Sunday, December 11, 2011


I’m always amused by the announcements to folks waiting to get on an airplane about “pre-boarding”. Those who need special assistance are invited to “pre-board”, whereupon they get up and board the plane. There’s not a lot of difference between “pre-boarding” and “boarding” an aircraft, except that some passengers get on earlier than others.

It strikes me that a similar situation occurs when you consider “Preparation for Worship” and the main event of worship itself. Preparation for worship is much the same as what happens during any service of worship, except that some worshippers get to it earlier than others.

There is a section of the Book of Common Worship entitled “Preparation for Worship”, and it may be one of the best kept secrets of the book, at least for pew-sitters. Because the whole book is not always available in the pew racks in front of them, worshipers are deprived of more than three dozen prayers and meditations designed as lead-ins to the service of worship—unless someone has the foresight to print one in the bulletin.

Worshipping God in an assembly or congregation of Christians requires some preparation. One does not start cold—there needs to be some warm-up. We start in with our own individual prayers that get us on track for the corporate service.

This is the first reason for some preparatory prayers: that we realize we are moving from our individual lives to a life we share with a group of people. Worship is not a solo activity—it is always done by God’s people in the plural, people God has gathered together.

It’s not just realizing that each worshiper belongs to a congregation, but the awareness that we all belong to a global church, a church through the centuries. The Body of Christ to which we belong is much more than the members of a Presbyterian church on the corner.

Making this transition from our individual world to divine worship does not mean leaving our world behind, but bringing it with us. When we do, we discover a unity in the church, the unity of our common humanity as well as the unity of God’s love shown in Jesus Christ. Our needs are strikingly similar to those of the people sharing the pew with us.

Preparation also includes remembering to be thankful in our worship. Worship is essentially thanksgiving—the name given to the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, literally means thanksgiving. We are there to bless God for blessing us.

The time before worship is a time to meditate, to ponder the mystery of God’s love that brings us life, to reflect upon the week just past, to contemplate challenges that lay ahead, to consider new commitments.

During this time we also simply wake up. Most of us come to church needing to get in focus for what is to come. Worship is work, remember, so we have to pay attention to what we’re doing. The prayers before worship help us be alert to the presence of God and our opportunities to praise our God for love and redemption.

One of the largest problems, however, is that this same time is often used by most people to greet their friends and neighbors and chat about things other than what is about to take place: the worship of Almighty God. It’s an inevitable conflict between having a happy and welcoming congregation and providing a modicum of silence for those who want to prepare themselves for worship.

When there is this kind of conflict, of course, the preparation comes first. Those who would prepare themselves for worship should be accommodated and allowed relative quiet for their meditations.

Yet many congregations go the other way. A noisy welcome period at the start is the sign of a friendly church, they say. After all, we’ll quiet down when the service really starts anyway, so preparing for worship is not necessary. (We don’t need to pre-board anyone—we’ll all get on the plane at the same time, and get there as a group at the same time too.) A tad inconsiderate, I must say.

People need this opportunity to get spiritually ready, and leaders and planners of worship need to make it possible—for those who don’t think they need it as well as those who know they do.

Furthermore, musicians and ministers and lay leaders should take a gander at that same section of the Book of Common Worship where suggested prayers of preparation are available they’ll find useful. If they are not geared up to lead worship, it’s going to be a real problem.

Does your pastor and staff have prayer before the service? Does the choir? How about lay readers? Does your session meet in advance of worship for a time of prayer? Does your bulletin include suggested prayers for the people to use before the service begins?

1 comment:

  1. This may be a back-door method, but as organist, it has a side benefit. My wife always has wanted a "quiet time" to collect her thoughts, meditate, prepare for worship. The "welcoming congregation" was to say the least a noisy distraction.
    A few years ago, we started including a brief meditation in the bulletin, just after the Welcome and announcements, that worshipers could use as an aid to their preparation. During this time, I would play a quiet piece of music (while also the candles were lighted by the acolytes).
    The side benefit is threefold. 1) There is a quiet time to prepare for worship. 2)I don't have to do a quick prelude that nobody hears anyway over the din (it is sometimes called the "pre-LOUD"). 3)I get to pray with the pastor and the choir before we enter the sanctuary.


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