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Call to Worship Revisited and Ordinary Time

Q: If a call to worship is really about hearing God call us, then what about using as a call to worship one of the many psalms that originated in a liturgical setting where people were calling each other to worship? Who is speaking to whom? Must the call to worship come from Scripture? Does it necessarily have to be short or can a choir sing an anthem for the call to worship?

A: There is no liturgical rule book that insists that a call to worship come from Scripture. Still, I would suggest that it is a very wise practice. Using biblical texts grounds the start of a worship service in an authority greater than that of the leader.

But as you point out, this can be confusing. When a worship leader says, “Come, let us worship and bow down,” we can experience that as both God speaking (it is from Scripture after all) and as the voice of the worship leader. Without some clear signal, most worshipers will likely assume it is simply the words of the leader. For that reason, it is helpful to signal the source of the text you use, either in a printed or projected order of service or though a short introductory phrase such as “God’s Word from Psalm 95 calls us to worship today: ‘Come, let us worship and bow down. . . . ’”

There is no reason why a call to worship needs to be short. Having a choir or worship team lead a setting of an extended psalm, for example, could be an especially appropriate way to begin a service, particularly in a cultural context where many people arrive at worship a bit late and a bit frantic. The challenge is always balancing a lengthier call to worship with what will happen during the rest of the service.

Q: Is “Ordinary Time” the best name we can think of for the season after Pentecost? And why do some churches continue to use red while others return to green? Which is correct?

A: I’ve often heard the term “ordinary” given a lot of theological weight in discussions of this, as in this contention: “God works not only in the drama of Pentecost, but even in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.” That is a valid and crucial theological point, a little historical accretion that may well be worth keeping. However, the term “ordinary” originally came from “ordinal,” as in ordinal numbers (“first,” “second,” “third”). Historically the term simply meant “the Sundays we count” after Pentecost. For the same reason, the short ordinary time after Epiphany involves Sundays that the church counts until Lent begins.

Green is the color historically associated with Ordinary Time. It is often described as a color of new growth and vitality. Churches that continue to use red most likely simply call this the “Season of Pentecost” and focus on the gifts and fruits of the Spirit in the church. Likewise, some churches refer to the “season after Epiphany” and use the color green, while some improvise on the usual practice, referring to the “season of Epiphany,” perhaps using the color white.

These are not matters of right and wrong. Either approach is valid, though churches that follow the lectionary every Sunday will typically use the color green and the term Ordinary Time.

The best approach is one in which the use of colors genuinely reflects the themes of the service and evokes a deeper level of participation. These colors are especially useful for engaging children and helping them sense not only the changing seasons of the year, but also some crucial aspects of the Christian life that the colors suggest. Sometimes this can happen especially effectively when a church intentionally changes its approach: “This year our focus will be on the fruit of the Spirit, so we will keep the red of Pentecost as our primary liturgical color through the summer.” Intentionality and good communication can make a big difference.

Over the past few years, I have also seen ecumenical proposals for changing the focus of part of Ordinary Time. One proposal would focus on the theme of creation during the early fall, creating a “season of creation” or “season of creation and providence.” This has significant theological implications, conveying that the drama of redemption, which we remember throughout the other seasons, extends to the scope of the entire creation. This would give the first article of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds a bit more emphasis and help us think of the yearly calendar as a journey through each theme of the creed (for resources on this, see the Worship Sourcebook available at www.FaithAliveResources.org).