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Deck the Walls with Praise

I've been using a tool for small group worship that has helped bring a fresh twist to 'plain ol' strumming and singing.

I print out twently-four, 8.5 x 11 sheets that each have an artfully fonted, black and white excerpt from the Psalms or some other praise text.  If the room is large, I print out double-copies.  Before leading, I hang these sheets on the walls of the worship space using scotch tape.  Some I hang low on the wall, some eye-level, and some higher.  Some sheets, I scatter on the floor.  It is best to have the sheets three to five feet apart from each other.


Typically, as I did early this morning for a Fuller D.Min. class, I begin with one song of declaratory praise, sung together.  After that song is finished, I play quietly as I explain the worship excercise, saying:

1. Notice the words of praise from the scriptures scattered throughout the room.
2. As the music continues quietly, feel free to wander about, reading these verses.
3. You may read in silence.  However, as a particular verse, phrase, or word impacts your soul, you are invited to read it aloud, spontaneously.
4. There is no hurry.  We will allow several minutes to praise God through his Word in this way.

After the groups seems to have made it through most of the scriptures, I seemlessly lead into a final few songs.  When this ritual is unfamiliar to the group at hand, it never fails to prompt a sincere and engaging worship response.

Free "Scripture Posts" can be downloaded   here  (these were created by Aaron Klinefelter)

4/30/06 music

Just for fun I thought I'd post a list of music we're using this Sunday with some notes about the choices:

4/30/06 3rd Sunday of Easter
Scripture readings: Psalm 116 and Colossians 1:15-23 (sermon text)

Bb – A Shout Rings Out/Daar juicht een toon (PsH 392)
    “prelude” choir sings verse 1 in Dutch
    then with cong 4 verses

Psalm 116 with “I Love the Lord” (SNC 227)
(We'll volley back and forth between the reader and the people singing the song.)

The First Place
(A great song by Matthew Westerholm which fits the sermon scripture like a glove. I created backing vocals for the choir to fill out the refrain a bit.)

D - God So Loved the World (choir only)
D – At the Name of Jesus/Walker (JN 32)
D/Eb – Oh Que Bueno (PsH 401)
    (using clave, maracas and bongos to bring the rhythm to life)
Eb - Beautiful Savior (JN 5)
Eb – O Christ, the Great Foundation (SNC 177)
    (May use the "Let It Rip" arrangement of the tune “Aurelia”)

By way of context, the congregation is Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids. It's a liturgical CRC church with strong ties to Calvin College, Calvin Seminary and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Stylistically, we lean heavily on the Psalter Hymnal and Sing! a New Creation. We also use a good bit of global music, some home grown songs, and dip lightly into choral repertoire and praise and worship.


Greg Scheer

Multilingual Lord's Prayer

16_lords_prayer_nikhil_halder In order to illustrate and remember the difference between unity and uniformity, our worshiping community occasionally prays the Lord’s Prayer in the following way: Persons who can recite the Lord’s Prayer in a language other than English are invited to do so.  Others are invited to recite the Lord’s Prayer as they learned it.  Participants unfamiliar with the Lord’s Prayer, or who desire to recite it in Spanish are invited to read one of the versions below:

Our Father                         Padre nuestro
Who art in heaven                que estás en los cielos,
Hallowed be Thy name            santificado sea tu nombre.
Thy Kingdom come.                Venga tu reino.
Thy will be done                        Hágase tu voluntad,
On Earth as it is in heaven.       como en el cielo, así también en la tierra.
Give us this day our daily bread     El pan nuestro de cada día, dánoslo hoy.
And forgive us our debts                Y perdónanos nuestras deudas,
As we forgive our debtors            como también nosotros perdonamos
                                                    a nuestros deudores
And lead us not into temptation        Y no metas en tentación,
But deliver us from evil;            mas líbranos del mal;
For Thine is the kingdom,                porque tuyo es el reino,
And the power,                            y el poder,
And the glory                            y la gloria,
Forever.                                        por todos los siglos.
Amen.                                        Amén.

When the Lord’s Prayer is recited in this way, worshipers are able to recognize a rhythm and commonality to this most universal of Christian prayers that transcends the boundaries of lanuage or particular translations of scripture.

Spontaneous Worship Space

Our worship space is used for many other activities throughout the week. Chairs are stacked around the edge of the room and brought out and used by various groups. I have come to think of this multiple use of our worship space as an advantage for our worshiping community. Before each service, the Communion Table is placed in the room—not necessarily in the same place from week to week—and bread, wine, and water are placed on the Table, but no other advanced preparations are made. As worshipers enter, they each take one chair, place in the worship space, and take their seat. Worshipers with physical limitations are given help, but their chairs are not brought into the circle until they are present. No chairs are set up in anticipation of the arrival of others. There are a few significant features of this arrangement:

  • the worshiping community creates it own space;
  • the circle of chairs is always exactly the right size;
  • the room never looks exactly the same for any two services; and
  • worshipers never walk into a room that has been prepared and arranged by someone else who has preconceived notions about how the space is “supposed” to look.

This seemingly insignificant feature of weekly worship has helped a group of 30-40 college students from a variety of Christian traditions take ownership of the weekly worship life of the particular community of which they are currently a part. Along with shared leadership, shared meals after worship, and regular reflection, this feature has helped a particular community of college students develop a unique and authentic worship life.

Shared Leadership

Worship at Austin College —a Presbyterian Church (USA)-related college in Sherman Texas—includes the explicit assumption that all who attend are capable of participating in the leadership of worship.  For this reason, after particular students and the College Chaplain plan a given service, a program is prepared that contains every word that anyone will say during the service (with the exception of the Proclamation of the Word and the Words of Institution).  Worshipers always sit in a circle around the Communion Table.  The portions spoken or sung by the congregation as a whole are printed in bold type.  The portions to be read by an individual voice are printed in standard type.   The single-voice sections are printed with a line skipped between each sentence or section.  Whenever a line is skipped, the next person around the circle reads the next line.  In this way, the leadership of the service moves around the circle.

No participant is required to do this.  At the beginning of each service, this “Shared Leadership” model is explained and students who do not wish to read are encouraged to inform the persons on either side of them.  Then they are simply skipped over as the leadership passes from participant.

This model has proven to be very engaging and liberating for 18-22 year olds who often have little or no experience participating in worship leadership.  Over a span of weeks, these services develop a rhythm that is inclusive of all participants, regardless of their particular denominational backgrounds.

Although some students initially express impatience with what they perceive to be the lack of spontaneity in this model, most of them eventually come to appreciate the exposure to the language and rhythms of worship that such a model entails.  The fact that the services are planned by students and the Chaplain together helps to ensure that the language employed is authentic and accessible for the whole worshiping community.

Confessions of a Baby Ethnomusicologist

I have no business doing what I'm doing.  I'm a United Methodist pastor by training and spent 25 years in parish ministry.  But God's calling is never predictable.  Five years ago I took a leap of faith based on that new calling and founded a ministry called The Ministry of Congregational Singing.   I try to help congregations sort out why their singing has gotten timid or conflicted.

Then a year and a half ago, a colleague who now serves as mission director for United Methodism's new work in Cameroon emailed and said, in effect, "I need someone to come over here and encourage the young leaders of the church to create their first hymnal/worshipbook."  Since the first leap had been really energizing, I decided to leap again. 

At one level, I was a fool to say yes.  I had no business thinking I could walk into a bi-lingual culture (French/English) with only a few years of high school French and act as an entrepreneur of hope for people who had more music in their index fingers than I had in my whole body.  But sometimes the call to do something comes before you have all the actual equipment to live in that call.

What I'll be doing in this blog is to tell stories about the journey I've had as a baby ethnomusicologist.  I'll report the stumblings and the victories.  I hope what will be most transparent is the degree to which what is happening in Cameroonian Methodism is nothing more or less than the grace of God taking amazing forms.

Blessings on the journey.

John Thornburg

Communion with Shut-ins: Getting Rid of the Shot Glasses

Ccg I have always disliked serving communion in those little “shot glasses.” I’m sure there is an official name for them, but I’ve never learned it. The symbolism of rejecting a common cup in favor of individual serving sizes bothers me intensely. I’m just as bothered by the individual wafers for communion. In ordinary Lord’s Day worship, my congregation uses a common cup and a single loaf of bread, and we commune by intinction.

My problem, until now, has been that I could not figure out a good way to use a common cup with shut-ins. All of the little communion “travel kits” made for pastors – at least the ones I’ve seen – use the little cups. In the case of the homebound, the use of individual serving sizes is especially bothersome to me. After all, aren’t they already isolated enough?

So, I made my own communion kit for visiting shut-ins. If you can find a store that sells teapots and tea cups, look for the kind used in Japanese and Chinese restaurants – the small, handleless kind. There are many varieties, but I’ve chosen one that looks like handmade pottery. You can also use the small dishes made for dipping bread in olive oil as a cup. Next, I found a very small cruet for the wine (juice in this case), a linen napkin in which to wrap a hearty dinner roll that looks like a small loaf of bread, and a small, hard-sided container in which to hold everything.

It’s not a solution that leads to world peace, but it does allow the homebound to worship using a common loaf and cup.

Recovering Testimony

During this past Lenten season my congregation made space in the liturgy, just after the call to worship and before the communal prayer of confession, for testimony from members of the congregation. The tradition of offering public testimony has faded from many mainline congregations, especially those committed to liturgical worship. The Presbyterian congregation (PCUSA) I am currently serving as a temporary supply pastor is very much committed to classical forms of worship, but wanted to find a way to recover the tradition of testimony in ways consonant with that form of worship.


Here’s what we did: During Lent we focused on the ways in which Jesus violates our expectations. Each week someone from the congregation offered a reflection how God had worked unexpectedly in his or her life, on ways in which God had violated expectations about what a good life ought to be. Testimonies lasted no more than two minutes, each one beginning and ending with the phrase, “the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We created a “Lenten Wreath” similar to an Advent Wreath, except that instead of lighting one candle each week, we extinguished one after each testimony. By Passion Sunday, the wreath was as dark as a sealed tomb.


Members shared stories about the death of a child, the pain of divorce, and the fear of rejection. In the midst of a loving, supportive congregation, we learned to be honest and vulnerable with each other.