Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Worship at Meetings - Part 2

In the previous post, I lamented the deflated worship before/during/after a meeting that was the result of the planners duplicating or rehearsing Lord’s Day services, or perhaps creating something ex nihilo. The reason this too often happens, I think, is that these are the only options the producers of liturgy think they have: a Sunday-like service, or make it up.

Ah, but there is something else, another model that’s been around a long, long time for the people of God to use. Known typically as “Daily Prayer” in Christian circles, this form of worship is rooted in ancient Hebrew practice, and repeatedly reformed and renewed by the Church through the centuries. (For purposes of discussion here, I’m referring to the daily prayer source I know the best, Book of Common Worship—Daily Prayer, Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.)

While Daily Prayer is often practiced as an individual exercise, it was really designed for groups. Nevertheless, some folks surmise that saying prayers every day is accomplished solo. When we assemble with others, they think “Sunday” and follow that great tradition. Daily Prayer, however, has its own tradition, running simultaneously with the development of Lord’s Day worship. Over the centuries the two have connected and co-opted items back and forth, but always remained different, serving various needs in a variety of ways.

The Daily Prayer option offers flexibility in use for groups small and large, meetings long and short. The service can be molded to fit the shape of any meeting from that of a national group to a family of four, from an ecclesiastical judicatory to a neighborhood service committee, from a seminary chapel to a Sunday school class. What is more, such a service often is lay-led, not requiring the presence or participation of clergy.

Daily Prayer is shaped by the cycle of the day, starting with Evening as in the biblical tradition. Morning, Midday, Evening, and Close of Day—each one calls for a special time of prayer. Morning and Evening are the major times, with Midday and Close of Day inserted as their brief extensions.

Each service offers the possibility of compression or expansion as appropriate. For example, Morning Prayer, with optional items to be added, is outlined this way:

Opening Sentences
Morning Psalm or Morning Hymn
Silent Prayer
[Psalm Prayer]
Scripture Reading
Silent Reflection
[A Brief Interpretation of the Reading, or a Nonbiblical Reading]
Canticle of Zechariah or Other Canticle
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Concluding Prayer
Lord's Prayer
[Hymn or Spiritual]
[Sign of Peace]

At the other extreme, given the need to abbreviate the service, it could be cut to the bare essentials:

Scripture Reading
Silent Reflection
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Or, of course, the services could be compressed or expanded to the “perfect” size and shape.

Certainly planning and producing a Daily Prayer service is much more than assembling the list of ingredients. Essential is that the event be personalized. It’s all about God’s relationship to the people in the room and their relationship to God.

One of the ways this happens is in the Morning and Evening Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession. Ellipses (….) provide opportunities for silent or vocalized prayers by the participants related to specific subjects of common concern.

For example, just before the prayers at the end of a meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the 600-plus commissioners were asked to stack their materials on their desks in front of them. During the brief service, prayers offering the work of the assembly to God were vocalized, prayers of thanksgiving for the gifts of the Spirit, prayers for those served by actions of the assembly, and so forth, each followed by silence for individual prayers recalling personal involvement. That worship experience has been in my memory for decades.

Another example came from a series of session meetings I moderated while the church was seeking a pastor. At the start of each meeting we had a brief Evening Prayer, prepared by me but led by the elders. During the Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession, personal concerns and celebrations came out. By this prayerful sharing, the members bonded to accomplish their challenging task.

Months later two of the elders asked me if I’d help them do Daily Prayer services for a weekend meeting involving several congregations. I told them I was sure they knew how to do it, and they should go ahead—I‘d help them if they got stuck. They never asked more of me. They did just fine.

Prayer is always a personal matter. The tradition of Daily Prayer in the Church is a great resource for those who plan for weekday worship that supports the ministry of the people of God. Next time you’re asked to lead worship for your group, reach for a book of Daily Prayer.

1 comment:

  1. Daily prayer is a great option! Indeed, it offers a way to put the entire meeting into worship context -- especially if the meeting goes on all day, or even all afternoon and into the evening, by making use of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, and Evening Prayer -- even Compline, if an overnight meeting. And try some of the "optional" practices, like using incense at the beginning of evening prayer. (Maybe a little explanation is in order for Presbyterians, if this is their first encounter with incense.)


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