By Rose Broadstock
“Keeping this going is going to put me in an early grave!”
This disturbing comment recently came from a congregational member exhausted from continual responsibility for arranging or leading worship.
While there is amazing resilience and vitality in many small rural congregations in our presbytery, there can be a tiredness, particularly in times of long vacancies, or in congregations who will never again be able to support an ordained ministry placement.
I can understand why. There is a farmer on his tractor working late each night, yet trying to craft and deliver a sermon most Sundays. An organist, the only congregational music resource, feels trapped. There are those who type up the whole service and all the prayers on slides each week, those on preaching rosters without time to explore the plethora of worship resources. Then there are rosters – for readings, music, morning tea, prayers, for welcoming.
How did worship become so complicated?
The common solutions, which are to maintain the model and fill a vacancy quickly or find supply ministry, are both increasingly difficult to manage and afford. And this creates its own stress. But what might “no preparation” worship look like?
At Heathcote UC recently we looked at some catacomb art – what did worship look like for the Church closest to the time of the Apostles? We talked about how they devoted themselves to reading the letters of the Apostles, shared life, ate and sang together, and within that time of fellowship they broke bread.
It was joyful – “And every day, the Lord added to their number.”
It seemed a different model of vocational ministry and worship that engaged their community. So Heathcote UC decided to give this a go. Here’s some of what Tanya Dunbar, one of our lay preachers and leader on the day, wrote about this first experience: “The service was centred on love. We sat around the table sharing morning tea throughout the service. People individually said a prayer of thanksgiving. A member shared a story and this opened up discussion.
“We read John 3 and 1Corinthians: 13 and then sang A new commandment. People shared their thoughts on love. It was fantastic to hear people openly share their faith and experiences. This was followed by a time of silent reflection. This brought a few comments. We then prayed for others.
“It went great. Everyone said how much they enjoyed it. I was so thrilled to hear people who don’t usually say much open up and share.”
Whilst we highly value scholarly insights, what a great reminder here that it has always been the Christian community that has held God’s story, and who have deep and rich experience of long-lived faith to share.
And as some congregations begin to experiment in this way, here are some observations:
New models of regional ministry seem more possible, less stress on seeking placements, and often an authentic and deep sharing of life and faith.
There is also an oft-mentioned appreciation of the eLM podcast By the Well because it enables reflection on worship to happen anywhere.
Whether worship be in a cathedral, or around a table, may we know it as “love on its knees before the beloved” (as NT Wright said) and then what it is to be called to our feet to serve.
Rev Rose Broadstock is presbytery minister, Loddon Mallee Presbytery