Fall worship at Bethlehem

Those of you who worship at Bethlehem Lutheran in Encinitas may have noticed that we don’t do the same thing week after week after week.  Most of you have said you PREFER it that way!

Our basic approach is to craft liturgy (from the Greek leitourgia meaning “work of the people”) for each season of the church year in such a way as to best enable the prayer of the congregation, or assembly.  Sounds lofty, right?  What we do is examine each element of the four parts of the service, or ordo. Those four parts are Gather – Word – Meal – Send.  We gather as the people of God, to hear the Word, share in the Meal, and finally to be Sent into the world to serve.

Each of the four parts has “sub-parts” that may or may not be included in a particular season.  For Fall 2013, we’re going to use the ordo I prepared for last fall’s worship.  This week I’ll examine the “Gather” portion of the ordo.

If you have a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (our ELCA hymnal) you can find the ordo outline on pages 92-93.  Under the “Gathering” heading you find the following options:

Confession and Forgiveness OR Thanksgiving for Baptism

Gathering Song, which can incorporate a Hymn or Psalm, Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”) and/or a Canticle of Praise (“Glory to God” or “This is the Feast”)


Prayer of the Day

Of these elements, the only two that are considered central are the Greeting and the Prayer of the Day.  In the Anglican tradition the Prayer of the Day is known as the “Collect” because it aspires to collect the thoughts and prayers of the assembly into one prayer which the presider (the pastor leading the service) prays.

Does that mean the other elements don’t matter?  That depends on the context.  At Bethlehem, we sing particularly well, and so we almost always involve music in the Gathering rite.  For the fall, we will use a crafting of the Confession and Forgiveness that utilizes the spoken word as well as a sung refrain – “Wind of the Spirit” which comes to us from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.

When I’m searching for text to use in worship, I have a number of resources from all over the world that I examine, both online and in print.  Between Pastor Laura and myself, we are responsible for making sure that the texts we use (as well as the songs we sing) accurately and truthfully reflect our Lutheran theology of the cross.

So for fall, our confessional text is:

“We confess that we are captive to doubt and fear, bound by the ways that lead to death.  We have not loved our sisters and brothers as you have first loved us.  Forgive us, God of mercy.  Let your Holy Spirit work in us to change our lives and make us new, that we may know the abundant life given in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.  Amen.”

“Let your Holy Spirit work in us” ties the refrain “Wind of the Spirit” to what we’re saying.

Confession in our Lutheran tradition is followed by Forgiveness, usually spoken by the presider:

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent the Son to atone for our sins.  In the name of + Jesus Christ, I announce to you that your sins are forgiven.  Let the perfect love of God cast out fear, fill you with joy, and inspire you to live for others.”

The last sentence of the forgiveness (or absolution) is an invitation to enter into worship knowing that you are loved by God and welcome in this place.

Our Gathering Song will change from week to week, and it will reflect either a particular lesson or festival.  For example, this fall we’ll be highlighting different areas of ministry each Sunday; one of the Ministry areas this Sunday is music.  So the gathering song will be “When in Our Music God Is Glorified” (ELW #851), a great hymn text by the English hymn writer Fred Pratt Green.  It is paired with the hymn tune ENGELBERG, known to us as “We Know That Christ is Raised and Dies No More.”  A sample of the text:

“So has the church, in liturgy and song/in faith and love, through centuries of wrong/borne witness to the truth in ev’ry tongue: Alleluia!”

That will be followed with a greeting we use throughout the season, that uses the Trinitarian formula (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) to gather us.  The Prayer of the Day changes weekly and echoes the themes laid out in the lessons.

One of the trickiest parts of mapping out the Gathering Rite is that it can get bloated VERY quickly.  So at the beginning of each season, we are attentive to how it flows, and we make adjustments from week to week if necessary.  The “heart of the matter” in Lutheran liturgy is Word and Sacrament, and we try to avoid overloading the Gathering Rite so as not to pull focus from that heart.

Next week, I’ll look more closely at the Word portion of the service.  Remember, if you have questions or comments (including after Sunday’s worship) please post them below!

-Soli Deo gloria-

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