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.