Friday, February 22, 2013

Compline, or Night Prayer


Gather into a circle.

Call all to Silence.

A candle is lit in the center.

Silence continues for another two minutes.

The Almighty grant us a peaceful night, free from danger, and peace at our journey’s end.

People: Amen.


Let us confess our sin to God:  what we have done, what we have left undone, and the promptings of the Holy Spirit we have failed to heed.  Let us pray.

Silence (one minute) or sing “Confession” (Worship & Song 3138) followed by silence.

Let us pray.
All: Receive our confession, forgive us, and make us whole.

In the name of Jesus we are forgiven, cleansed and healed.

All: In Christ alone we rest. Amen.


Select from “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” (UMH 682), “Now on Sea and Land Descending” (UMH 685), “God, That Madest Earth and Heaven” (UMH 688), “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended” (UMH 689),  or “Holy Darkness” (W&S 3141)

Prayers of Commendation
The first prayer leader invites all to sit, palms up on lap, a gesture of release of all things to God. Each prayer leader should allow for significant pauses between intercessions. Persons may take turns as prayer leader around the circle until the commendations are completed.

Prayer leader: Into your hands, O God, into your hands.
People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands.

Prayer leader: The day that has been… the people we have seen
People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands

Prayer leader: The work we have done… the work we have left undone…

People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands

Prayer leader: Our families, friends, congregations, and all who work with and care for us… Sisters and brothers in Christ throughout the world…

People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands

Prayer leader: All whose work we rarely see… All who watch or work or weep while we sleep…

People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands

Prayer leader: The earth and all that sustains it… All who have commended themselves to our prayers…

People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands

Prayer leader: Our bodies… our breathing… the motions of our minds… the beating of our hearts…

People: Into your hands, O God, into your hands


The Holy One,

Father, Son, Spirit,
Creator, Christ, Advocate,
Mother, Womb, Nurse,
Source and End of All,
enfold, guide and bless us
this night and always.

Go in peace.

(The peace is exchanged).

Creative Commons License
“Compline, or Night Prayer,” by Taylor Burton-Edwards, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Energy Map for Worship

Energetics symbol. Public domain.
As a companion piece to the Bearings in Worship Series I thought it might be useful to "break out" a briefer post focusing simply on the kinds of energy before, during and between the four basic movements of worship.

Before Worship: Energy Scattered Everywhere

People enter they typical worship space with all kinds of thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences, probably very few of which have much if anything to do with being part of the people of God who will offer themselves to God together in the service to follow.

Think, "herding cats."

That's why, in order to start worship together well, much less to offer ourselves as individuals to God, we need something that fairly quickly calls us to attention and starts our bodies, minds and spirits moving together in a Godward direction.

Entrance: Synchronizing Bodies, Minds and Spirits in Attention and Praise to God

There are at least two major ways to get a group into focus and sync. Both involve an intensive and intentional use of our bodies.

One is through music, singing, and dance. Music literally tunes our minds, and dance, whether it be a processional with choir and clergy, the clapping and swaying of the congregation, or rocking out with a praise band, tunes our bodies to the beat of God's praise.

Another, more common in contemplative settings, is directed silence. Effective directed silence helps each person present tune attentiveness to breathing and heartbeat, and these in turn may begin to synchronize with others in the worship space. Distracting thoughts are dismissed. Focus is achieved.

By either path, the energy is active and bodily. By either path, we are moved from scattered thoughts and feelings toward being one in body, mind and spirit in the active praise of God.

Word and Response: Sustained, Attentive Listening
From synchronizing, active, kinetic praise in the entrance, we move toward a period of sustained, attentive listening to scripture and its proclamation, followed by responses of commitment, faith, and prayer appropriate for the day and as the Spirit prompts and leads. The last acts of the Entrance, whether a prayer for illumination or some other action, should land us poised for listening to the scripture read. The key descriptor for the energy of this whole movement is "sustained." To sustain the energy to remain attentive, we need to do more than simply sit still. This is why responses to scripture, such as a Psalm or a hymn, are interspersed throughout the readings. This is also why the sermon must not merely explain the scriptures, but move us, typically more than once and in more than one way, toward experiencing the Spirit of God speaking to us through them.

Thanksgiving and Communion: Active, Full-Bodied Praise 
Managing the transition from sustained listening toward active, full-bodied praise in the celebration of Holy Communion is not easy, nor even necessarily often well done, as I noted in "Bearings between Word/Reponse and Table." As I also note there, the "Invitation" as we have it in our official ritual (UMH p. 7) can be a very effective means to do so. It provides a map of the actions to follow (confession of sin, pardon and peace), and between the peace and the offertory that follows before the Great Thanksgiving, we will have shifted the energy from sitting and listening toward standing and responding to God and with each other as we do in the Great Thanksgiving itself. This whole series of actions from Invitation to the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving, then, is about "retuning" our bodies, minds and spirit's to "sing God's praise," so that when we get to the words, "And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice" (UMH 10), we are actually primed and ready to do just that.

The nature of the energy that follows the breaking of the bread, then, is intended to be of one kind with the energy of joyful self-offering that preceded it. This is why it is important that we move from breaking to serving as quickly as possible, with joyful singing and few if any explanatory words, and that lines to receive not be long so as to interrupt the mood of joyous expectation. This is also why the options for what people may do after receiving should help them sustain a feeling of gratitude, culminating in the unison prayer of Thanksgiving after all have received and the Lord's table is back in order.

Sending: Propelled into the World in the Strength of the Spirit
The Sending builds directly on this energy of renewed commitment joyous gratitude from the conclusion of Holy Communion, and steps it up considerably. If the energy of the Entrance was about calling us to attention, the energy of the Sending is about driving us into the all those places in the days or week ahead where we will, individually and collectively, have the opportunity to "be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood" (UMH 10). If anything, this means the energy and strength of the music, singing, and dancing (in whatever form) should be even higher at our "procession into the world" than at our procession into the worship space. The final words and acts of blessing then are never a denouement. They are instead much more like a coach driving the team onto the field. "Go, team, go!"

Make the Map Yours
The next time you are involved in planning worship, consider starting with this outline of worship's "energy map" for an entire series or season. Your energy map may vary a bit from week to week in intensity relative to what is described here. But try not to let it vary much in kind. Then see how planning worship with this kind of energy map in mind helps you and your planning team improve the flow, the feeling and even the creativity of worship as the series or season progresses.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Things That Make You Go "Eww"

Toxic/Inedible Sign. Public domain.
What makes you go "Eww" in worship?

Here are five for starters.

1. You're serving me the bread after blowing your nose all morning?

Here's a true story reported by my colleague, Dean McIntyre, on the UMC Worship Facebook Group.

The pastor coughed into his fist throughout the service and blew his nose repeatedly into the same Kleenex. He presided at Holy Communion without hand washing or sanitization and broke the bread during the liturgy and also into individual pieces, placing them into the hands of communicants during the intinction.

A better practice: If you are sick with anything communicable, stay home. That applies to laity and clergy alike. We know you want to share God's love with us. Just don't share your germs at the same time.

2. The water in that font looks dusty and has a slight greenish tinge.

As awful as the example above is, it remains the case that there are exactly zero clinically confirmed cases of people ever getting sick from communion. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

However, there are many confirmed cases of people getting a variety of pretty nasty infections from water left standing in fonts, as well as epidemiological studies of the water found in fonts in churches showing transmissible quantities of some pretty serious bacteria. 

A better practice
: Never leave water standing in a font beyond the time of any service in which it is used. Clean the font thoroughly between uses with appropriate cleaners, rinse thoroughly, and then refill shortly before its next intended use. This will not only reduce the chance of the font spreading germs, but also prevent lime build-up from ever starting.

If it's flu season, take these additional precautions.

3. Why does this bread taste like my refrigerator smells? Is that mold? Or freezer burn?

It just might be.

Some congregations bake their communion bread a few weeks ahead of time and keep it refrigerated until they use it. Others may make it several months ahead of time, freeze it, and then thaw it the morning they need to use it.

The result is bread that may taste like your refrigerator (it's been absorbing the smells in there) or that may be freezer burned. Or if it wasn't properly stored, then, yes, that may be mold you're seeing. is the Internet's go to place to find out how long you can keep things refrigerated or frozen without running health risks or making the food taste bad.

For bread, it's typically 4-5 days in the refrigerator, 3 months in the freezer, tops.

A better practice: Fresh bread always, always tastes better. For communion, serve the best you have, not the best you had.

4. What's this hard, nobby stuff under my pew? Why am I sticking to my pew? ...or I just reached under the pulpit and, "Eww!"

That hard nobby stuff might be gum. You might be sticking to your pew because someone spilled something there. Don't get me started on pulpits (or communion tables!) becoming storage bins for who knows what all!

All three cases lead to the same question. How often do you clean your pews, pulpit,  and other furniture at church? I mean, really clean them?

I know many congregations that basically don't. They might lightly dust the pews weekly or monthly, but they never or rarely do a thorough cleaning, such as would catch that wad of gum that may have been hardening for the past few years or decades, or prevent the buildup of sticky stuff from that bit of juice that got spilled from a sippy cup (or a little communion cup!) weeks or months ago.

A better practice: Properly dust the pews or other seating weekly. Proper dusting isn't just of the seat or seatbacks, but also under the pews. While dusting, see if there are any "sticky spots" or "new attachments" and clean these right away. Then at least once a year, have a "deep cleaning day" for seating and all other furniture in your worship space.

And as for that pulpit or communion table? Remember, these are not for long term storage of files, sermons, beverages, coffee mugs, used handkerchiefs or anything else but perhaps some electronics for sound and a Bible or the songbooks you may need to use for leading worship week by week. Clear out everything else, keep them cleared out after each service, and include them in the weekly dusting regime and yearly deep-clean as well.

5. You're putting that oil on my head, pastor?
On the one hand, olive oil can last quite a long time. notes whether you refrigerate olive oil or not, once opened, it can still smell and even taste just fine up to 18-24 months. Other vegetable oils start to smell "off" within a year.

But just how old is the oil in that bottle on your shelf, or in that cruet near your pulpit? If it's longer than that, or you don't know, maybe it's time to buy a new one!

A better practice: Use oils for anointing you know smell as fresh as possible. Before you use oil in worship, give it a good sniff test. And have someone else confirm it. That way folks who receive it may be more likely to say, "Ahh" than "Eww!" 

Those are my top 5 for now.

What would you add?