The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Congregational Hospitality – Part 4

January 22, 2019
In my last blog, we took a look at the bulletins and announcements from the four denominations/eight congregations of my sabbatical visits.  I bet you thought we’d never get to the actual worship!  NOTE:  Because these weren’t my denomination, I won’t comment on things we Lutherans might slip up on, such as when to use the Nicene Creed, whether the confession came before or after communion, or if there should have been an offertory verse.  Denominational liturgical questions are not intended as part of these discussions.
1        The week after a temple bombing, the preacher told about their congregation sending peace lilies to a nearby temple and the response by a grateful member of that community.  She then used it as opportunity to talk about unity.  It gave me a sense that this pastor was interested in her community, in making the message relevant to daily life, and it made me feel a little more welcome as a visitor (especially of another denomination).
2        Since my own congregation does a lot of paperless music I was excited one Sunday to see we’d be singing chants; however, I found most were Gregorian style rather than paperless, and not very easy to follow.
3        The organist took hymns so fast I couldn’t catch breath!
4        The organist took hymns so slow I thought they’d never end! (A hint to your organist:  Sing along with your hymns.  If you can’t read the words and play at the same time, sing “2, 2, 2, 2, 2… for stanza 2 and 3, 3, 3, 3, 3… for stanza 3 – it not only makes you aware of breathing but keeps you from omitting a verse, too!)
5        One congregation used only one reading each week (not always the Gospel), which was also the only thing listed on the outside sign most weeks.  To me, the common thread was lost in worship without more scripture to tie it together.  Having conversed with colleagues on this and having done on occasion at my congregation but to a lesser degree, I realize some churches cut scripture due to back to back service time constraints; others feel if there isn’t opportunity to explain each reading it can be more confusing to read than to omit.  Interesting topic for discussion!
6        As conflicted as we are sometimes about passing the peace, doing it only once a month at the communion service left me missing the words of greeting, smiles, hugs, and handshakes.
7        One church billed the time for passing the peace instead as the “Congregational Greeting” – it was used only as a time for welcoming others rather than a significant ritual.  I found it uncomfortable because it was more social in nature but it wasn’t a time one could start up conversation. Is your passing of the peace a time of meaningful ritual or socializing?
8        Only the Episcopalians did communion more than once a month at all services.  The UCC congregation did it every week at the early service, a more “intimate” (their words) service.  I took that to mean “small” and didn’t want to stand out as a visitor so hesitated even though I wanted communion.
9        One presider speaking the Words of Institution read from the altar book rather than having them memorized.  His head was down and to the side where the book was rather than speaking directly to the people. It lost the personal feel I usually experience in my congregation.
10       Lighting of the Advent wreath was done by a family unit each week.  The family introduced itself, explained each candle as lit, shared one Advent/Christmas family tradition they practiced, then read a brief prayer.  For me, it was also an additional way to get to know some members.  Note:  When you add something like this to a service, it may mean abbreviating or omitting another piece.  Question:  What is the maximum your service can go before visitors (or members) say “Enough!”?
11       One route to communion included a few stairs that could be a physical challenge to some, but handrails were provided and a person stood ready to assist those who needed help on the way down. I noted one congregation took communion to someone in the pew, but it was not announced as being an option.
12       Several churches used two worship books (not counting the Bibles); one had three hymnals and one book of prayer.  I found it cumbersome shifting back and forth but was able to omit certain exercises in my workout at the Y that day...
11       An olfactory “ugly” – using incense three times on a festival day was a little overwhelming.  Fortunately, I was willing to return the next Sunday, suspecting that they did it only on festivals.  I was correct and made a point not to worship there on Christmas Eve.
Next blog, a wrap-up of my experiences.

Deacon Jeanette Burgess serves as the ELCA Southeastern Synod’s Administrative Liaison for Leadership, as well as Director of Music, St. John’s, Atlanta, GA.
Deacon Jeanette Burgess
Deacon Jeanette Burgess serves as the Southeastern Synod’s Administrative Liaison for Leadership, as well as Director of Music at St. John’s Lutheran in Atlanta, GA.