Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bearings, Part III C: Between Entrance and Word/Response

Differential with gears and bearings.  Public domain.

This is part 3 of a five part miniseries. Part 1, introducing this miniseries, is here. 



The "contemporvant" order of worship presented in "Sunday's Coming" doesn't move from Entrance directly into a period of focus on proclamation and response. 

But many actual contemporary worship services do. 

Michael Eldridge, a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary, presented a paper this past January at the seminar I lead at the North American Academy of Liturgy ("Exploring Contemporary and Alternative Worship" is the seminar title). His paper was called, "The Micro-liturgy of the Mega-Church." In it, Eldridge reflected on his direct observations of contemporary worship at the fifteen largest mega-churches in the US and provided a historical narrative of developments in US Protestant worship that made sense of what he observed.

Eldridge found a striking similarity in the order of worship in all of these churches. Indeed, it was nearly identical. "Band blast" is followed by a brief welcome, and then a set of two to six worship songs led by the band and sung by all. This is the Entrance with its "worship set." 


What typically happens next, he found,  was a simultaneous two-fold action: an offering is collected while a video presents announcements and often the scripture or questions related to the sermon for the day. The collection of the offering captures, dissipates and refocuses some of the kinetic energy of the worship set. The video announcements and scripture redirects attention from the active participation of the worship set toward the listening participation required for the sermon which immediately follows.

In both Episcopal and United Methodist "traditional" worship, there is also a two-fold action that functions as bearings between Entrance and Word/Response.

For Episcopalians, it is the collect of the day.

The processional hymn has just completed, the choir has fully processed and in place, all are still standing. In this way the kinetics of the Entrance are still in play.

Except for one.

Only the priest offers the collect.  Solo.

The text of the collect typically relates to the season of the year and/or or the readings for the day. That text thus points directly to the kind of content  that is coming next,  the reading of scripture.

But perhaps at least as important, and maybe more so, is that shift from collective action (all singing, with a choir processing) to the solo voice concluded by the assent of the people with the collective Amen. This exactly anticipates the actions that will happen next.  More solo voices will read scripture. And three times (after Old Testament, Epistle, and both before and after Gospel, as well as after sermon) the congregation will offer a collective response. ("Thanks be to God," "Glory to you, Lord Christ," "Praise to you, Lord Christ," and "Amen").

All of this-- text and actions-- both moved to and foreshadowed in the words and actions of the Collect of the Day: Bearings!


For United Methodists who use the "traditional" format outlined in The United Methodist Hymnal on page 3 and fully expressed on page 6, the Prayer of Illumination carries the same function but in a different way.

We have entered, singing, We have offered other acts of praise, likely still standing. My observation of our worship across the US and in Southeast Asia is that after these acts of worship, we generally tend to sit. We then pray the Prayer of Illumination seated.

The change in posture for this prayer connects us to the seated posture we will assume for much of the Word/Response section (though we may stand for further hymns or for the gospel). The unison praying carries the kinetic energy of our prior unison singing and/or praying. And the words of the prayer, the same every week, move our "working memory" toward what is coming next. Six lines, spoken in unison, verbatim, seated: Bearings.


What functions as bearings between Entrance and Word/Response where you are?

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