CHAPTER ELEVEN MORE VARIETY WITHIN THE FAMILIAR STRUCTURE
Recently published liturgies have placed the sermon either before or after the creed. In either case, the creed has a sense of being a response: I have heard God’s Word, and I now express my belief in it. Recent Lutheran practice has been to say the Apostles Creed on non-communion Sundays, while the communion service has maintained the traditional use of the Nicene Creed. Since the Creed, as one of the five pieces in the ordinary, was meant to be sung, that gives us precedent to sing it sometimes as a change of pace instead of to say it. Chant and choral settings are available; many of the folk settings are easily singable by congregations. The Lutheran Hymnal provides three hymn settings of the Creed.
There are a number of choral settings and contemporary versions of Psalm 51:5, Create in me a Clean Heart, which is often sung as the Offertory. The music at the offering was originally a variable Psalm, and so we are free to select other Psalms. Going further and selecting other appropriate hymns or readings that fill the function of presenting ourselves to the Lord will be acceptable to many: the Lutheran Book of Worship provides a new song, “Let the Vineyards be Fruitful Lord”.
Intercessory prayer is one of the prime privileges and responsibilities of Christians when they are gathered together. Paul writes in First Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people, for kings and all others who are in authority.”
There are so many ways to involve the congregation in the work of intercessory prayer that it could be done differently every Sunday. Here are a few; some of these need to be done first in less formal settings, until the congregation is used to them:
1. The pastor reads a prepared prayer, either published or that he’s written.
2. Laymen read a prepared prayer, either published or that they’ve written.
3. The congregation joins in responsive prayer, with both leader and group reading from prepared materials.
4. A litany-style prayer can be used. The petitions are spoken by the leader , and the group says simple responses such as “Lord have mercy” or “Hear our prayer”.
5. A bidding prayer can be used. One leader announces a topic, one or more others say a prayer about that topic, and everyone says a short response.
6. Extemporaneous prayers are offered, by pastor, other leaders, or at will from people in the congregation. Is it going outside the bounds of western worship tradition to pray extemporaneously? There is a precedent in this quote from a third century document:
Let the bishop give thanks in the manner we indicated earlier. It is not necessary, however , that he repeat the same words we provided, as though he had to try to say them from memory in his thanksgiving to God. Let each one pray according to his ability. If he is capable of praying at length and offering a solemn prayer, well and good. But it he prays differently and pronounces a shorter and simpler prayer, he is not to be prevented, provided his prayer be sound and orthodox.1
7. Prayer requests are written on slips of paper and brought to the front at some point, and become the basis for prayer .
8. The congregations huddles in small groups to pray.
The decision about whether to use or to avoid a communion prayer will undoubtedly rest with the pastor, not the worship committee. In either case, the worship committee can put a lot of thought and effort into other parts of the communion ceremony that are subject to variety. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei can receive the same treatment as other parts of the ordinary: reading, responsive reading, choral settings, and hymn settings. The Lord’s Prayer and the Song of Simeon can also be done in all these different ways. Moreover, we have the precedent of Luther’s paraphrasing the Lord’s Prayer as another chance for variety.
CLOSE OF SERVICE
The close of the service provides the opportunity to vary the final collect to fit the theme for the day. The benediction of course already exists in two forms, Aaron’s from Numbers and Pauls’s from Second Corinthians. After the spoken benediction, a choral version or a hymn can be added to repeat the idea.
Providing variety in the church service does have its difficulties. Many people prefer the security of the familiar. But when dissatisfaction with the status quo and the burning desire to worship with more meaning reach a hig enough level, these suggestions can point the way to some reachable solutions. These suggestions are not meant to be done all at once. The author’s view is that any change must, be explained, introduced carefully, practiced, and reviewed, In a given Sunday, only one change might be done. The purpose is never variety for variety’s sake, but always to make the given text more meaningful and the basic structure more clear. New music can be introduced over a period of ‘time, by having the choir sing it for a period of weeks before the congregation tries it, and by practicing before the service and during other congregational events.
It is hoped that worship committee members will take up at least these four challenges:
1. Help people learn to understand and sing the Psalms.
2. Find new music for the traditional words.
3. Use the extra music (hymns and anthems) to bring
out the meaning of the ordinary and propers, not to compete
4. Provide an opportunity for poets, writers, and musicians to share their talents.
1. Quoted in Deiss op. cit. p. 135, from The Apostolic Tradition