Worship wars is a term that I loathe. I don’t think that any part of the worship of God should be connected with warfare. But, what do you do if you have multiple services and they have to come together? How can we “beat our swords in to plowshares” when it comes to gathering the faithful?
Here’s what we did . . .
1) Have a reason to combine.
If you have clearly established and entrenched services, then develop an excitement about have them assemble as one community by giving them a good reason. Our reason was that we had a guest preacher as part of our lecture series and we wanted all to hear his sermon. But, this isn’t the first and only time we do this. The time surrounding July 4 works well. The Sunday following Christmas Eve works well, too, as attendance is often a bit low. Doing this reduces the “why are we doing this?” question. One year we had a Houston Astro give his personal testimony. Another time, we had an astronaut. those are reasons to get together.
2) Choose an advantageous time.
If you combine at, say, 11:00 am only, then another service might be made to feel that you are giving priority to one particular service. Try to pick a time that inconveniences everyone a bit. It will spread the pain of the shift equally rather than to one group. Or, consider two services if you have to.
3) Treat it as a new and unique opportunity.
Always treat sharing worship as an exciting time to do something new before God. New things breed stress but they can breed more excitement. Hook into that.
4) Stay away from trying to please everyone.
I told my Chancel Choir before this last combination worship service that in one moment, a person will tell me that this was the best thing that the church has ever done. The following moment, someone will walk up and say that this is the worst thing that has ever been done. For the most part, that happened. People are fickle. So, don’t try to please people. Rather, do your best to honor God while not specifically alienating those around you. But, no catering. Be full of grace. Most folks can tolerate one week. But, do all you can in the spirit of love — never “well, this will shut them up.”
5) Be strategic, judicious and careful in your choices — especially with music forces.
When we were talking about what to do at this service, my worship partner Melissa Burnham, said that we should focus on what the services have in common. She asked me to think about the feedback we get when we do this sort of thing. What causes the most distress? We came up that a drum kit, electric guitars and the pipe organ. (Nothing wrong with any of these but it’s based on feedback we had heard.) So, we used a completely different ensemble altogether — grand piano, electric acoustic guitars, hand percussion, kick drum, electric cello and galvanized can with brushes (Yes, we did. It’s by Rend Collective.) This was an ensemble uncommon to our respective worship services but common in sound and texture. We agreed to use a couple of singers and a two choirs, too.
6) Find the music you share in common or that is teachable — both in style and in song.
We used hymns realized in a different fashion — Fairest Lord Jesus, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and You Are My Vision (Be Thou My Vision). We also shared worship songs that functioned well with a hymn feel but were equally at home in the more contemporary genre — In Christ Alone, Behold the Lamb of God (The Communion Hymn). We used a Taize’ chorus, as well, Bless the Lord My Soul, which functions like a chorus that people can sing over and over and easily learn.
7) Use music appropriate to the theme of the day — even if it is Latin.
We used a wonderful setting of Agnus Dei by Steve Dobrogosz. He composes with a lush, jazz style Yes, we sang it in Latin with the translation on the screens. We used it to underscore and prayer a wonderful prayer of confession that was underscored by the instrumental breaks in the music. We led off the confession time with a Renaissance motet by The Chapel Singers Call to Remembrance. Our contemporary musicians sang You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham, which was a real connection with those contemporary worshippers, as well as using their version of two of the hymns.
8) Do some very traditional things in a unique way.
We have acolytes that have a very specific task list to accomplish in worship. For this past event, we wanted to create a special moment that they could lead. Instead of robing up and carrying in a lighter, we asked them to enter in with any member of their family or friend in which they wanted to share this experience. The two acolytes entered from the back carrying a votive candle each, surrounded by their families. As the second song began to play, they arrived at the altar, placed the votive candle down, all the family and friends took a tapers and began to light the 40 candles on the altar. It took almost all of the song but the visual image was amazing and so meaningful.
The Chancel Choir wore robes but didn’t sing from the loft. Instead, they sat with their families and friends in the congregation and walked up to the steps to sing the anthem.
9) Break bread together
Holy Communion – it is THE thing that connects all of our worship services. Break bread with the family.
10) Don’t make it one person’s show.
Let many people have the upfront leadership roles. This means that many will attend to support their friends and that it doesn’t become a “see what I can do” moment. This is sometimes hard for musicians — as it is easier for us to do it all. But, if you share the work, you share the connection to God. Leave the egos at the door, too.
11) Tell people what you are doing and why.
Here’s what went into the bulletin:
If you are worshiping with us for the first time or are here almost every Sunday of the year, welcome! Today holds forth exciting possibilities for First United Methodist Church Missouri City. We have as our guest a gifted preacher in Dr. Ellsworth Kalas. Our church is in the midst of a study of prayer using materials written by Dr. Kalas. To provide everyone an opportunity to hear him preach, we are combining our four worship experiences into one service, presented twice.
In planning for today’s worship, we chose to employ acts common to all worship services here — Holy Communion using the ancient Great Thanksgiving, scripture reading, preaching, song, and prayer. Our corporate worship offers praise to God with some elements common, familiar and well-worn, emphasizing our connections and similarities. However, we also honor who we are as a diverse church family by holding together, in one service, traditional and contemporary expressions of worship.
Finally, Holy Communion is open to all persons — regardless of church membership. Our table is God’s table and you are invited to come to a station and join with us in breaking bread.
12) Say thank you, show grace and be kind.
At the end of the event, remember that people have given up something to assemble. For some, they are are excited by what has taken place. For others, they did this because they love you and want to support you. Be gracious. If someone vents, listen, talk it out, and move on. If someone is encouraging, listen, talk it out, and move on. Don’t take a worship victory lap. Show lots of grace. And, send out a thank you e-mail or card to those who have helped. Just a good practice. Period.