congregations in and around Listowel, Ontario. This peer mentoring group, which calls itself “The Preaching Group,” is also part of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church and funded by the Lilly Foundation.
Timothy Dudley-Smith. Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing Co., 2003. 562 pp. $24.95. ISBN 0-916642-74-7.
The following monologue was written for a candlelight service at New Era Christian Reformed Church. It is an interpretation of Scripture passages from Mary’s perspective. She becomes the narrator of the gospel story from the first Advent of Christ’s birth to the anticipation of the next Advent, Christ’s second coming. You will want to add the other elements of your worship service such as greeting, offering, benediction, and so on, to what is found below.
Edited for Jubilate Hymns Ltd. by Michael Baughen (general editor), Michael Saward (chair for hymn texts), David Illiff (chair for hymn music), and David Peacock (chair for songs). Stowmarket, Suffolk, UK: Kevin Mayhew, Ltd., 1999. Full music edition $29.95 (ISBN 1 84003 419 X); words only $5.95 (ISBN 1 84003 450 5). Available in North America from email@example.com.
Sometimes God uses things like this to strengthen the whole church,” Ruth said to me, shortly after my father died.
In past issues, I’ve encouraged visual artists to involve themselves–because it’s unlikely that anyone is going to go out of their way to invite them–with the video projections your church may be planning for its worship services. Here are a couple of guidelines to make sure that these projections enhance worship instead of detract from it. I’ll use a series of Advent and Christmas visuals as examples.
Imagine the magnificent words and strains of Handel’s Messiah combined with the exuberance and creativity of children’s artwork, photography, music, and movement. The result makes for a memorable and worship-filled Christmas program for all ages.
During January 2004, worship at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, focused on the message of Isaiah 60 (see also p. 22), in light of provocative discussion of this text in Richard Mouw’s When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem, (rev. ed. Eerdmans, 2002). The following service was prepared by a Symposium planning team for morning worship in the Calvin College Chapel during the Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts.
Q Our congregation has almost no musical talent, and so we had to hire a music director from beyond our fellowship. The challenge is that both this director and the congregation are frustrated with things they see as both problematic and fixable, but have no good forum for dealing with them in ways that won’t cause all kinds of hurt. Do you have any advice for us?
This order of service was prepared for Reformation Sunday 2003 at First Presbyterian Church, Royal Oak, Michigan. It includes several liturgical elements from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, including contributions from Luther in Germany, Bucer in Strassbourg, Calvin in Geneva, Zwingli in Zurich, Knox in Scotland, and from the English Reformation. The songs include a psalm, canticle, and hymns from these traditions; they can be found in the Presbyterian Hymnal as well as in many other hymnals.
Call to Worship
Percussion in worship presents the same promises and problems as any other art. Played well, percussion can offer a wordless prayer, a lively conversation, an expression of sorrow, or an infectious call to praise. Performed poorly, it is an annoying, noisy distraction. How can a congregation learn to offer percussion as a skillful, powerful part of the pulse of worship?
This article is addressed particularly to congregations without a tradition of using percussion in worship and rests on these assumptions:
Matt Redman. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 2001. 126 pp. $12.99.
From the moment I opened Matt Redman’s The Unquenchable Worshipper I faced a dilemma: to move onto the next chapter as quickly as I could because I was hungry for more, or to mull and ponder the chapter I’d just finished because I liked the taste it left.
Q: What do you get when you are asked to take part in an event for which you are remarkably unprepared?
A: Butterflies in your stomach.
Q: What do you get when you realize that the majority of participants in that event are as unprepared as you?
A: The false assurance of safety in numbers.
Q: What do you get when the leadership of that same event begins to realize what’s going on?
A: Frustrated and disheartened leadership.
Walter Brueggeman. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2003. 173 pp. $12.00.
Anyone at all familiar with Walter Brueggemann’s work will note his characteristic offbeat style already in the title of this book (awed to heaven). Brueggemann, an Old Testament theologian, is here the theologian at prayer. This collection of prayers brings together his prayers (no more than a page each, often less) from such diverse occasions as opening a class to leading a worship service.
With this issue, Reformed Worship begins its seventeenth year. Not very old, as journals count years, but when we stopped to think about it, a surprise even for our staff. Many of you have been subscribers since the first issue; many others buy back issues when they begin subscribing. We have a remarkably loyal readership, and we’re grateful.
Linda Clark, Joanne Swenson, and Mark Stamm. The Alban Institute, 2001. www.alban.org. Book (137 pp.) and video.
Many books and articles are written about worship today, especially about the style of worship. But these three authors and the Alban Institute have found a way to deal with the issues in a very compelling way.
Q One big change for us in the past few years is that our pastor just preaches in worship, while our worship team leads the rest of the service. We enjoy leading, but don’t have a lot of training. Shouldn’t the pastor take a more active role in the rest of the worship service?
In the preceding article, Lester Ruth suggests a calendar for celebrating Advent early, perhaps in November, for the purpose of spending more time during December on the rich doctrines of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Roger Eernisse took a similar approach in this four-week Advent series based on the opening verses, or prologue, to the gospel of John. Each week unpacks different aspects of the meaning of the Incarnation.
As a pastor, I’ve discovered that while many people know Bible stories about Jesus, few can readily articulate the Scriptures’ great overarching themes of creation, fall, and redemption. And I’ve become more convinced of the necessity of telling God’s people the whole story.
I love type. If youve been reading this column for any length of time, you have picked up on my infatuation with letter forms but also, no doubt, my resistance to traditional banner letters. So much can go wrong so quickly.
Lois Prahlow, one of the banner design workshop presenters at the Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts, had such a clever idea that I couldnt resist passing it onand the inspiration it gave me for a Thanksgiving visual in my own church.
The Christmas season extends from December 25 through January 5 and includes at least one and sometimes two Sundays. Celebrating Christmas as a season helps us enter into the meaning of the Incarnation more fully than a single celebration. Consider some of these resources for your Christmas season this year.
Calls to Worship
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On Thanksgiving Day many churches offer a very traditional worship service: Psalm 100, a litany of thanksgiving, “Come, You Thankful People, Come.” On a day when we look back with gratitude at God’s good gifts to us, it makes sense to make use of the work and wisdom of our forebears and to worship using that which is tried and true. Other congregations seek innovation: pilgrim puppets behind the pulpit, prayers of thanks colored (not written) in crayon on scraps of paper and dropped in the offering plate.
There’s a lesson for worship leaders in a famous scene in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and company are meeting with the Great and Powerful Oz, whose voice and visage have them shaking in awe and wonder. Meanwhile, the dog Toto pulls back a drape, revealing an ordinary fellow frantically pushing buttons and pulling levers, desperate to conceal his role in the spectacle of sight and sound. He bellows, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
2/16—Sunday Night after LOFT
Something’s been bugging me the last few LOFTs. Couldn’t put my finger on it before, but now I think I know what it is. It’s God’s voice. I could hardly hear it. Noticed its absence particularly after our prayer of confession tonight. We sang a Kyrie but there was no assurance of pardon after. There was a song about grace, but I’m not sure anyone understood the connection between the two. There was no clear absolution of guilt. No declaration of emancipation. No welcome home.
What are we to do with Advent?
The lectionary says, “repent and prepare,” but the rhythms of many congregations say, “children’s Christmas program.” The calendar says, “fast and pray,” but Sunday schools schedule Christmas parties with cake and cookies. Advent says, “not yet, not yet,” but church-goers clamor to sing their favorite Christmas carols.
Photographs in RW 68
In the interest of justice (!), we need to give credit where due: we regret that in our theme issue on Worship and Justice (RW 68), we omitted credits for two photographers. Nancy Olthuis (firstname.lastname@example.org), Graphic Design Services Officer at The King’s University College, took the photos on the cover and on pages 2-3.
Book and CD: The Book of Uncommon Prayer: Contemplative and Celebratory Prayers and Worship Services for Youth Ministry
Steven L. Case. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. 128 pp. $19.99.
While serving in youth ministry in an Episcopal church, Steven Case came to value The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as one of the most important tools in his ministry “next to the Bible (and caffeine, of course).” He decided to write an “uncommon” book based on the BCP, where the prayers would be directly related to the obstacles and challenges teenagers face daily.
Twenty minutes after midnight one of the MCs at this year’s annual New Year’s bash in Niagara Falls, Ontario, asked the crowd, “How do you like the year so far?” The crowd, which had just enjoyed a rock concert and a fireworks display, screamed its approval, oblivious to a fatal bombing in an earlier time zone that had elicited screams of a different kind. That’s the schizophrenic kind of world we live in.
Many churches across Canada have been celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries the last few years. Following the end of World War II, the population of Canada exploded with immigrants, including many from the Netherlands who were grateful for the Canadian army’s role in the liberation of their country. As a binational denomination with Dutch roots, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Canada grew from thirteen small congregations in 1945 to 170 in just fifteen years.
It started innocently enough with the Advent wreath. Each Sunday during Advent an individual or a family from our congregation came forward after the greeting to read a
passage of Scripture and to light a candle. Because of space constraints, our congregation does not have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service, so at the end of the fourth Sunday we lit the Christ candle, a big pillar candle, and sang a Christmas hymn right before the benediction.
Why do we make such a fuss about being home for Christmas? Those who have been blessed with happy childhoods may enjoy going home even after becoming adults. We like to be at home with the people we love; sometimes we even long for it.
We prepared this service for the beginning of Advent. It would also be suitable for the Sunday before Advent, when celebrating Christ the King Sunday, since it covers the entire Christian year. Worship leaders had printed copies of the service, including all the texts. The congregation had no printed worship folder; all the texts were projected on a screen. Also projected were the section titles of each section of the service along with medieval art depicting the Holy Family (also see front cover).
In Mexico City, for the most part, New Year’s Eve is a night for worship and family gatherings, not a night for wild public gatherings.
The congregation at Gethsemane Presbyterian Reformed Church in Mexico City celebrates New Year’s Eve with gentle traditions of remembrance spiced with hope. Families gather first for worship and then in their homes for midnight supper.