Friday, April 29, 2011

Bearings, Part III E: Between Table and Sending

Number 608 miniature bearings. Used by permission
This is part 5 of a five part miniseries. Part 1, introducing this miniseries, is here. 
The rest of the series is listed in the links below the conclusion of this post.




If the bearings between Word/Response and Table have been the hardest for most Christians over time, the bearings between Table and Sending may be  a close second.

This is in part because for most Christians in the West, at least, the framing of the end of worship as Sending rather than Conclusion or Closing is a relative latecomer.


Sendings in Early Christianity

 
To be sure, the roots for this movement of Sending are ancient. But those ancient roots became obscured as the other "sendings" (or dismissals) which had been part of Christian worship in the earliest centuries fell away. 


In addition to the final Sending from worship, we know of three other kinds of dismissals/sendings in the second through fourth centuries. All three appear to have happened just before the "prayers of the people."

The most commonly recorded dismissal was the dismissal of catechumens (persons preparing for baptism).  In Orthodox liturgies, a deacon still must say "The doors, the doors," a vestige of the ancient practice of actual dismissals.

In Sarapion's Prayer Book (ca 356, Thmuis, Egypt), we also have record of a dismissal of "energumens" (persons possessed by an evil spirit, baptized or otherwise). This dismissal is accompanied by a prayer blessing them and praying for their full healing and deliverance.

And in Syria, there was a dismissal of persons who were in conflict with others (Didascalia, 230 and Apostolic Constitutions, 380). These persons would be escorted out by deacons who would then represent their "cases" on Monday morning to the bishop. The bishop would judge the case and offer remedies to help the aggrieved parties repair damage in their relationships and move toward reconciliation with God and each other.

All of these dismissals were "missional." "Missional" comes from the Latin mittere, "to send." (We get our English word "Mass" from this word as well!). They weren't simply told to go away. They were sent for a purpose-- to experience God's mission at work in their lives in their particular circumstances. For catechumens, the purpose was continued learning of the way of Jesus and preparation for baptism. For energumens it was healing and deliverance. And for persons it conflict, it was to make progress toward genuine reconciliation.





From Sendings to Endings
 
In the West, all of these Sendings all disappeared fairly rapidly by the middle of the fifth century. The catechumenate had all but collapsed, so there weren't catechumens to dismiss. Energumens never seem to have had a special place in Western liturgies. And by the late fifth century, the Syrian "bishop's court," whose original purpose was primarily to find practical ways to support reconciliation among the laity, had already begun to morph into what would later be called the Roman Curia, a court for dealing with discipline of the clergy. 


So by the sixth century all that was left of actual dismissals was the final dismissal-- the sending into the world to live as missionaries of Christ in the world.  

But even that had begun to change. It was starting at about this time that the words of the dismissal in the West had become almost cryptic: Ite, missa est


Ite, missa est is nearly untranslatable. The first word is clear enough: "Go." Missa est is more problematic. Something is missing. We do not know what noun or pronoun missa refers to. Missa est could mean "it is sent" or "she is sent" or "these things" are sent. There are arguments offered for each and more beside. I tend to lean toward an original reading of something like [Ecclesia, tu] missa es "Church, you are sent" or [Ecclesia] missa est [in mundum], "The church is sent [into the world]."  But there's just not sufficient textual evidence to reach any conclusive answers.

Whatever the words
Ite, missa est originally may have meant, there is little debate that they quickly came to have a different meaning in actual use. They were no longer understood to be about sending so much as ending, with the perfect passive verb (missa est, "having been sent") now functioning as a noun and a present tense verb.  "Go. The mass (missa) is [ended] (est)." Put in more common parlance, the message was, "It's over. We're done here. Let's play or sing some nice closing music and go home."

When worship was work in which the gathered people were actively engaged, the final action involved sending the people to continue to live as Christ's representatives in the world. And so they would actually process into the world, rather than recess from worship.

But by the late sixth century at the latest, in many places in the West,  worship had become more of a ritual drama performed by expert actors and singers on behalf of the people. People don't get sent sent from a drama. The drama ends, usually with some music (postlude) and maybe a recessional from the stage. Then the people leave, perhaps offering a word or two to the director or a few actors about how they thought the performance went.

 
One finds similar patterns in most Protestant Sunday morning worship forms through the mid-20th century as well. The sermon often concludes with a prayer summarizing its main points. The congregation sings a closing song. The pastor offers a closing prayer. Then the choir offers a quiet "sung benediction" or Amen that finalizes the closure. Show's over. Energy winding down. Denouement and ending, not Sending.

Recovering the Sending 


Vatican II and the ecumenical work on early Christian liturgy that had been underway for nearly a century helped change that. The Sending of the assembly to be the body of Christ in the world was recovered, first by Roman Catholics, and quickly in the revised prayer and worship resources of Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, United Methodists, United Church of Christ, Reformed Churches and many others beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The final actions of the service would no longer be determined by the denouement of either sermon or communion. There would now be a distinct, energetic movement again, a clear Sending. Those who who had offered themselves fully to God in Entrance, Word and Table were now sent as Christ's body renewed, fed, and empowered by the Spirit.

For Sending to be sending in its own right, though, we need bearings between  the end of Word (in services without the sacrament) or Table and the Sending itself. 

Why? It's about the energy. Both Word and Table can easily move toward denouement left to their own devices. In most mainline "preaching" services, the energy at the end of the sermon is often more about creating a satisfactory conclusion-- intellectually or emotionally-- than moving the people to much  further response. And the time after receiving communion is itself largely devoted to personal acts of quiet, often introspective prayer. 


The energy of Sending, however, is extroverted, active and expressive. 

So what functions as bearings to redirect energies of denouement toward the final, active movement of Sending?

In contemporary worship, it's usually the music. As we've seen with bearings between other movements,  it's usually music whose dynamics and texts capture two things at once. The spoof video Sunday's Coming  accurately described it this way: "This is the closing song, with strings that'll make you cry."

If you listen to the music of the video, you know just what the narrator is talking about. The music itself, its form and format, raises the emotional energy from conclusion to catharsis. The text being sung in an actual service of this kind typically connects with a major theme of the sermon (or communion, when celebrated) and transforms it to an act of commitment. Singing such a song means participants speak a commitment to God with passion on the lips and in their hearts. 



For some of the contemporary services Michael Eldridge visited in his research on megachurch worship, this song functioned as both bearings and Sending at once. For others, however, there would be an additional word from a pastor, reinforcing the act of Sending, and then a reprise of the chorus to enact the Sending more fully. Either way, Sending has its own integrity in such settings, and this "closing song" functions as bearings.


For Episcopal and "traditional" United Methodist worship alike, the Prayer of Thanksgiving after Communion forms the bearings between Table and Sending (see UMH, p. 11).   For both denominations, this is a unison prayer. Even if there is provision for congregational singing during communion, my observation in a variety of congregations in both denominations is that most people do not sing, or if they do, they sing more quietly, more as if to themselves, than they do for a "regular" congregational hymn. Instead, they are engaging in a variety of individual actions, whether waiting to receive, receiving, or praying or reflecting quietly in their seats after receiving. Corporate energy is waning. Worshipers in this state are not yet primed to be sent.

This is why the unison prayer at this point is so important as bearings, and that it matters that it is unison! The unison nature of the prayer, whether offered while kneeling (Episcopal) or likely sitting (United Methodist), regenerates flagging corporate energy. It immediately re-syncs us as "body of Christ" acting together. The text of these prayers provides an act of thanksgiving for what has just happened (participating in "this holy mystery") and a prayer for what is about to happen-- the Sending itself.


Both denominations also have essentially the same actions in the Sending itself, even if in a different order: a Trinitarian blessing, an hymn of sending (which may also be accompanied by a processional), and words of sending proper. All three are energetic. All three are focused outward. All three reinforce not only with words, but with action and emotion, that we have been empowered and sent by the Holy Spirit to live out our discipleship to Jesus faithfully in the world. 

And here, as with the transition from Entrance to Word, it is an act of prayer that helps that sense of empowerment both emerge from Table and come to full fruition in a natural, fluid way. 

Bearings!


What do you do where you are to create the bearings between Table and Sending? 

How might you do this even more effectively?

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

The Entire Series


Part 1: Good Mapmaking http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/03/bearings-part-1-good-mapmaking.html
Part 2: Playing with the Angles http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/03/bearings-part-ii-playing-with-angles.html (this one addresses the need for rehearsal)
Part 3a: Fluid Motion in Four Movements http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/04/bearings-part-iii-introduction-fluid.html (and introductory article to the next several pieces)
Part 3b: Bearings before the Entrance http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/04/bearings-part-iii-b-bearings-before.html
Part 3c: Between Entrance and Word/Response: http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/04/bearings-part-iii-c-between-entrance.html
Part 3d: Between Word/Response and Table: http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/04/bearings-part-iii-d-between.html
Part 3e: Between Table and Sending: http://umcworship.blogspot.com/2011/04/bearings-part-iii-e-between-table-and.html

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bearings, Part III D: Between Word/Response and Table

Illustration of self-aligning roller bearings. Used by permission.
This is part 4 of a five part miniseries. Part 1, introducing this miniseries, is here. 
 


In my direct observation of worship over the years across many styles, cultures and denominations (United Methodist, Baptist, Mennonite, Episcopal, Lutheran Roman Catholic, and several Reformed and non-denominational churches, African-American, Asian (in the US and Asia), Spanish-speaking, whether "traditional," "indigenous," "contemporary" or "emerging/emergent"), fluid motion between Word and Table has consistently been the most challenging, and often the least well-executed.

What I've often observed in Roman Catholic settings is that the ministry of the Word, especially in preaching, is downplayed and, in effect, turned into an adjunct to the Table, rather than having its own integrity that stands in constructive juxtaposition with the Table.

In many Protestant settings, the Table functions as an "add-on" to the "regular" service, something that doesn't quite fit, and often that has been "squeezed in." In order to "squeeze it in," many other things, including the liturgy of the Table itself, are also shortened, though very often the sermon is not.  And even then, it's not uncommon to see these shortened prayers and the distribution to follow rushed through.
 
But when worship is compressed and rushed,  even if there are working bearings between Word and Table, everything, including the sermon,  is shortchanged. The feeling of rush pervades all, and that feeling never seems fulfilling.

Michael Eldridge noted in the contemporary mega-churches he visited that communion was rare, if celebrated at all. He saw it only twice in the course of about six months of visits. Here's how he described each:

In one, as the elements were being distributed, the choir began to sing, which continued until the minister gave an extemporaneous prayer, followed by extemporaneous words of institution. The Eucharist was a common form based on a memorial view, and the minister briefly explained the symbols of bread and wine before people ate and drank.

At the other, they distributed the elements in the rows of chairs, with one tray per row. This reduced the time to distribute the elements. It took four minutes to serve the 3,000 people in attendance. The minister prayed extemporaneously, first declaring, “We accept your forgiveness,” and then reiterating the sermon in the guise of praying. The Eucharist was cast as a symbol of how God comforts us, blesses us, and helps us in our grief (the main point of the sermon). Clearly the Eucharist had become a prop for the sermon.


I would observe that in the first service Eldridge described, the double-action of the choir singing and the distribution of elements may well have functioned as effective "bearings," much as the double-action of video and collection of offering does for the movement from Entrance to Word/Response. The choir's singing could reflect themes of the sermon before and communion to follow. The movement of the persons distributing elements signals that the congregations will be moving soon, as well, to take and eat these elements when cued. With only a single observation of communion at this congregation, though, Eldridge could draw no conclusions about whether this was the intent or a usual pattern.

In the second, Eldridge was able to confirm from others that what he observed was a typical pattern. Here, instead of Word "taken over" by Table (as in some Roman Catholic examples noted above), Table is "taken over" by Word. There is no juxtaposition, and so no bearings. What occurs here is an expression and extension of Word by other means.

Episcopalians have faced a different challenge. For Episcopalians, a long pattern of infrequent (monthly or less) celebration of communion was dramatically changed by the adoption of the new Book of Common Prayer in 1979, accompanied by action of their General Convention requiring weekly celebration. While the 1928 Book of Common Prayer also included services of Word and Table, the most common Sunday morning pattern offer morning prayer with a sermon included. When Eucharist happened, they might use the fuller rite. But since it happened relatively rarely, that was the exception.

I was a student at Kenyon College and active in the parish choir as these changes were occurring in The Episcopal Church in the early 1980s, so I speak here from first hand experience. My first year there (1982-1983), the basic pattern of worship was still Morning Prayer. This would be concluded with the Peace as a sort of dismissal from Morning Prayer, and then announcements. The announcements were placed here, after the peace, in part to allow those who didn't want to receive communion to leave without calling a lot of attention to themselves. The effect was essentially to drain a lot of the energy and momentum out of the service-- so it really could feel like it was over for those for whom it actually would be. When it was clear to the priest that those intending to leave had done so, he would end the announcement period, and, in effect, start up the service again, with the words announcing the offering, "Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name. Bring offerings, and come into his courts." Then he would immediately turn to head to the Altar table to begin preparing it for celebrating the Eucharist.

By fall 1984, as it had become clear that the parish had gotten accustomed to weekly Communion and fewer and fewer were leaving at the Peace/Announcements, the basic order of service was changed from Morning Prayer (Rite II) to the full service of Word and Table each Sunday (Holy Eucharist, Rite II). Though basic order had changed, the practice of Peace/Announcements as a marker of the end of the Word section continued. Nor did the practice of effectively "re-starting" worship with the words of the offertory change. In many Episcopal congregations I have visited to this day, including some where my wife has served, this pattern is in still place.

What we have here is not so much "bearings" enabling fluid motion between the juxtaposed movements of Word/Response and Table, as it is nearly a full stop--breaking the link between the Peace, the Offering and the Eucharistic prayer -- and a full restart. Having lived in the Indianapolis area since the late 1990s, I might also describe this as the "Word/Response car" going in for a "pit stop," getting more gas, new tires, and a different set of decals, and going out again as the "Table car" for the laps ahead.

Does this work? For Episcopalians, perhaps so. I can say I've gotten used to it over time, being married to an Episcopal priest, and I can deal with it. But from the standpoint of what is happening liturgically and ritually, I find this still a "suboptimized," even if contextually understandable, solution.

Here, I think we United Methodists have something to offer that can function as actual bearings and keep the motion from Word/Reponse to Table flowing smoothly: The Invitation to the Table (UMH 7).

The typography in the
The United Methodist Hymnal and The United Methodist Book of Worship still groups this action within "Response to the Word," along with the Confession, Pardon, Peace and Offering that follow it.

But both in terms of the history of the development of the Sunday liturgy in general and the logic of the movements of Word/Response and Table more specifically,  the function of this brief act is far better understood as bearings between Word/Response and Table.

The action of Word/Response reaches its conclusion here. The action of Table begins here.


This may seem counter-intuitive to those who have grown accustomed to look at the confession of sin and the Peace as responses to the Word.

William Willimon noted in his classic book on the then "new" United Methodist liturgy, "
With Glad and Generous Hearts," that we really should confess our sins later in the service, not earlier, because we may not really know what our sin is until we have heard the scriptures which remind us of it. Willimon thus linked, and for some, including myself for a while, cemented, the notion of a Confession of Sin, Pardon, Peace and Offering as elements of Response to the Word.

In working closely with some of the earliest Christian liturgical texts for my dissertation on the teaching of peace in early Christian liturgies, however, I started to come to a different conclusion. What appeared to me to be evident in these earliest texts was the actions of confessing our sins to God, experiencing God's pardon, and then extending that pardon and hope for reconciliation and forgiveness with others were integral, indeed essential pre-requisites for these Christians to even think about celebrating at the Table. To offer ourselves as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving worthily, we must ourselves be pure, and a whole offering. We become pure through the acts of confession and pardon. We become whole through the peace. Pure and whole, we are now as ready as we will ever be to move straightway into the celebration at Table.

What I've later come to see is that some voices in the ecumenical liturgical scholarship over the past century have reached a similar conclusion. Confession-pardon-peace, as a unit, have their chief value more in immediate proximity to Table than to Word.

Which brings us back to the bearings in the United Methodist service of Word and Table: The Invitation to the Table. How does, or how might, this action function as bearings between Word/Response and Table?

In the order of service provided in The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 7, any of a variety of prayerful actions immediately precede the Invitation to the Table (bidding prayer, litany of intercession, prayers of the people, or a pastoral prayer). Praying together, in whatever form, culminates the Response to the Word. Here the assembly, as a whole, responsively with a prayer leader, or in the person of the presider, engages the baptismal priestly ministry of interceding for the church and for the world in general with attention, as well, to scripture read and preached. The Amen at the end of these prayers is rightly a significant one. We have prayed for much together, offering our hearts and minds and voices to God. In the Amen, we pray, "Let all we have offered before you, O God, be done!" Amen!

Do you hear and feel the energy offered and released in that single word? It is at once a juxtaposition, an energy that could continue moving forward on its own trajectory, perhaps overwhelming or creating friction with the movement around the Table, and a release that could lead to a rapid denouement that dissipates the energy we need to offer our "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving" around the Table.

We need bearings here. And bearings is what we find in the Invitation to the Table.

The Invitation to the Table picks up on the release of energy from the congregation at the Amen and does not, just at that moment, ask them to enact anything. The presider, not the congregation, speaks these words. At the same time, these words are a prompt that redirects the energy flowing out of the prayer both toward the Table (as goal) and to the next congregational actions necessary to achieve that goal (confession, pardon and peace). Simple, quick, elegant and powerful. Verbal bearings at their best.

And verbal bearings, by the way, that could easily work in any style of worship, moving the people from prayer (and so Word/Response) to Table.

How have you developed bearings between Word/Response and Table? What struggles have you had with this? What have you found that works? How does it work where you are?

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?

New Resource: Remembering the Flood 2010



by The Rev. Debra Tyree et al.



Flooding in Nashville, Tennessee. May 2010. Photo by Kaldari. Public Domain.


But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

We remembered that we are yours, O Lord,
as we saw the waters rising,
as we became cut off from one another,
as we faced destruction around us.

And in that remembering,
we found Your strength and love.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire
you shall not be burned,
and the flame
shall not consume you.

Almighty God, we thank you
for your powerful presence in our lives
as we remember the days following the flood…

Reader 1:
For times of uncertainty:
destruction and darkness,
sirens and silence,
and trucks with debris.

Reader 2:
For mold and mud,
wet dogs and wet clothes,
tetanus shots and breathing masks,
the lack of communication and information,
and an overwhelming concern for others.

We give you thanks, loving God,
for the power of your love
as found through our members, neighbors, friends, and strangers.

We remember the days following the flood…
   

Reader 2:
For the gift of tears and a hug, for miles of carpet pulled,
for helping hands and self-sacrifice, for hammers and volunteers,
for hospitality and bridge building, for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,
and for a sense of humor.

Reader 1:
For new relationships and new friends,
for cots and shelter, clothes and furniture,
for UMCOR, the Red Cross, and FEMA,
for having the exact thing that someone else needed,
for flood buckets and health kits,
for flowers growing up through hardened mud,
for pictures saved and hands that scrubbed,
for boats and police,
for home-cooked meals and hundreds of bottles of cool, cleansing water,
and for miracles and abundance.

We continue to live out what it means
to be a part of a connectional church
as we offer hospitality and shelter to UMCOR teams
serving in our community.

We commit to continuing to serve our neighbors.

We pray
for those who have not yet returned to their homes
and for those who are struggling to make their house
a home again.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…


because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you.

We will continue
to heal, hope, and serve others
because God’s Spirit of love
is in this place.

Alleluia! Alleluia! ALLELUIA!             (Scripture reference: Isaiah 43:1-3a, 4a)


The Rev. Debra Tyree is a United Methodist deacon appointed to the General Board of Global Ministries and Bellevue United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN. She composed this litany using a collection of thoughts and prayers from people in her congregation and community about the massive May 2010 flood of the rivers in Nashville and throughout the mid-South. Nearing the first anniversary of this flood, daily severe storms and new threats of flooding are igniting new fears in the region. 

She offers the prayers to be used and adapted for any persons, anywhere, facing similar situations in their lives and communities. Copyright on the biblical text does not permit adaption of the biblical texts (New Revised Standard Version).

All scripture quotations are taken from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Copyrights administered by Harper-Collins. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bearings, Part III B: Bearings before the Entrance

This is part 4 of a seven-part miniseries. Part 1, introducing this miniseries, is here.

Worship that engages the whole gathered community does not and cannot begin arbitrarily. Those who compose the worshiping community are asked  move from whatever they've been doing before they arrived to "full, conscious,  and active participation" in the act of the Entrance. 

That's a big ask! 

It's a huge shift for bodies, minds and spirits, and the opposing forces are significant. People enter worship with what could be hundreds or thousands of preoccupations or distractions, large or small. Against all of those individual forces, somehow we are trying to arrive collectively at a singular focus on offering ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as the body of Christ in the presence of the Triune God.

Sound or music can be a very effective bearing to carry this shift in forces. A prelude alone, in many cases, doesn't quite accomplish this. More often the prelude functions more as an instrumental accompaniment to what happens before worship-- conversations, acts of personal preparation, people still arriving from a variety of different places and often through a variety of entrances.  This isn't he same as creating an actual, clear and effective shift point between the body not yet at worship and now fully at worship.

What is usually needed to create that shift is something more dramatic, some other sonic, musical or kinetic event that immediately dissispates, interrupts or overwhelms personal, individual energies and creates a singular "whole body" experience of being the worshiping assembly at worship.  

In contemporary worship settings, this is often accomplished through what some call "the band blast." The band blast is a very loud, familiar (sometimes secular!) song with driving rhythms, a strong vocal lead, and a chorus that all can join and sing. In last year's spoof video, "Sunday's Coming," the makers of the video referred to this as "Opening song, lights and big drums-- you know it's cool because you've heard it on the radio." Call it what you will, it works! Bearings. Distraction ends. Focus is achieved. Worship begins.

My wife is an Episcopal priest in Indianapolis. At her parish, the sonic event is simpler, but no less effective. At Trinity Episcopal Church, many people arrive early to remember their baptism at the font, pray in the pews, have brief conversations, look over the worship program and announcements, and listen to the prelude (if they're not otherwise occupied). But all of these are what might be called "warm-up" or "cool down" activities. No one of these actually functions as bearings between their individual arrivals and the corporate act of Entrance. All of them are more like "pre-lubrication."

The bearings at Trinity are the ringing of a bell.

The prelude stops. There is a brief silence. A bell rings. Immediately everyone stands, and just then, as the bell is still resounding, one of the priests offers the greeting that kicks off the entrance: "Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit," to which the people respond in unison, "And blessed be God's kingdom, now and forever. Amen." The collect for purity follows (see UMH 6), the organ plays the introduction to the processional hymn, the choir starts moving, the thurifer starts swinging the incense (on major holy days), and the people all sing.

Before the bell, all kinds of distractions. After the bell, total focus by all. Bearings at work-- simple, elegant, effective.

At Christ Deaf Church (UMC) in Baltimore, Maryland, the bearings are also sonic, but for most participants there it is more sonic-tactile than musical. A lay leader strikes a large gong, and announces, with loud words and large, dramatic signs, "In the name of the Father" (gong), "and of the Son," (gong), "and of the Holy Spirit," (gong) "Three-in-One!" Not just the sounds, but the vibration of that gong can be felt in the floorboards and pews where all are seated. All kinds of texting, signing, or various stages of preparation are happening in the room before that gong. But immediately, at the first strike, all comes to focus on why we've gathered and in whose Name. Bearings at work.

In all three of these contexts, words alone couldn't do this as effectively. Nor would simply starting with a hymn. A powerful sonic or sonic-tactile-musical effect makes the shift to the Entrance both smooth and complete.

Can you identify the bearings before the Entrance where you worship?  If not, what sort of event, sonic, musical or other, might you consider to create bearings there?




 Image Credit: Ball Bearings, Image by Zephyris. Used by permission under a Creative Commons License.