Few churches place as much emphasis on preaching as we in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition do. A worship service without a well-developed sermon leaves many, perhaps even most, of our seasoned members feeling empty. And in many of our churches one carefully prepared sermon a Sunday is but half of what members expect. When Sunday comes, congregations look forward to hearing two carefully thought-out expositions of God's Word.
Articles in this issue:
Most of us are not eager to add another special service to the calendar, and if observing Reformation Day just leads to another hour of Rome-bashing, we may as well skip it. But gratitude for our heritage and reflection on what it means to be Reformed today are not soon out of season; combining these elements in one service can add color and depth to our worship.
A LITANY OF THANKSGIVING (I)
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer. Let us remember his mercy, for he is gracious and compassionate.
We thank you for calling us to faith in Christ,
for putting your Spirit within us,
for giving us the mind of Christ,
for gathering us into your church.
The practice of preaching according to a lectionary is an old one, although Reformed and Presbyterian churches have not always used this method. The lectionary encourages both pastor and congregation to focus on the great salvation events recorded in Scripture. (See the article on page 14 for further background.)
The Advent wreath, at first glance, is just a pleasing seasonal decoration, much like strings of lights or mistletoe. A ring of evergreens, five bright candles—what could be more appropriate for the Christmas season? Not until worshipers understand how the wreath symbolizes the meaning of the Advent season do they begin seeing in the evergreen and candles a visual reminder of the coming of Christ.
Every year more North American congregations are discovering the beauty of a traditional English service called, very simply, "Nine Lessons and Carols." The structure of the service is as simple as the title: nine passages of Scripture are followed by nine carols. But the content of those readings and the traditional way of conducting the service have become very meaningful to many congregations.
"It's Tuesday and I still don't know what hymns we're going to sing on Sunday! I don't even have the text or sermon topic. How am I supposed to choose organ music that will integrate with the service"?"
Just then the phone rings. It's the pastor, and he's chosen his text. He's selected some hymns too, although he's still not sure which stanzas to sing.
"Oh well, at least I can choose the prelude, postlude, and offertory. I'll work on the hymns later—after he decides about the stanzas."
Symbols are an important part of Reformed worship. We use light and darkness, crosses, doves, shepherds and sheep to help us see God, who in Christ and through the Spirit is redeeming us. We do this because as Reformed Christians we believe that life and worship are one. A variety of media is appropriate in the Reformed worship service. Increasingly, wood and glass, architecture, inspiring banners, paintings, musical compositions, and liturgical dance are being used to touch our hearts and to help us sing God's praise.
If the most important role of a choir is to lead congregational singing, then the hymn concertatos must rank very high on the list of choral music for worship. Folkert describes how concertatos have added to his own congregation's celebration in worship and recommends several within the range of the average church choir.
Reformation and Thanksgiving
A Mighty Fortress (ein feste burg— Martin Luther) arr. Hal H. Hopson; cong., satb, organ, optional brass and timpani, choir sings one st. in original rhythm (Augsburg 11–2219 $.80); sep. brass parts 11–2220)
Hope of the World (donne se–cours—Genevan Psalter) arr. Carl Schalk; cong., satb, organ, brass quartet, timpani, choir sings a setting by Goudimel (1564) (Agape HSA 101 $.80)