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Starts and More Starts
Let’s get going already
It's August! I'm back, and you're back, so we are back.
I have a long list of topics that have come up in the last couple of months, both from General Assembly and the busy-ness of July, and I will get to all of those eventually. That is, as long as y'all stop misbehaving for five minutes, because I still have a list of topics I thought of in January that I haven't even gotten to yet. Sheesh.
But … given that it is summer still, and we are just gearing up for a new church year, I want to ease back into writing Hold My Chalice with one of the lighter and still important issues - a worship pet peeve, that comes up all the time – in small lay led congregations to the national stage: Too Many Starts.
Y’all. Seriously. How many times do you have to say ‘good morning’?
How many introductory parts of a service do you need?
Why are you so hell bent on all the starts that it’s 20 minutes in before we get to the good stuff?
I bet you don’t even realize you are doing it, but you probably are.
I promise you this: you don’t need an opening reading and words for lighting the chalice. You don’t need two different sets of announcements and welcome. You don’t need a welcoming hymn and a prelude and a sung invocation.
And for god’s sake, everyone who introduces those things does not have to say ‘good morning.’ Neither does anyone else. (It really made me cringe once when the post-sermon musician said ‘good morning.’)
Do we want to orient people? Yes. Do they need time to get present? Yes. But we do not need multiple starts in order to do it.
For starters, it’s like we’re at the starting line and the drivers are still revving their engines after hearing ‘on your marks, get set, go.’ I literally heard one group of worship leaders introduce the first five or six elements with “good morning. In our service today, we will be…” Can we just go already?
I suspect some of it is that folks think of each element, and each speaker/performer, as a discrete item on a list of things to do, when the whole worship service is meant to be experienced as a whole. Yes, even the offering and joys & sorrows and announcements are part of the whole.
Worship is not supposed to be like a variety show. It’s supposed to be like a musical.
When you start several times, and especially when you say good morning, we are taken out of the moment and are compelled to respond to you, rather than to what the Mystery is calling us toward.
Not sure where to start? Think about how a musical begins (I’m thinking mid-20th century, because the form is changing): The house makes its announcements (welcome, no cameras, silence phones, understudies). The overture plays, the curtain rises, and then the opening number welcomes us to the world we are about to experience. Then bam! we’re in.
Now for a worship service, we can start like this: the congregation makes its announcements (welcome, silence phones, remember the event). The prelude plays, the chalice is lit, and then the opening words/call to worship welcome us to the world we are about to experience. Then bam! we’re in.
Please. Unless you are literally the first person to speak from the pulpit, resist the urge to say good morning, or to add more words and rituals to start your service. How we start matters, and I believe you’ll feel less disjointed. The people who sit in the pews certainly will.
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