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Many of us church “insiders” know people outside the church who are similar to John, Carol, and Nathan. They range from being unchurched to antichurch or underchurched. Some are looking to delve into the mystery that is life, or they’re searching for “values”; some want guidance for building a just society; others are trying to fill an unnamed void unfilled by stock portfolios, hobbies, and relationships. Such people are seekers—those toward whom many churches are striving mightily to be friendly.
It is 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning. About forty teenagers have assembled in the choir rehearsal room at Islington United Church in west Toronto. Most of them look sleepy; many look as though they just stepped out of the shower. But they’re here, and as they warm up their voices and begin to sing, I’m reminded of newborn butterflies drying their wings and getting ready for flight. A parent checks attendance and solves last-minute problems.
We Gather as God’s People
“Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” arr. Martha Lynn Thompson; senior bell choir
“Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us” VU 198
The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And also with you.
During the last year I have been leading workshops and retreats on hospitality for many churches. Congregations who want to be hospitable can benefit from seeing their building, their practices, and their worship services through the eyes of a visitor.
I developed the following service for Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, British Columbia, a congregation committed to hospitality and to welcoming neighbors to their faith community.
I wrote this service for a couple I married several years ago. Recently a colleague found it useful for a wedding he did, and now friends of that couple have asked for copies, so perhaps others will find this helpful too.
Declaration of Intent
I. The Way of Creation/Re-creation
The First Lesson: Genesis 2:18-25
Affirmation of the Families
As Spirit-filled parents and children, we all need the Spirit’s guidance each day. I prepared this prayer of thanks and petition for mothers based on the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5, which was read before the prayer. Although Mother’s Day is not part of the liturgical calendar, it is certainly appropriate to pray specifically for mothers. This prayer could be used as part of the intercessory prayer on Mother’s Day or any other Sunday.
How familiar are you and other members of your congregation with the Belgic Confession? Although the Belgic is one of the doctrinal standards of churches in the Reformed tradition, its language and format have tended to relegate it to a back shelf when it comes to planning worship. Many Reformed churches have had a long-honored practice of regularly preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism, but few include words from the Belgic in their liturgies.
Of all the blessed and powerful images in the Bible, the image of the lamb, the Paschal Lamb of God, touches me most deeply. None speaks more profoundly of our redemption from the slavery of sin. None inspires more confidence in God’s ultimate righteous rule on this planet. None concludes with greater certainty that the Lamb of God is also the Lion of Judah who will restore all that was lost and ruined in the fall.
Can we ever truly experience the grief of Good Friday? We know the ending and rejoice with our Savior that it is a happy one come Easter morn, but that very knowledge keeps us from fully realizing the tragedy that Christ’s death brought to those who lived through it. Whatever their understanding of his ministry, whatever hopes and dreams they had built for the future, all came crashing down before the stark and ugly death he suffered on the cross. Leader, friend, teacher, son—all seemed irretrievably lost.