Friday, June 27, 2008

Family Services

What are the essentials of a 'family' or 'all age' service?

I suggest one essential is accessibility. Each part of the service should be accessible to as many present as possible.

Sounds sensible, does it not?

Here, then, is a test question for your parish's family service: is the "sermon" or "talk" (i.e. equivalent to a non-family service sermon) geared for all generations present, or is it for the adults only or the children only? If your answer is the latter and not the former, then I suggest the essential of accessibility is missing.

Another essential is the essential of every service: God is worshipped.

Sounds sensible, does it not?

Here, then, is a test question for your parish's family service: does it include songs which are fun, loud, cool, noisy, offbeat, whatever but which stretch any meaningful sense of the word 'worship' - giving God worthship - being applied to them? If you answer 'yes', I think a question is raised: has the service lost its sense of purpose in the greater scheme of parish life which is about trans-forming the lives of parishioners at each stage and age?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Liturgically enhancing the sermon

Sitting in a service yesterday - page 404 Communion from the red prayer book - I noted the opportunities that service provides for enhancing the message of the sermon. In the opening words is opportunity to introduce the theme of the service/sermon. The sentence and collect reinforce the theme. Then there are the readings - one expects that they will contribute to the core message of the sermon. (But this does not always happen ...). Of course, songs/hymns are further means of emphasizing the message.

After the sermon the service provides for reinforcement and recalling of the message. One or more of the four following points in the service constitute these opportunities:

Introducing the creed

At the conclusion of the intercessions (where the last prayer before the Lord's Prayer focuses on our own ministry)

Introducing the Great Thanksgiving

Prior to the Dismissal

Thus we might say things like:

'Mary's sermon reminded us of the importance of clear understanding of who our God is. Let's stand to affirm our faith in that God by saying the Creed together.'

'John's sermon challenged us to be open to serving God in new ways this year. Let's pause and reflect on what that challenge means for our lives before we pray for ourselves and our ministries.'

'Phoebe's message this morning recalled the significance of Jesus' death on the cross for each of us. In our communion prayer this morning let's give special thanks for Jesus' sacrifice.'

'Simeon's concluding words asked us to face the world boldly with the gospel of Christ. With those words in mind, let's go out into the world with these words of dismissal.'

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The shortest eucharistic prayer?

The main intention of formally composed eucharistic prayers, at least in the 'great liturgical tradition' of Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches, is to remember Jesus' death with thanksgiving. Eucharistic prayers typically accomplish this through 'The Institution Narrative', more or less reciting (one of the) the gospel account(s) of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, and appropriate words of thanksgiving, normally incorporating an account of God's work as creator as well as redeemer.

Recently I participated in a eucharistic service in which the eucharistic prayer was one I was not familiar with, though the words used were familiar. In the course of the prayer one paragraph was this:

'And now, Father, we thank you
for these gifts of bread and wine,
and pray that we who receive them,
according to our Saviour's word,
may share his body and blood. Amen.'

It struck me that this one paragraph (which could be prayed as a stand alone prayer) is an excellent summary of all eucharistic prayers!

I have not yet tracked down where this particular prayer comes from ... not our NZ prayer book, nor the C of E's Common Worship, as far as I can tell ... can you?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Good preaching

I heard two excellent sermons the other day. I think I can call them excellent on these grounds (there are others): people around me, after the service, spontaneously said how good the sermon was ... and could identify why they thought so; my children said the sermon was good; and I myself thought so!

I am sharing this less to praise the sermons (at the time I paid compliments to the preachers) but to use the opportunity to remind ourselves of some of the factors which make an excellent sermon and which all preachers can work on, no matter what their experience, academic ability, or vocal ability.

Diction: both preachers spoke clearly, with tone, volume, pace, and enunciation such that people could easily hear the words being spoken.

Logic: the flow of ideas in each sermon was comprehensible. Each point linked with the previous one; and the links could be understood as part of a rational sequence of statements, one building on another, and each contributing to the overall message of the sermon.

Length: each sermon had a good message; neither sermon undermined itself through repetition, sidetracks, or waffle; nor through taking so long that congregational attention was lost.

Personality: each sermon was delivered in a way which fitted the personality of the respective preachers; and that 'fitting' included the sense of passion, commitment, and enthusiasm for the gospel which resides in each preacher and which was given expression on this occasion.

Content: as it happens on this particular Sunday, both sermons spoke from a clearly identified passage of Scripture, stuck to that passage, and expounded it. And, bonus point, the passage was one of the readings from Scripture read in the service.

On a completely different note I gave a children's talk which seemed to go well. Though that may have something to do with the sweets I used and distributed to the hearers!!!!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Setting the scene

The other day I led a (special) service and received a compliment afterwards for my introduction which (apparently) helpfully set the scene. In effect I reminded people why we were gathered, welcomed special guests to the service, and announced that after the service there would be a further gathering (i.e. supper).

A special service will normally constrain the leader towards setting the scene - welcoming chief mourners to a funeral, welcoming the couple to their wedding service etc. But a lot can be achieved in setting the scene at a general Sunday service. With a few sentences acknowledgements can be made which welcome outsiders, affirm insiders, connect the congregation to other congregations within and without the parish, and engage minds with the learning content of the service. Here are a couple of examples.

'Welcome this morning to St. Swithins. A special welcome to visitors, we hope you can remain with us for a cup of tea afterwards. Today is a special day for Bob and Mary Jones who celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend. This is also the day when seven children at our later service will receive their certificates for completion of our 'Understanding Communion' course. Our theme today is 'World mission'. Let's stand to sing our first hymn ...'

'In a few moments we are going to sing our opening hymn, 'Let all the world in every corner sing ...'. We have a number of people here from different parts of the world: a special welcome to you. Please stay with us for refreshments after the service. Today our theme is 'World Mission' and we welcome Jemma Smith, a mission partner from Burundi as our preacher. We will also be praying for our youth group which heads off to Winter Camp next weekend. Let's stand to sing our hymn ...'

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A free online translation of the Septuagint

Just discovered this resource for preachers and teachers of the Bible, an online version of the forthcoming New English Translation of the Septuagint (i.e. Greek Old Testament).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Preaching and Worship or Worship and Preaching

Sometimes we debate the 'top priority' in liturgy. Preaching > worship. No, worship > preaching. Says a third, No, mission > worship > preaching. So on. There is in fact a scriptural case for deeming nothing to be prioritised over another but to hold all such things as priority. The case goes like this (all revealed to me by that great means of learning something, teaching that something ... and this past semester I have been teaching Old Testament at Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson)!

Through the sweep of the Old Testament two great theologies jostle for attention. One is (so called) Deuteronomism which begins with Deuteronomy and its great thesis that Israel will be blessed if it keeps the Law given through Moses and will be cursed if it disobeys the Law; and then tells the history of Israel through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings in the light of that thesis. The great triumph of Deuteronomism is to explain the shattering event of the exiles of northern Israel and then of southern Judah: disobedient (northern and southern) Israel has been punished.

The other could be called Zionism but to avoid confusion with modern Zionism, we will call it Templeism. Its primary texts are 1 and 2 Chronicles where the history of the world, and of Israel, beginning with Adam, is told in such a way as to make King David the central figure in Israel as the founder of Temple worship, and attitudes to the Temple and its worship the test of fidelity to Yahweh. Infidelity to Temple worship rather than to the Sinaitic covenant is the reason for exile; and the restoration of Temple worship is the great aim of return from exile.

Although 1 and 2 Chronicles in many places are word for word the same as passages from 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, the differences between the two accounts are striking. The Chronicler, for example, suppresses reference to David's decline through adultery, and subsequent failure to control his sons; to Solomon's foreign harem through whom came much worship of foreign gods; and to most of the prophetic activity through which Israel's disobedience to the Law is challenged. Striking also is an addition which the Chronicler makes to Israel's history when he tells us something omitted from 2 Kings: Mannasseh, one of the worst of the bad kings, repents, returns to Jerusalem and restores pure worship in the Temple (2 C 33; cf. 2 K 21).

These two theologies appear to promote what in today's church could be characterised as 'preaching'/'Scripture' and 'worship'/'liturgy'. The Deuteronomist seems convinced that the 'most important thing' is preaching the Word of God and urging obedience to it. The Chronicler argues differently. Vital to Israel is the worship of God by means of properly ordered liturgy. Which is correct?

Well, it is interesting that the wise ones of ancient Israel working on what was to be included in Israel's canonical Scripture determined that both theologies should be included, and made no comment about which was to be preferred. (Were they proto-Anglicans?)

The same Old Testament includes a glorious vision for the message of God being proclaimed to all nations. So there we have it. No need to debate priorities re worship, preaching, and mission. According to the Old Testament itself, all are equally important!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The importance of licenses

On Sunday I heard a sermon delivered by a lay person who began with a warning that what he had to say might be controversial but he observed that unlike his vicar (who was away) he was 'not bound by canon law'. Now this was in another diocese so it was not my place to enquire afterwards whether or not he was a 'licensed lay preacher' or not. The implication of what he said is that in fact he is not licensed because a licensed lay preacher signs declarations which do bind them to 'canon law' or, more precisely, bind them to preach in accordance with the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia.

Now on this particular occasion I do not think the preacher exceeded the bounds of our doctrine, not least because his message was not 'another doctrine' but a questioning of how we viewed the character of the 'truth' of the Bible in respect of its historicity and accuracy in reportage of speeches and the like. But the occasion does remind me of the importance of preachers who preach regularly being licensed. All preachers, not only the clergy, should be bound to teach in accordance with our doctrine, and not against it!