Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Vee Haff Roolss!"

That was the comment my father used, imitating a stern German accent, as he good-naturedly reminded us kids of chores or homework we needed to do. His voice echoed in my mind as I thought of the fundamental efforts required to provide Christian worship.

Yes it is true, when we are gathered as followers of Jesus Christ to give our praise and prayers to the Almighty God, “We have rules!”

Here are a few for your consideration:

Clean House.
Janitors, custodians or volunteers who keep the worship space tidy contribute significantly to the worship of God. It’s distracting, to say the least, to find old bulletins stuffed in the pew racks, cob webs in corners, brochure rack materials helter-skelter, and other signs of slovenliness. Good housekeeping is the first rule of respect—of the people and their God.

Set the Table.
The Communion Table is placed in the focal center of the worship space, from the perspective of the people in the pews. “Front and center” is appropriate.

The Communion Table is set for celebrating the Sacrament. That is, assuming you are celebrating the Sacrament every Sunday as is the on-going tradition and custom for most Christians, most of the time throughout the centuries.

If not, if there is the occasional Lord’s Day you do not celebrate the Lord’s Supper, then set the Table anyway, with at the least a chalice and plate. A white table cloth is always appropriate; liturgical colors may be added seasonally.

Remember the Table’s function. It is not a flower stand—put them somewhere else. It’s not an altar either, on which deacons can place the offering plates. The Table is reserved for celebrating the sacrifice God gave us in Jesus Christ.

Find the Font.
In some churches, far too many, you have to hunt to find the Baptismal Font because when not in use it is relegated to a dark corner. Bring it out front and center also, or nearby the Table at least. Better yet, place it at the entrance of the room so all will pass it on the way to their seats.

If the Font has a top or lid, remove it, and put water in the basin. People may want to touch the water in remembrance of their own baptisms. Like the Table, the Font should always be set to indicate its intended purpose.

Remove extra chairs, tables, easels, microphone stands, audio-visual equipment, musical instruments, and other items not being used for that service. Even if they are used, they need not be strewn on the liturgical landscape.

Use Three Passages of Scripture.
There’s a reason for this: Every text needs context. Someone famous once said that Scripture interprets Scripture. Texts from the Old Testament, the New Testament Epistles and the Gospels provide context for one another. The lectionary is a guide that helps us cover a lot of biblical ground over the year. Don’t skip and skimp.

Sing Psalms.
There was a time when we Presbyterians were famous, even notorious, for singing Psalms. In many churches, the Psalter is making a comeback, so don’t be left behind. The Psalms, as we all know, has been the prayer book of God’s people for millennia, including Jesus himself. Use at least one psalm in every service.

Too many churches take the “easy” way out and read the psalms, maybe responsively. It’s much better, more interesting, and even exciting to sing them, for there are delightful musical options for each one.

Beware of Electronics.
Older church buildings were designed to be used without electronic voice amplification. In those days, preachers and other public speakers knew how to project. Those who must rely on microphones and tweeters and woofers should take speaking lessons and exercise their diaphragms.

Flickering screens and Power Point presentations overshadow, if not overwhelm, the beauty of the architectural setting and the accoutrements of the rituals, not to mention any resident works of art in sculpture and stained glass. Do not obscure what is there or try to improve upon it by electronic means.

There’s a law somewhere that proclaims that whatever can go wrong, will. This is universally true in electronics. If you can possibly get along without audio-visuals and the like, do—it’s safer.

Lay Readers. Those who bravely go to the lectern to read Scripture or lead a prayer deserve the opportunity to learn how to do it. Pronouncing biblical names, placing proper emphasis on biblical phrases, making sense of theological passages, and presenting dialogue are only a few of the tricky parts of reading from the Bible. Help should be generously bestowed by the pastor and musicians who have had more experience.

Clergy. Lest clergy forget, they also need to rehearse. Preaching out loud in advance is just good practice. Turning on a tape recorder and listening can help.

It should go without saying that the choir rehearses what it sings on behalf of the people; the choir should also rehearse what the congregation sings, however, so everyone sings better.

Help the People Pray and Praise.
The folks out there in the pews are the ones who are doing worship. Presiders and musicians are coaches and boosters, there to energize the liturgical work of the people. Remember your role and responsibilities.

There are other rules to be considered, no doubt. I hope you will make your suggestions for the primary, essential, absolutely necessary rules to which we must adhere if our worship will be effective and faithful.

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