More on welcoming liturgy

Our earlier item on "Welcoming Liturgy" has occasioned a passionate response both on the Café and elsewhere. Some of you have argued that a church should be extremely careful in altering its Sunday morning Eucharist to make it more seeker/stranger-friendly. Sunday morning, the argument goes, is not prime time for evangelism. Maybe not. But eventually newcomers need to feel comfortable participating in common worship, or else they won't join our gradually dwindling numbers. So how do we make worship appealing without watering it down?


(Hat tip for the Last Protestant Dinosaur and Derek at Haligweorc.)

Comments (12)

Marion Hatchett dealt with this in my Pastoral Liturgy course this Advent term at Sewanee.

What is key, I believe, is to have impeccably trained greeters who will always engage people they don't recognize as the come in the door but are also astute enough to notice when people would rather just blend in and observe. The greeters should hand newcomers a service leaflet, ask if they've come before, and if not, point out the Prayer Book and Hymnal.

Parishioners should also be taught to be observant enough of those around them that when they see someone confused or struggling to balance all the books (it's an acquired art!), they can kindly and discreetly hand them a book already turned to the proper page and point to where we are.

When I first started attending an Episcopal Church I definitely found it different than the norm, but I enjoyed the challenge of getting familiar with all involved in the worship and was warmly welcomed by those near me who stood a little closer and guided me through my first few liturgies.

I found some of his ideas kind of random and idiosyncratic. I don't think leaving out the Collect for Purity is going to make the service more appealing.

But open communion, yes.
Getting done in an hour ... oh yes, baby yes! You will win the hearts of all who come within your doors ...

1. Do liturgy well. I said this in my comment to the other post, but I think it's key. Whatever you're doing, whether it's high Anglo-Catholic mass or something more mainline, do it really really well. Preach great sermons (get feedback from honest parishioners to find out where to improve), train servers to pay attention to each other, sit still, have a solid liturgical presence.

2. Don't try to appeal to everyone. This is just basic marketing, but figure out what it is that makes your parish unique and special (for many churches it IS the liturgy) and then capitalize on that. Figure out how to find the people who are looking for what you have to offer. If the other stuff is taken care of - greeting, welcoming, good liturgy, healthy parish life - it won't be hard to find people that want to be there. If the approach is to get rid of everything that "might" make "someone" uncomfortable, at the end of the day there might not be much left for a seeker to grab on to.

Another thought ... liturgy is appealing when it is done as a "practice" to use the word in Diana Butler Bass's sense of it. When it is done as something that has meaning and purpose for the people doing it. It is the attitude and the spirituality and the faith life of the community conducting the worship that will make the liturgy appealing. And that can be high and smoky or praise-band evangelical.

Do you MEAN it when you worship? If you mean it, people will be drawn to it.

If it's business as usual, rote recitation, "we've always done it this way" ho-hum worship, well no. Who would want to bother?

Yes to all of the above. At St. David's in Page, AZ, we have made welcoming our visitors a priority. Our worship bulletin contains everything you need to join in - music, prayers, readings. We vary our liturgy with the season, so that we pay attention to the liturgy instead of saying it by rote. The liturgy draws upon the BCP and a wide range of sources, including Native American prayers. We include a Navajo version of the Gospel in each service bulletin, and try to have someone read it on special occasions. No one is required to stand or kneel - we let people know they can do what feels comfortable. Children - even new kids - are welcome at the altar during the Eucharist and welcomed into Sunday School, if they want, before the Eucharist.

We went to non-alcoholic wine so that no one would be singled out by standing in a different line. We ask people if they are visiting for the first time not to put anything into the offering plate - the gift of their presence is enough. Everyone is invited to the table to share in communion. Even name tags - we make ones for visitors that look just like members' tags.

I do love the music, although I know we all chafe sometimes at the dirge like quality of some hymns. When I found the Episcopal Church and St. David's after being unchurched for 30 years, I found myself singing the Song of Praise and the Sanctus as I walked my dog in the morning. I still sing hymns to myself, more so than the secular music I listen to.

My husband hates Prayers of the People. He volunteered to be the one to let the Sunday School know it's time to come back to worship with us, just to get out of listening to them. But he relishes the liturgy.


Finding myself singing the liturgical music during the week was part of how I found our church too.

This also caught my eye:

"My husband hates Prayers of the People. He volunteered to be the one to let the Sunday School know it's time to come back to worship with us, just to get out of listening to them. But he relishes the liturgy."

How are you all doing the prayers? What does your husband say he hates about them? Obviously no church can touch everyone with everything we do, but when someone relishes part of the liturgy and flees another part, maybe the part he wants to flee wants some fresh thinking.

I completely reject the notion that we must "throw away" the BCP to make worship welcoming and even relevant.

Liturgy done well is relevant and welcoming. We use the BCP because it articulates a tradition of faith and practice handed down to us from the earliest days of the church.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not against change, I like to mix things up a bit. But it needs to be rooted in our prayer book tradition.

As for it being over an hour--why are you watching the clock? Is an hour a week all we can devote to worship? Is worship that low on our priority list? Again, I don't think we should needlessly drag things out, but really, time is not (shouldn't be) the most important factor is shaping our liturgy.

The prayers of the people should be OF the people; the BCP forms are meant to be guidelines--there are many good resources to supplement them; you could even have someone write them each week. But they are an important part of what we do together in community.

Bottom line--we should be open and hospitable; we should help visitors and newcomers find their place in our liturgies and our communities; we should be intentional and thoughtful in the way we plan and carry out our liturgies, but we should also ground ourselves in the prayer book.

Judging from Jarrett Kerbel's list of do's and don't's, we do everything wrong at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D.C. Not only do we say the Collect for Purity, we say it together. We wouldn't dream of omitting any of the scriptural readings, and if there is a choice between shorter and longer, we generally choose longer. The principal Sunday eucharist is never less that 75 minutes--and usually longer. But we are growing, and year by year the average age of the congregation decreases.

Why, given this formal, mysterious, "unapproachable" liturgy? Because we say to visitors in every way we can, "Be welcome." Because the congregation, not the celebrant alone, does the liturgy. Because everything about it from incense to vestments to silence to chant (including Anglican chant) to general participation in the Prayers of the People to the whole congregation gathering around the Holy Table for the Great Thanksgiving, it all says, "We are serious about this stuff."

One priest said after the first time he presided at St. Stephen's altar, "This was the first time in my ministry that I felt the liturgy was carrying me rather than I was carrying the liturgy."
Liturgical worship isn't about relevance and immediate comprehension. It's about entering into the beauty of holiness, about praising God and God's wonderful works. And rejoicing in the communion of the saints--including the ever-blessed Virgin Mary, three icons of whom enrich St. Stephen's space.

What we do in church on Sunday morning may or may not draw people to us. What we do in the world, living out the mandate of Matthew 25, is far more important.

Thank you, Jim, from bringing the topic to the fore again since it had fallen off the homepage of The Lead.

I went back to read the original post and I'm mellowing. As one commenter said this is a list we can all use to ask useful questions that we might not otherwise ask. Where the Kerbell's list might have been a turnoff is in the impression it left that the rest of us have it wrong and that we all have to make radical changes. One size does not fit all. Radical experimentation has its place especially in emergent church settings.

But do examine your congregation. Examine the mission field. Who is visiting who doesn't stay? Who in your community are the nonchurch goers? Is it your main worship service that's not attractive, or is it that you don't have other avenues where nonchurch goers can initially get involved with the church outside of the main Sunday worship. Is it a service project of the church where are nonchurchgoers invited? The list can go on depending on your community.

There's a point I have not seen mentioned in the comments. Newcomers will feel uncomfortable if the congregation appears not to be engaged. Are we saying the responses and prayers with confidence? Are we chattering amongst ourselves during communion? Are we singing diffidently while the choir sings lustily?

If the congregation is not engaged we should ask why. Is the music inappropriately challenging? Have we failed to set norms of behavior? Worship can be fun (sometimes) or restorative - something besides negative. It shouldn't come across that the congregants are wondering when it all be over.

Footnote: A relative was on a call committee at a church in Virginia and with the committee went to hear a prospective clergyperson preach at church in D.C. that used incense. She got hives from the incense. Another friend of mine fought long and eventually successfully so that incense would not be used at diocesan convention for the same reason.

I've written some additional reflections in response to Jim's question about liturgy and seekers.

What concerns me most about Fr. Kerbel's post isn't his attitude towards the liturgy but towards the basics of Christian doctrine, particularly his comments in regard to the Virgin Mary. Given the scope of our "broad tent" I don't expect all Anglicans to view her the same way I do, but the logical implications of his statements lead directly to Arianism---if the Blessed Virgin wasn't a virgin it seems logical to assume that Jesus is therefore a creature rather than God Incarnate.

I keep hearing that we don't need an Anglican Covenant because we've already got the sacraments and the creeds. I don't know about a Covenant either, but comments like this from an ordained priest don't give me confidence that we can say in good faith to our sister churches that we are united in the doctrine of the creeds.


We use the BCP as a model, but write the prayers to reflect our community and its connection to the world. Each week there are changes recognizing events, deaths and concerns relevant to us and to the world. We use the popcorn method of saying them - voices from the congregation, enduring the occasional awkward silence until someone speaks.

My husband has trouble with the Prayers, I think in part due to his fiscally conservative views, and his difficulty in translating something global into a personal concern and prayer. But give him credit - he began this a little over two years ago, when he met me, and I invited him to Christmas Eve service. He's gone from unchurched to C & E to eager participant in all we do, in that time.

John makes a good point that congregations that are engaged in worship mean more that those that are watching the clock. At St. David's, members often speak out during the homily, which standardly runs 20 minutes, and no regrets there. Our Rector is passionate and this is echoed by the rest of us.

As we struggle right now to build a new sanctuary, facing all those architectural decisions, we keep remembering that St. David's is not a building, but a community.

Mr. Chilton: Your comments about incense are not acceptable. Your friend who "fought long and successfully" to eliminate incense from diocesan events is the kind of person the Church most definitely does not need, nor want, unless and until this individuals repents and receives absolution. The issue is not what that person wants, but what GOD wants. God's worship in heaven includes incense. Read Revelations.
So in the next life, Mr. Chilton, there are but two smells: incense and brimstone. Take your pick. If you don't like incense, there's always brimstone.

--David Justin Lynch

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