Friday, October 28, 2016

All Saint's Day Worship - Reading which names?

A few weeks before my first All Saint’s Day, I was approached by an older woman in the congregation, an active member for nearly 20 years. She sheepishly asked if I would read her parents names during the upcoming service. Of course, why wouldn’t I? She explained that her parents had passed away many years ago while she was working overseas, and while she returned for the memorial services, she was not in the country for All Saint’s Day. The previous pastor only allowed for the names of immediate family members who had passed in the previous 12 months to be read, and as such, her parents were not honored in this way. 

This was new information, and I made sure to announce that we would read and honor any names, regardless of relationship or when they passed. I had three pages of names. 

Ack! That might take the whole service! 


Marcia McFee made a comment in her Worship Design Studio workshop that stuck with me. She said that “we become so worried about the shape of the candle that we forget to keep it lit”. 

For many of our members, hearing a name read, if it’s the first time or the tenth time, has deep meaning. On this special Sunday, the list of names may mean you don’t have time for three hymns, two prayers, two choir pieces, announcements from the Mission team about a fundraiser and the Trustees about a workday and Children’s about volunteers. Don’t be caught up in the shape of the candle. Keep the candle lit. 

If you are worried about the list being so long that people will disengage, break it up. Ten names, a verse of For All The Saints, another ten names, next verse. Or do it Taize style with On Holy Ground. 
If you have the opposite problem of only a few names but want the readings to be a meaningful, light a candle as each name is read (in addition to the bell ringing) and say a few sentences about the deceased. If you have multi-media, create a slide for each person with full name, birth and death dates and a photograph. 

After you read the list of names, open it up for the congregation to lift up names. Have extra candles behind the altar to add if you are doing that. Music folks will have to be on their toes for cues from you to sing if you are adding in music. 

All Saint’s Day began in the third century and has survived as a tradition this long because it touches people. Honoring it as a high holiday will show your congregation that you honor the people who have mattered to them and will help you to learn their stories, surrounded by the light of God. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

All Saint's Day Worship

If this is your first All Saint’s Day at a new appointment, you may be dealing with a variety of issues. My favorite is when the a congregation is so attached to a long serving pastor that they do not see how their church can survive without them. If this is you, you’ve spent the last four months listening to them lament the pastor of the past and the myriad of ways in which you will not be able to manage the church into the future.  All Saint’s Day can be a time to expand your congregations understanding of their history and see the previous pastor as part of that history, not all of it. 

Learning the history of your congregation is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Go through any archives you have, use the local library for historical newspaper articles, and your Conference archives. Often the nearest United Methodist seminary will have archives on the regional churches. Find out about the pastors of the past. Preach your sermon starting with the story of the first pastor, find the pastors during important times of national history (Pearl Harbor, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, moon landing) and how that pastor guided the church during those times, leading up to honoring an important event led by the previous pastor. 

The goal is to show the congregation that they are part of a vast and diverse history, and that many pastors have led the church. While the previous pastor may be the one they know, the pastors that came before paved the way for him/her, and he/she paved the way for you, and you are paving the way for the pastors to come.  

Image result for old church photoDecorate the altar area with church history. Photographs, baptismal and membership record books, Sunday School meeting minutes and the like. Read special passages, such as the day the mortgage was paid off, missionaries were sent out, special celebrations were held. The ice cream social in 1928 raised $6.35 for new hymnals. The trustees spent three meetings debating a hat rack in 1956.  These bites connect us, show us that the generations past were not all that different from us. 

As you read the names of those who have passed related to your congregation, consider reading the names of pastors who have passed away and the year they died. Conclude your sermon or service with a vision of people of the future looking back honoring the work that your congregation is doing today. What are they doing that will be celebrated in the future just like you are celebrating the people of the past.