My time at Myrtle Beach with First Presbyterian Church, Sumter SC, closed with a wonderful worship service, planned and led by the pastoral and music staff. I preached, but as is sometimes the case with these things, we did not coordinate a huge amount. Still the Holy Spirit wove everything together.
Sabbath confronts the culture of relentless production and our fears of scarcity… and this responsive call to worship captures it perfectly:
Temptation surrounds us:
do more, take more, have more. More food, more money, more power, more life!
‘What could it hurt?’ we hear—from friends, the media, our own souls: More hunger, more suffering, more need, more fear, more anger.
So we gather in God’s abundance and remember: God rested. We were slaves. God gave us Sabbath for renewal. In Christ we have everything!
Let us drink deeply from God’s spirit. God gives us all we need to Live fully, love deeply, and serve faithfully. Thanks be to God!
What’s inside? The collective wisdom and inspiration of the people of Tiny Church.
Pastors well remember that Christmas fell on a Sunday two years ago. In some traditions, a Christmas morning service is par for the course, but it’s not the norm for Presbyterians. What to do?
At Tiny Church we had a “come as you are” service in which people could wear PJs or other casual wear. We did not have a printed bulletin, which gave our administrative assistant a break from the copy machine during a busy time of year. Instead, I announced each element of the service. We read the psalm for the day from the pew Bibles as the call to worship. And the hymns that morning were the organist’s choice.
For the sermon/proclamation time, I had prepared a series of questions, each of which was printed on a slip of paper. These I placed in a Christmas-themed gift bag which people passed around. They were invited to pull out a slip of paper and answer the question, or choose a new one, or they could pass.
It was such a fun, low-key mode of worship that we did it again last year, and we’ll do something similar this weekend. (This time around we have the new “Glory to God” hymnal that has ready-made liturgies in the front!)
The gift-bag “proclamation” will be an experiment—Sunday is December 29, and it could be a good-sized crowd, much larger than Christmas Day two years ago—and people may come expecting an actual sermon. I may preface the sharing time with a short story or poem. But one of the great things about Tiny Church is how willing they are to do different things in worship.
Below are some of the questions I’ve used in the past. Have you done something similar? What questions would you add?
This Sunday’s gospel text is about Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous paranoia. We’ll be hitting that story harder on January 5, but if I use this text on Sunday, I’ll need to supplement these questions with some tougher ones that tease out the incredible sense of danger and drama in the story.
Tell about a favorite gift you’ve received—tangible or not.
Tell about a favorite gift you’ve given—tangible or not.
What is your most beloved Christmas carol and why?
“Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ____________________.”
Which character from the Christmas story do you most admire and why?
Tell us about someone you think of especially this time of year.
Tell about a great surprise you have received. (not necessarily at Christmas)
Tell about an important Christmas tradition, now or in the past.
“For me, the Christmas season tastes like _______________________”
“For me, Christmas season smells like _______________________”
Jesus is the “prince of peace.” What’s one situation (personal, or global, or in between) in which you’re longing for peace?
Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Why or why not? If so, will you make them this year?
Shelli Latham (whose blog is quickly becoming a must-read for me) put together a great mix of tunes to help her “worship in her running shoes.” I tried it out this morning (had to download a couple of the songs) and can testify that it’s great for running, and for running as a spiritual practice.
Someone commented on her blog how fun it would be to have with a whole series of playlists that follow this pattern, starting with gathering/call to worship, proceeding through the liturgy of the Lord’s Day, and closing with a blessing/sending.
I decided to come up with my own mix. I used Shelli’s criteria:
(1) You have to be able to run to it.
(2) It has to have the capacity to point you to God, even if you have to be a little creative.
(3) No references to pimpin’, guns, or anything that may sound like making out with Jesus… This is not the place to come for your Jesus is my Boyfriend fix.
Regarding (1), I’m a pokey, look-at-the-trees-while-gasping-for-breath runner, so my challenge was to pump up the energy with this mix, rather than fall back on the sad-sack aging girls with guitars stuff I usually listen to. Regarding (2 and 3), some of these actually do mention God, but Jesus is nobody’s boyfriend in these.
I also changed a couple of the categories and added baptism and communion. What do you think?
Prelude: Great Day, Eddie from Ohio
Call to Worship: Get Up Offa That Thing, James Brown
Prayer of Confession: Been Caught Stealing, Jane’s Addiction
I liked Lori McKenna’s Mars here, but it’s not fast enough for running. See sad-sack thing above.
Assurance of Forgiveness: Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Stevie Wonder
Prayer for Illumination: Ray of Light, Madonna
The Word: I’d suggest putting several things in this slot and/or mixing and matching depending on what inspiration I need that day. Options off the top of my head: World Leader Pretend, R.E.M.
Dare You To Move, Switchfoot All Star, Smash Mouth Yahweh, U2 Where You Been, Carrie Newcomer, which is actually about Jesus, but he visits the gay pride parade in a borrowed El Camino… so a bit of a midrash, no?
Anything by the Psalters. Gypsy gospel punk makes ME wanna run, how about you?
Affirmation of Faith: Let It Ring, Amy Ray
Baptism: Glass of Water, Coldplay
That seems too on-the-nose, but it works.
Communion: Cheeseburger in Paradise, Jimmy Buffett
It’s sad the extent to which I’m chuckling at this one.
Prayers of the People: Higher Ground, Red Hot Chili Peppers version
See how skillfully I avoided doubling up on the Steve Wonder? But the RHCP version really is better for running.
Offering:Hammer and a Nail, Indigo Girls
Benediction, aka Cooldown: Joy to You Baby, Josh Ritter
Can’t wait to try it out. Marathon training starts next week and I’ll need all the help I can get. Suggest your favorite running/workout/feelgood song in the comments.
The Sunday School movement began in the 1780s to provide education to children working in factories—children who were not receiving any other formal education. Teachers shared lessons on Christian religion, but also things like reading, sports, and drama. Today, more and more people are asking whether Sunday School is nearing the end of its life cycle, particularly in certain congregations and contexts.
Tiny Church’s practice in recent years has been to have Sunday School class during the worship hour, following the children’s time. For a small congregation, we have a good number of school-age children—this fall there will be nine, plus about seven middle and high schoolers and a handful of nursery-age.
That’s if they’re all there.
But they’re never all there… which is one of the problems with relying on Sunday School as a child’s primary Christian formation. “Regular church attendance” is different than it was even 5 years ago. Now, a couple times a month is considered regular. Around here, folks generally aren’t slacking off and sleeping in. They’re attending Girls on the Run, taking a weekend trip out of town, volunteering at the Kennedy Center, or helping a friend move. That means the adults who would teach weekly Sunday School are also out a lot, in addition to the kids.
Several of us at Tiny met this past Sunday to talk about Christian education in our congregation, and decided to see all of this as a creative challenge rather than a problem. We have the opportunity to think about Christian formation more holistically, rather than shuttling kids off to a separate room and trusting that they’ll get everything they need there.
Starting this summer, Tiny Church will no longer have Sunday School.
Instead, we will continue work in our Upper Room, which is the kid-friendly worship space in our balcony. School-age children go up after the children’s time and spend the rest of the service there. An adult leads them up and, before they go in, encourages them to “get ready to continue worshiping” by calming and centering, removing their shoes, and so forth.
There are always kinks to work out, but I’m happy to say that the Upper Room is working as well as I could have dreamed. Kids are able to wander, browse a children’s Bible or picture book in one of the comfy chairs, draw or do a simple craft at the table, use the Buddha Board, or mess around with the wooden Noah’s Ark or nativity set. And yet… they’re listening. They’ll walk over to the railing, peek over and watch what’s going on. I was preaching about Pope Francis’s recent remarks and a six year old walked up to Robert and whispered, “What’s an atheist?” I love it.
That said, we also see the value in building intentional relationships between adults and children (which is one of the primary benefits of Sunday School), so we’re thinking about planning a multi-week project maybe once a semester. At these times, children would have a “pull-out” during worship, perhaps to make a video about a Bible story, plan a puppet show, or prepare an anthem as an ad hoc children’s choir. But—and here’s the key—those activities would always connect to the life of the whole worshiping community. The video would be shown in worship, etc.
We also know we need to help equip parents. Like it or not, we are our children’s primary faith educators. I’ve heard of a church that sends home a packet each month with stories, activities, questions to discuss together, rituals, etc. I love this “homeschooling” approach. Sometimes (when I have time and inspiration) I will put together a GPS guide (Grow Pray Study) in the bulletin that helps people think further about the scripture and sermon, and I try to include something for families. That might be something we do more regularly.
We are also still considering how youth fit into this mix. We can see them as co-leaders of the special pullout activities. And we’re considering some mentoring, as well as partnering with another congregation for a mission trip.
Have you moved beyond Sunday School where you are? Would love to hear what you’re up to.
Our kids like to ask us, “Who invented ________?” Some of the answers are easy: Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Percy Spencer. (OK, we had to look up the last one—he invented the microwave.)
But inventions are hard to pin down to a single person or moment. Who invented the Internet? You could come up with a single name, but really it’s the product of a lot of discoveries and advances. Even big names like Bell and Edison and Spencer stood on the shoulders of people who came before.
Some months ago I read an article about how creative people are called to innovate and imitate. The article is long gone, but it went something like this: if there’s an approach out there that works, use it, even if competitors are doing the same thing. Imitate without shame the good stuff going on out there. Where you distinguish yourself is in how you innovate—how you make changes and improve on an idea, product or service.
Innovation is vital, but not everything needs to be innovated.
The key is to find the right balance and configuration of imitation and innovation so that you provide something unique, yet don’t wear yourself out reinventing the wheel.
This has played out at Tiny Church in a number of different ways. For example, in worship. I love crafting liturgy—writing prayers, thinking up cool interactive elements, and so forth. I also love preaching and crafting a strong sermon. But I simply don’t have the creative energy to do both.
But for the sermon, I innovate. That’s the piece of worship that gets my best creative self, because that’s the piece that people respond to. It also happens to be the element of worship I’m most passionate about… and I’m sure those things are related.
I suspect many of you do this as well. I sometimes feel a little guilty, like I should be crafting everything from scratch. (I feel guilt easily, have you noticed that?) The innovate/imitate balance helps me get over myself.
Another element of the imitate/innovate dance comes when you start out imitating and end up innovating. Rocky Supinger wrote about this evolutionary process recently at the NEXT Church website, and we’re in the midst of this dance right now at Tiny. I wrote during Lent about our Journey to Jerusalem, in which we encouraged folks to walk, bike, run, swim, etc. and turn in their miles each week to see if we could make it from Falls Church to Jerusalem by Easter. I stole this idea, blatantly and unimaginatively, from someone at the Presbyterian CREDO Conference. I loved it because it connects the biblical story and our lives as pilgrimages with health and fitness.
Well, a funny thing happened. We got to Jerusalem and the next week people started asking, “I’ve got miles to turn in. Who do I give them to?” So when our transformation team met last week we decided to keep the journey going. We’re going to spend the rest of 2013 wandering around the world, plotting our paths using the big map in our fellowship hall. We have members who have lived all over the world so when we arrive at a place, we will experience something of life in that place. Our first stop will be the Democratic Republic of Congo where one of our members has traveled countless times with her job at USAID. We hope these stops will involve some kind of cultural experience, a learning about how Christians experience life and ministry in that place, and maybe even a mission opportunity that connects to that place. We have a general idea of where we’ll end up but we’re also going to be open to the Spirit.
(This idea came completely from the team and not from me, but I’m realizing now that these pilgrimage stops are akin to Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh restaurant that features food from conflicted countries as a way of educating patrons about these places.)