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December 2017

Seeing in the Dark

“We pray for darkness so that we may see” is one of many provocative lines in Rod Jellema’s poetic litany “Praying for Darkness in a Year of Glare” (p. 16). I wonder about that line. Is it true? Would I ever dare pray for darkness so that I might see? It seems to me that we’ve been experiencing too much of this world’s darkness. We can’t escape it. It consumes news outlets and social media feeds. It fills our workplaces, our homes, our churches . . .

Trumpets, Tears and Ashes

A Series on Habakkuk

Nicholas Wolterstorff says that Christian worship, like the Old Testament psalter, should include trumpets, tears, and ashes—that is, praise, lament and repentance. All too often, however, tears and ashes are absent from Christian preaching and worship.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Service of Song on Psalm 23 for Good Friday

Last year during Lent at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church (ANIC) in Abbotsford, British Columbia, we used “The Lord, Our Shepherd” series from Reformed Worship (Issue 66, December 2002). The series, based on Psalm 23, offered suggestions for a Maundy Thursday service but not one for Good Friday. Because we were worshiping on Good Friday we created a service that includes all of Psalm 23 along with related readings, choral music, and congregational singing. Because the King James Version of Psalm 23 is so well known we opted to use that version for the psalm. We also used objects representing the psalm’s themes that two dancers placed on a table up front before each reading. Young people in the congregation served as the readers. The original idea for this service came from John L. Bell’s reading of Psalm 23 during a vespers service at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in 2012.

The printed music available with this service comes from the free resource Praise God in the Heights: Descants by Larry Visser, available as a download through the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Checkmate: Through Death I'm Free

A Reflection on "What Wondrous Love Is This"

I was recently looking at the lyrics to the hymn “What Wondrous Love Is This” and was struck by the last verse. Do you know it? (Also see p. 12 of this issue.)

Praying for Darkness in a Year of Glare

A Poetic Litany for Lent

1st voice:

Parent God of all of us, hear our prayer
in this disruptive year: Lord, turn out the lights.
Turn out for moments of our prayers
and for moments of our lives
all the lights we see by,
or all the lights we think we see by.
Make it dark in here, even now, in each of us.

Jesus' Journey to the Cross

A Good Friday Service with Handwashing and the Lord's Supper

At Bethel Christian Reformed Church, we planned a Good Friday service incorporating elements of handwashing, the Lord’s Supper, and the carrying of the cross. The handwashing ceremony, which occurred at the entrances of the sanctuary, recalled Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated early in the service, where it fit into the narrative of the Last Supper before the crucifixion of Christ. As Scripture passages were read throughout the service, a cross was carried slowly to the front of the sanctuary and placed there to symbolize Golgotha. Lights in the sanctuary were gradually dimmed as the songs were sung. At the end of the service, the congregation gathered at the front around the cross for a time of silent reflection in a dimmed environment.

The service engaged the congregation visually, through movement, with singing, and in silence.

Broken: A Tenebrae Service with Visuals

The Road of Suffering According to the Gospel of John
In considering art pieces that would capture the events leading to Christ’s death, the idea of using simple images and fabric came to mind. Textiles are flexible, offering texture and color. Each of the art pieces is made of cut fabric that has been woven or pinned together and stitched onto a base fabric. They were backed with quilt batting, then machine-stitched to add color and form. The color palette is limited for all seven pieces: Blacks and grays create a dark, foreboding atmosphere; teal contrasts with blood red.

The Art Pieces

Easter Celebration

A Service of Word and Song
This Easter worship service centers around the theme of celebration through festive music, the retelling of the resurrection story from the gospels, communion that focuses on hope and victory, and a commission to serve with joy. Worship leaders may choose from several musical selections and arrangements.

Celebrate As We Gather

Song: “A Resurrection Declaration” with choir, brass, and bells Roger Thornhill and Victor C. Johnson

The Joys and Perils of Reusing Sermons

For a long time—the thirty years and more that I was the pastor of the same church—I prided myself in never preaching the same sermon twice. There were exceptions, of course. If I went off somewhere on vacation or for some other reason and was given the opportunity to preach, I took with me a sermon or two, usually a recent sermon, adapted it some for the new place, and preached it over again. These occasions were rarely wholly satisfying. The message, usually part of a series, often seemed slightly off in a new context and preached to people I hardly knew.

Refocusing and Reframing Practices

Using in Lent

Lent is a time to refocus and reframe our practices, clearing spaces in our minds and hearts to see and grasp anew the self-giving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But for those involved in preparing worship for Lent this is a busy time of trying to balance preparing for Holy Week with church programs and initiatives that are in full swing. It may seem as though the work is piling dangerously high. We are tired. We are weary. We are worn. Yet week in and week out we find ourselves in the trenches of our busy and relentless church life.

A Fulfilled Priestly Benediction

A Reflection on Worship's Closing Blessing

A Scriptural Pattern of Divine Blessing

In the Christian tradition in which I grew up, worship services began and ended with a prayer. The faith-nurturing I received there also included my pastor’s encouragement to read through the Bible every year. I did that several times before experiencing a different worship style that began with a divine blessing and ended with a benediction.

Worship and Mental Health


We are struggling in our ministry with many people in our congregation who have mental health concerns. We have responded to this pastorally, but not really in worship. Are there resources for engaging this in worship?


Divisions and Reconciliation

Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, and Affirmation of Unity

We are a fractured people living in a fractured world. All too often we gather on Sunday to worship against the backdrop of division—something happening in our church, our community, or our nation that is dividing us. Sometimes these divisions appear on the evening news or our Facebook feed, but even when they don’t rise to prominence, even when they are so commonplace they barely raise an eyebrow, we need to find words to come before God and confess. We need to confess not only how we have personally contributed to these divisions, but also the ways in which the church, our nation, and the systems all around us are complicit. But we also need to hear the good news: that there is another way, that our God is a reconciling God, that in Christ we are all made one. Then we must commit to doing what we can to break down barriers and work towards unity. I wish we only needed to do this once. Sadly, this is a practice we may need to do more often in our churches. But sometimes it is hard to know what to say, so we are grateful for this resource prepared by Jenni Breems.

Two Prayer Services

Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication

Here you will find two services based on the same prayer outline: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. These services are meant to be fairly simple, with opportunities to pray through Scripture and song. Neither service includes a sermon, but one could easily be added as a reflection on one of the Scripture passages. —JB

Acts: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication

An Interactive Service of Scripture, Song, and Prayer

As Christians we often struggle with how to pray communally. Simply, it is hearing God speak to us in God’s Word and through God’s creation and then responding. This service was written to help the body engage in the dialogue of prayer together following the simple acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The service is designed to focus first on God. As we focus on how great God is and on the wonders of God’s salvation, we are drawn to confess our sins and failures. Standing in wonder of the forgiveness God offers when we confess, we rejoice and offer thanksgiving. Finally we recognize our need for God in all areas of life and bring our requests to God, knowing God is faithful and good.

Technology and Worship

Reflections from a Worship Committee Meeting

Our worship team was brainstorming one night in response to a facilities improvement survey. We talked about the way our sanctuary and the rest of our buildings don’t flow well—they seem strung together. This is true for many churches: Education wings were a second thought after the sanctuary, and additional space—from kitchens to gyms to side chapels—are tagged on as years and needs accumulate. Things change, sometimes without much thought about the overall impact of the build-up of small changes over time.

Pinterest? Uninterest?

I tend to be a bit wary of trends that get too popular too fast. Pinterest, the online social networking app for collecting and sharing ideas visually, was one I was certain wasn’t a good thing—especially for “serious” artists working with visuals for worship. Serious artists—that’s us, right?