In her book Stilling the Storm (2006, The Alban Institute. Available at www.FaithAliveResources.org), Kathleen Smith sings the praises of the “intentional interim pastor.” This person can greatly assist a church that is transitioning from a long pastorate that has ended well, recovering from a ministry that has ended poorly, or regrouping after the senior pastor of a multi-staff church leaves.
As one of those “intentional interims” (we now prefer to be called “transitional ministry specialists”), I have experienced the power of worship to help facilitate that transition. In my case, the congregation intentionally entered the transition from an aging church that had stopped growing to what they hoped would be a new vision and a new future. The main way in which the church could actually “feel” the transition was in the area of worship.
We began to make some changes to the physical structure (extending the platform into the auditorium and lowering it by two steps). We removed all paraphernalia from the front, leaving only the baptismal font and the communion table, and we installed projection technology and a screen. In addition to these physical changes, we began to shape the order of worship for a more fluid flow from praise to penitence to prayer. We selected songs from a variety of resources, including the Psalter Hymnal and Sing! A New Creation, but also chose songs from some older hymnals and from other evangelical sources.
We celebrated these transitions with a hymn festival using songs that were written in successive generations. We began with St. Theodulph’s “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” probably written in 820, and ended with “Siyahamba,” written in 1984. Although the bulk of our hymnal’s songs are from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, about half of the songs for our service were from the twentieth century. That meant that when we got to Christ’s resurrection we could not include some great Easter favorites such as “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” or “Low in the Grave Christ Lay.” But it did mean that people could see and experience the flow of the centuries of the church of Jesus singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs. Our biblical reflection for the service was on Hebrews 12:1-2, and we were aware of poets and hymn writers past and present as our “cloud of witnesses.”
We included something borrowed (“The Old Rugged Cross”) and something blue (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus” from an older edition of the Psalter with a blue cover); something bourgeois (Louis Bourgeois’ Genevan Psalm 51) and something sophisticated (J. S. Bach’s harmonization of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).
The accompanist moved from the organ to the piano and finally to the electronic keyboard as the service progressed. Many in the congregation who remember the old Genevan tunes sang Psalm 51 with appropriate moroseness. But they also sang “Siyahamba” (in English) with obvious enthusiasm.
The service lasted exactly an hour. I had done a little research on the background of some of the earlier hymns and explained how the words of certain hymns had special meaning because of the life situation of the poets. That became the “sermon.” We did have a short congregational prayer (after “Christ’s death,”) and an offering. Part of what we celebrated in this service is that although the way we worship has changed from one generation to the next, there is something beautiful about each generation’s worship. Of course, the main focus is still on the Person we worship: God has not changed!
Welcome and Call to Worship
Part 1: Opening Hymns of Praise (from 820 and 1520)
“All Glory, Laud, and Honor” CH 300, PH 88, PsH 375, SFL 161, TH 235, WR 265
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” CH 151, PH 260, PsH 469, TH 92, WR 507
God’s Greeting, concluded with our spoken “Amen”
Part 2: Penitence (1551)
“Be Merciful, Be Merciful O God” PsH 51
Part 3: Forgiveness (1630)
“Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” PH 93, PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2
Part 4: Jesus’ Birth (1719 and 1743)
“Joy to the World” CH 270, PH 40, PsH 337, SWM 94, SFL 137, TH 195, WR 179
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” CH 249, PH 41, PsH 340, SWM 102, TH 208, WR 182
Part 5: Jesus’ Death (1872 and 1913)
“Beneath the Cross of Jesus” CH 320, PH 92, PsH (1959 ed.) 353, TH 251
“The Old Rugged Cross” CH 327, WR 260
Prayers of the People
Part 6: Jesus’ Resurrection (1955 and 1973)
“Good Christians All, Rejoice” CH 273, PH 28, PsH 397, TH 207, WR 198
“Alleluia! Alleluia! Give Thanks” CH 359, PH 106, PsH 402, SWM 129, SFL 173, WR 291
Part 7: Life in the Church (1977 and 1981)
“Bind Us Together” CH 425, SWM 239
“Here I Am, Lord” CH 589, PH 525, SNC 268, SFL 243, WR 559
God’s Parting Blessing, concluded with our spoken “Amen”
Part 8: The Doxology (1984)
“Siyahamba” SNC 293, WR 76
This service moves through Christian hymnody from the ninth century to the present, spanning over 1,100 years of singing in the Church of Jesus. It follows the basic order of worship, moving from opening praise (hymns from the years 820 and 1520) through penitence (1551) and forgiveness (1630). It then focuses on Christ’s birth (hymns from 1719 and 1743), death (1872 and 1913) and resurrection (1955 and 1973). Then it highlights our life in the church (1977 and 1981) and closes with a doxology (1984). May we experience God’s abiding faithfulness as we sing through the centuries, knowing our brothers and sisters in so many ages and places have sung God’s praises before us and with us (Heb. 12:1-3).