Innovative Worship Ideas

We are looking for innovative ideas for worship as we head into Holy Week and Easter.

Introduction

“Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

During the COVID-19 crisis we are already beginning to see how our Lord is most certainly present as emails of support and prayer are coming in daily. As one community in Christ, we are asking for anyone and everyone to share ideas and resources. MakeAWay.church is that platform for God’s Church to do good and share with others. We are asking you to share how you are going to continue worship during this time of “social distancing”. Ideas around keeping the community connected, how are you providing communion, prayers, pastoral care, i.e., anything that might help all of us in ministering to ALL God’s people during this crisis. Thank you and we look forward to learning from one another!

Holy Communion under Quarantine
Unless one is over 100 years old, none of us has lived through such a serious world-wide pandemic. While we can stream our worship service on-line, the Lord’s Supper poses a particular problem for Lutherans, who in the last fifty years have gone from quarterly to monthly to weekly communion in our congregations (especially on the East Coast). What should we do?

The first thing to say is that, outside of following the guidance of medical professionals, there is no one “right answer” to this problem, and we must be very careful not to project our anxiety upon others who may find other solutions to this practical problem. The frequency of the Lord’s Supper is not fixed in the New Testament and is not part of the Ten Commandments, so we must not assume that what we do is the only right way. It is adiaphora, a word that does not mean that it is not important but rather means that we cannot clearly tell what is the right or wrong practice. Thus, we should not judge one another. In the Formula of Concord’s article on adiaphora (art. 10), the concordists remind us:

We also believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because the one has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God than the other has, when otherwise there is unity with the other in teaching and all the articles of faith and in the proper use of the holy sacraments, according to the well known saying, “Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei,” “Dissimilarity in fasting is not to disrupt unity in faith.”

Franklin Drews Fry, a long-time pastor in New Jersey, taught me an important method for approaching such matters: “Give it your ‘reverent, best guess!’” It is reverent, in that we must study Scripture, pray, and beg God for guidance. It is best, in that we use our heads to figure out the best thing to do. But it remains a guess, because we are ignorant, sinful mortals, not God. This means that once we make a decision, we should always be open to suggestions about what may be better.

Now, when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, as I said, there is no magic number of times to celebrate. The fact that Roman Catholic priests were required to celebrate the Mass daily in Luther’s day led the reformers to emphasize a comment from the ancient church, which described how the church in Alexandria, Egypt did not do this. The fact that most of us celebrate weekly does not necessarily mean that this is the only practice. Indeed, not receiving the Lord’s Supper during Lent this year would remind us that we are in solidarity with those who were preparing for Baptism in the ancient church, who would first receive the Supper after Baptism on Easter Day. Perhaps this virus is forcing on us a better Lenten discipline to impress upon us once more just how precious the Meal is and how we are all in need of the waters of baptism.

In 1523, followers of John Hus in Bohemia posed a question to Luther about the sacraments, given that many of them were bereft of pastors as a result of their struggle with the church of Rome. Luther, giving it his “reverent best guess,” responded with Concerning the Ministry (Luther’s Works [LW] 40:7-44). There he reminded his correspondents that in each household the head of that household could preach and, in this emergency situation, baptize. But, for Luther, the Lord’s Supper was somewhat different and was intended to take place in the Sunday gathering and not privately. He also had high respect for the public office of ministry, so he did not think that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated without a properly called minister. Given that the church in Bohemia could not receive such pastors, Luther advised them to do without pastors in the emergency. He wrote (LW 40:9): “For it would be safer and more wholesome for the father of the household to read the gospel and, since the universal custom and use allows it to the laity, to baptize those born in his home, and so to govern himself and his according to the doctrine of Christ, even if throughout life they did not dare or could not receive the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is not so necessary that salvation depends on it. The gospel and baptism are sufficient since faith alone justifies and love alone lives rightly.”

Moreover, in the same letter, Luther points out that the Supper is itself a proclamation of the gospel, given that Christ commands it be done “in remembrance of me” and Paul states that “as often as we eat … and drink … we proclaim the Lord’s death.” Thus, the Supper is not some sort of separate, required spiritual magic but it is another form of the Word, what St. Augustine called a “visible word.” Thus, we must not confuse our desire to receive the Lord’s Supper with a kind of necessity that leads us away from faith and trust in God’s promises and toward a belief that worship is not really worship without the “mere performance of the work” of the liturgy. What matters is faith in the Word of God, who comes down from heaven and in aural and visible Word whispers, “You are mine,” to which faith answers: “I’m yours.”

Once we are freed of some sort of spiritual necessity for celebrating the Supper, we are much better prepared to discuss with one another how best to behave in this situation. But here, rather than doing theology “by fiat” (“the Bible, Luther, the Bishop or I say it; you better believe it; that settles it”), we need to practice Christian conversation about these matters, remembering that line from Proverbs: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Or, as Philip Melanchthon once put it: “Wir sind zum wechselseitigen Gespräch geboren” (We are born to back-and-forth conversation). In part this means admitting to the weaknesses in all of our practical solutions. So, what are our options?

First, some congregations and their ministers may decide not to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until the threat of this virus is over. The danger here, of course, is that people suddenly get the idea that the Lord’s Supper is optional even on days when we are healthy—even pointing to Luther for support, when in fact he was speaking especially to the emergency in the Bohemian Church.

Second, one could (like St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the famous African American Episcopal Church in Philadelphia) find a way to distribute the Lord’s Supper as people drive up in their cars. Here we are in danger of turning the Sacrament into a bit of magic. Faith and proclamation would disappear as if the Sacrament were effective by the mere performance of the work. The church is not a drive-through restaurant but a Christian assembly, gathered around Word and Sacrament.

One could also, I suppose, send out bread and wine that would be “live streamed” consecrated by the pastor somewhere else. Here, too, the danger revolves around trying to create a virtual community and, again, turning the Supper into a bit of magic.

Another possibility might be to consecrate the elements and leave them on the altar for people to commune themselves as they come in individually to pray during the week. Here, too, the very communal nature of Holy Communion is in danger of being lost, and the meal becomes simply a support for individual piety rather than what it is: “Given and shed for you” [always plural in the Greek New Testament text].

Perhaps one of the ways to sort out our approaches is to ask, “Why do you” or “Why do I want to do this?” What’s the point? I regularly warned my students that when it comes to the sacramental practices, the reformers saw two dangers. Either we make the sacrament into something effective by virtue of some work we do or virtue we possess (“Only if you’re a believer is the sacrament effective”) or we make the sacrament into something effective “by the mere performance of the rite.” Even in an emergency such as what we face today, these dangers are lurking, and such practices threaten to undermine the actual heart of the sacraments—and the proclamation of the gospel. At the heart of all these things is truly God’s undeserved mercy and love, on the one hand, and faith which is engendered and strengthened by them.

Timothy J. Wengert
16 March 2020

Your Ideas

From: Rev. Kris Litman-Koon
All Saints, Mt Pleasant

All Saints is offering services of the word in our parking lot, and we are labeling it drive-in worship. The people remain in their vehicles throughout the service. One usher is present as people pull into the parking lot to 1) take a headcount, 2) offer bulletins to those who need it, and 3) extend the offering basket to anyone who’d like to make an offering. Otherwise, it is just the pastor who is outside of a vehicle.

We are providing the bulletin (8.5×11) in advance on our website so people can print their own copies, instead of receiving one from the usher. As they pull in, a display board asks them to tune into a radio frequency; we have a small FM transmitter that is connected to our sound system. (Think of the over-the-top Christmas displays that sync their lights to music and ask you to tune to a station; it is that same type of FM transmitter.)

The people can sing along to the hymns (pre-recorded by our Music Director) as well engage in other parts of the liturgy. For instance, the people shared the peace back with the pastor by flashing their headlights and honking their horns.

In the end, many people gave feedback that the service provided a sense of community in this weird and scary time, while also respecting the guidance of health officials to distance ourselves.

From: Rev. Brad Bellah
Shepherd of the Sea, Murrells Inlet

This past weekend, from 9am til 11am, 66 souls participated in our drive through communion service. We set up signs in our parking lot and consecrated the elements of communion and only distributed bread to those who drove through. Signs we put up to use as directional signs were both used to maintain a “loop” of cars going through as well as to remind people of the parts of the liturgy they might encounter as they waited.

I am enclosing a few pictures to show what I am talking about.

Members of our Congregational Council took part as they were able (8 as I recall). The wafers were consecrated, and we only distributed wafers. Each person had sanitized and washed thoroughly and was wearing surgical type gloves.
Each car that drove through, the persons inside were instructed to roll down the windows and place a cupped hand out of the window.
At that time, a member of the council would walk over to where they were with one wafer of holy communion, and “drop” the water into their hand, and share these words, “the body of Christ given for you.“ We only shared one element of holy Communion trying to cut down on any possible cross-contamination.
We also had two baskets set up next to the distribution area. One basket was for donations of non-perishable food items for our food pantry and blessing box, and one basket was there for our receiving tithes and offerings.

It was quite cold on Sunday so we think a number of people probably did not come out because of the weather in addition to being concerned about the virus. All of our counsel has agreed to serve holy communion this way as long as we are able to do so under the guidelines of the government.

We also hosted a live broadcast on my personal, the churches Facebook, as well as through the ShepherdoftheSea.com website.
At this point it has been viewed over 1300 times.

From: Rev. Josh Tucker
Amazing Grace, Waxhaw, NC and Crossroads, Indian Land, SC

The past two Sundays we’ve offered online worship via Zoom and then in the afternoon on Sunday (1-3pm), we’ve opened the sanctuaries of both Amazing Grace and Crossroads for folks to come in for prayer and Holy Communion (keeping watch to ensure there are less than 10 in the building at one time).

This past Sunday, March 22, we added an opportunity for a ‘drive-thru’ Communion where folks were invited to stay inside their cars and drive through to receive the sacrament. We had about 60-70 come through in some way (either drive-thru or by coming into the sanctuary). I am blessed that i have two retired ELCA pastors who are members at Crossroads as well as Pastor Rick who is a member at Crossroad who were willing to help make all this happen. Because the drive-thru option was the most popular, we will likely just offer it going forward.

For Holy Week we will stream a recorded worship for Maundy Thursday and Stations of the Cross and Tenebrae worship for Good Friday.

Looking to Palm Sunday and Easter, we are working on plans to host a drive-in movie theater style of social-distancing worship that invites worshippers to either stay in their cars or sit in their truck beds/tailgates to worship in a social distancing safe way. Thinking about the opportunity for everyone to bring their own bread and grape juice to share Holy Communion without having to pass out the elements. Also investing in a FM transmitter so that worship can be heard from their radio in their cars.

From: Rev. Keith Getz
St. James, Sumter

We are thinking of possibly doing drive through consecration before Easter. On Easter, there will be online service and Zoom live service for members to commune family in home and still feel connected to larger church family.

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