Creating A Sunday Service
- An Idea
- Research, Avoidance, and Guilt
- Invite Chaos
- Waiting for Aha!
- The Aha!
- Polishing it up
What You Can Expect From Your Coordinator
- The Role of the Coordinator
- Creating the service
2U Sunday Service Policies
Miscellaneous Suggestions For Service Presenters
Worship Critique Suggested Format
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Creating A Sunday Service
Mary Walden & Thomas Christopher
© Copyright 1986. Second Unitarian Church, 656 W. Barry, Chicago, Illinois, 60657. Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct commercial advantage, the Second Unitarian Church copyright notice appears, and notice is given that the copying is by permission of the Second Unitarian Church.
You have an idea, and you'd like to do a service about it. It is important to get it down in writing. Before proceeding to the next step you should have clarified your idea until you can express it in a simple sentence. Do this in writing. Also make note of any ideas you've already had for the service. Now briefly answer the following two questions: Why does this idea interest you? Why do you want to do a Sunday service about it?
Take this to the Sunday Services Committee and sell it to them.
What is the Sunday Services Committee looking for? First of all, they are looking for a quality service. They are not looking for any particular sermon topic. The committee decided that no topic is outlawed, but that it is the way that topic touches the spiritual that makes a sermon and not a lecture. Charlie Kast says, "I tell people coming to speak that the way to make their talk into sermon is to say why it is important to them and why it should be important to the people listening to them."
The other thing the committee is looking for is the personal growth of the presenter. We are all on spiritual quests in this church. Every so often we come to tell each other how our quest is going. The effort to describe our progress itself aids in our quest.
"When I first came down to Second Unitarian, it was to hear Bart Gould preach," Tom Christopher remembers. "I was wondering how somebody constructed a sermon when there was nothing anyone had to believe. 'It's not easy,' he told me later. But I think I've figured it out. Although you can't tell other people what to do, think, believe, or feel, you can tell them about your own spiritual journey -- the transformations you are going through. They in turn may have gone through the same thing, or be going through it now, or will be in the future. And they will have experienced the same kind of things in their own growth."
There are four important deadlines you need to know about:
Two to three months in advance of the service you will meet with the Sunday Services Committee to be scheduled.
One to two months in advance of your service, you will provide a write-up for the 2-U Newsletter giving the name of your service and a paragraph that will tease people into wanting to attend. The deadline for one month's Newsletter is the third Sunday of the previous month. However, the newsletter for one month contains the Sunday service write-up for the first Sunday of the following month, so you might, for example, have to have a write-up in mid March for a sermon the first Sunday of May.
You will contact the music director at least six weeks in advance of your service to let her know what it is to be about so that she can start selecting music. You will find yourself agreeing to a choral piece at least a month in advance of the service.
You will provide an Order of Service to the Church Office by Noon on Tuesday before your service.
Once you're scheduled, you can proceed with the process. We find it goes something like this: Research, Avoidance, and Guilt; Chaos; Waiting for the Aha!; the Aha!; and Polishing It Up.
Research, Avoidance, and Guilt
While you avoid the onerous chaos phase, you should probably do some research. First of all, it will help you avoid feeling guilty; second, you'll find it all useful later. You should contact your service coordinator -- at least to set a date. You should also contact the music director, even though it may seem dangerously like a commitment to do so. She will need to get thinking of possible music for your service, and she may have some helpful ideas later.
You will at some point decide what piece the choir will sing. Once you decide, it will be included in the service. Unfortunately, you will decide before you know anything else that will be in the service. This is an unnerving prospect, but it may work out to your benefit. Tom Christopher says:
When I was preparing a service on "The Suffering Gods," I asked John Kelly, the then music director, to have the choir sing 'A Hymn To Isis' which he had composed and the choir had sung the summer before. Then I realized that the choir was going to sing about Isis and I didn't have anything to say about Isis. I had no idea of what the myth of Isis and Osiris was talking about. I had to figure it out and quick.
It turned out the myth of Isis and Osiris became the center of the service, the most moving and effective part of it. Look, if it hadn't been for that deadline, I might never have known what that myth means.
Other than being forced to write a paragraph for the Newsletter and decide on a Choral piece, this phase is marked by a leisurely research on the subject of the service and a secure knowledge that the service itself is a long way off.
This phase will end, perhaps suddenly, when the guilt outweighs distaste for pain. One of our service presenters invariably ends this phase with a nightmare about a service disaster which occurs because she is unprepared.
You might as well invite chaos, since as you look deeper into your subject, it will begin to look like chaos anyway. So just give in, write down everything you can think of, don't worry about editing or time constraints, and get it all onto paper. You may feel overwhelmed, but this is to be expected and is normal and healthy. Just keep writing.
For the Palm Sunday Service, 1985, Tom Christopher got together with the other participants for an initial discussion on what should be in it. He read his notes and was told, "You've got it, just preach it." He went away to do final revisions, and, he said later, "It all fell apart. I tried looking one layer deeper and none of it made sense any more. I knew if it didn't come together again, I could always fall back on the shallower stuff I had before, but dammit, I didn't want that! It wasn't really together again until the week before the service."
Make sure you are in it. It is not enough to have a marvelous collection of readings and music. It is not enough to have a marvelous academic lecture on the subject. The crucial question at this stage will be, "Is your life experience in it?" It is that quality of personal life experience which makes your presentation a service; not merely a lecture or concert. This may also be the most difficult connection to make, since it isn't merely factual, but deals with the effect of the subject matter on your own personal growth and development. This will be the crux of your service, however, so "perseverance furthers."
When analyzing why a recent service was very good, Mary decided that what made the sermon great is
1) It was a personal statement,
2) that needed to be made,
3) that had much in common with the experiences of other members of the community, and
4) that described an experience of personal transformation.
What made the service great was the way it all tied together setting and maintaining a mood appropriate to the sermon, giving an experiential element to it all.
Waiting for Aha!
The problem with the Chaos is that it lasts a long time. It seems the less anxious we are, the longer the chaos lasts. Deadlines are approaching. The pressure is on. What if the day comes and we're not ready?!
About now you will be researching frantically. It won't seem to be helping, indeed you realize you don't know anything about the subject, and you'll never know enough, and you already have ten times too much material, and you don't have any idea how to fit it together.
Anxiety is required. It is normal. Trust yourself.
Don't freak out and do something safe: You'll be cheated out of growth, and we will be cheated out of a good service.
Clarity will arrive.
The Chaos is Formlessness. While struggling with it you will try to give it form. One way to give it form is to construct an order of service. We will have more to say about the order of service in the next section, "The Aha!"
Each order of service you construct will confront you with a possibility. You will get to observe the ways they aren't IT.
The Aha may arrive all at once, but usually it arrives in stages. The first is when you finally figure out what is the essential point you're trying to make. This generally brings a flood of relief and enthusiasm which lasts a short while until you start trying to finalize your order of service. While you have this essential point fresh in your mind, be sure to write it down somewhere where you can find it easily.
Your sermon may fall together in several phases of Aha's, usually not all at once. Some of these you may subsequently throw out, and some of those you may subsequently reclaim. Don't worry about orderly sequence. If you have clarity about what you want to say in some section, write it down. It will fall into place or into the trash later on.
Mary Walden usually finds that there is a significant section of sermon that she writes and ends up cutting by the end -- usually a lengthy explanation of how this came to be. She is convinced that it is a necessary part of the process, though it is for herself that it is written and not for presentation.
The second stage of the Aha! tends to happen on Tuesday morning (or Monday night) before your service. This is because the Order of Service is due to be turned in to the office at noon on Tuesday.
You have suddenly realized you have to turn in your Order of Service and you haven't even decided what you're going to say. So, you put one together as best you are able, and often you find this is the very thing that helps your service take shape and your Aha! to emerge. This is where you come face to face with the time constraints of a Sunday Service and the accompanying realization that you'll have to choose very carefully from your collected chaos what absolutely must be included, and cut out everything else.
So, how do you put together an Order of Service?
There's a danger we UU's are heir to. We think that the important stuff is done when we know what we want to say. The hell with that. What's important for the service is what we want to feel. Mary Walden, the music director, who helps with a lot of services says:
When I'm trying to help someone put together a service, I usually ask, "Well, what's the most important thing that's going to happen in this service? What's the climax?"
The person responds, "the sermon," or "a ritual," or "the choral presentation," or whatever.
"Okay," I say, "how do you want to set that up? What do you want people to be feeling when that happens?" The next question is, "How can we accomplish that? Do we use a reading, a meditation, music, or something else?"
Then we need to ask, "What do you want to do after this climactic point? Do we want to intensify the emotion to drive it home? Do we want to contrast it to keep it from becoming too intense? Do we want silence to let it sink in? Do we want to provide for group participation so that people can respond to it?"
If we work in this way, working backwards and forwards from the climax, and thinking in terms of the moods or feelings that we want to evoke, the service generally falls together rather easily.
Tom Christopher says:
I realize I tend to put together services with a layered approach, like peeling an onion. First I start with an objective discussion, then I go deeper into it, an intellectual analysis, then I make a personal statement or lead the congregation in an experience of what I'm talking about.
I notice that my sermons, all of them, devolve into poetry at the end. When it builds to a climax, prose cannot handle the emotion.
In any case, you need to know what elements are necessary in any Sunday service, what options are available, and how they sort of fit together. Please refer to the Appendix entitled "2-U Sunday Service Policies" for much of this information. In general, use your imagination and don't just follow an old Order of Service like a recipe. Some elements are required, but other than that, you have the freedom to make your service flow any way you want, and our congregation enjoys innovation and experimentation, so go crazy.
Is that too much freedom? Would some Form be Liberating? Fine, here are some suggestions:
We start our services by sounding a gong. We tend to put Greetings, Announcements, "Beyond These Walls" presentations by the Social Concerns Committee, chalice lighting, and prelude early in the service. These elements call the congregation together. We then turn to the thematic material. This order, of course, is optional.
It is probably better not to put two pieces of music back to back, especially if they are in different keys.
Our music director is happy to provide a prelude, an offertory, a postlude, a choral presentation, accompaniment for any number of hymns or other songs.
Our congregation likes to participate. Let them do something.
Give the congregation a chance to stand up in the middle of the service -- a Hymn perhaps.
We insist on taking up a collection in most services, also having announcements.
A service runs from 60 to 75 minutes. Sermons may take 20 to 30 minutes. It is often excellent to break them into several parts.
Polishing it up
Once you have your sermon written, now edit. Generally we try to include too much. Take out what isn't absolutely necessary. But also look to see what is missing. Tom Christopher remembers:
Spring of 84 I preached my second sermon at 2-U called "The Creation, The Sacrifice, And The End Of The World According To Norse And Christian Mythology." It was awful. It had enough material for three sermons, and I didn't put myself in it, say why it was important to me, or say how the parts related. There were too many myths with too many names and nobody could remember one character from another.
Now give it a trying out. Go to the sanctuary and rehearse it before Sunday. Especially if a number of people are involved, but even if only one person gives the presentation, a dress rehearsal is very important. Consider the total environment. Attend to effective staging. Who will move where, when, and how? Also consider how the people in the congregation will experience it. What will be the visual effect at each stage of the service? What will be the relationship between what is seen and heard? Is it possible to eliminate distractions?
When your service is done you may look again at the simple sentence you wrote at the beginning of this process and compare it to the service you finally presented. They may be vastly different. They may be the same. But even if what you thought you were going to present and what you did indeed present are the same, what is different is the depth of your experience, the feeling and the insight, now that you have gone through the process, descended into chaos, and returned again.
Doing a service has transformed you, and remember that what you are presenting, what you are offering to others, is your personal transformation.
That is religion here at 2-U.
What You Can Expect From Your Coordinator
The Role of the Coordinator
Coordinating a Service is like producing a movie. There is a coordinator (producer) who oversees the entire operation, seeing that deadlines are met and guidelines are observed while supporting the presenter (director) with resources needed for the creative endeavor. A certain free rein is conducive to creative expression, yet the Sunday Services Committee (studio) retains a legitimate interest in the final product. While the ultimate aim of most movies is to make a profit, the aim of a Sunday service is to perform certain functions for our community and the S. S. C. delegates to the coordinators the responsibility to see that it does.
Creating the service
The coordinator should work through "Creating A Sunday Service" together with the presenter, developing the service as a total experience. The coordinator should attend to the flow of theme and mood as well as the logistics and blocking, consult with the presenter and the S. S. C. well in advance on the scheduling of "special elements" (e.g. ingathering, candlelighting, child dedication), and consult with the music director in planning music. It takes time to select, procure, and prepare live music, so allow at least six weeks for this.
The coordinator should challenge, encourage and support the presenters in their best efforts, connect them with people and resources which might be useful or inspirational, and be willing to act as an honest sounding board for their ideas __ and let them know if something is missing.
2U Sunday Service Policies
TIME: The standard service length is 60 minutes. Some latitude is granted in special cases. Start at 11:00 AM sharp.
Centering or Call to Worship (e.g. Prelude, recorded music, chant, ...)
Presentation (e.g. sermon, homily, sermonettes, lecture, ...)
Offertory reading. Offertory music.
Choral presentation (according to schedule)
Closing (e.g. Postlude, holding hands, other ritual...)
Special service elements will sometimes be assigned to particular services by the S. S. C. in consultation with the coordinator of the service and others in the Church. These include Candlelighting, Ingathering, Child Dedication, Coming of Age, Ordination, Children's Time.
Attempts will be made to match these elements with services into which they would fit appropriately.
Beyond These Walls:
A Beyond These Walls presentation may be assigned to a service by the BTW coordinator (a member of both the Social Concerns Committee and the Sunday Services Committee). Although attempts will be made to schedule these presentations in advance, some urgent matters occur without much lead time. A BTW presentation should be three minutes maximum, with transitions and disclaimers, five minutes.
Elements which interfere with the flow or distract from the theme of a service should be scheduled either before the Centering or after the Closing.
For Service Presenters
Confer with the Music Director early-on. Decisions about music greatly affect the mood of the service.
Write out what you plan to say. You may speak from notes later, but writing will help you clarify your thoughts.
Finish all preparations for the service by Friday night, thus avoiding last-minute rushing and related anxiety.
Give credit for all quotations and ideas not fully in the public domain.
Practice reading your notes or manuscript at least three times.
Leave your manuscript unstapled so you can simply slide the top sheet over rather than create a distraction by lifting the manuscript to flip pages. Some people find cards more convenient than a manuscript.
No needless words.
Don't apologize for what you think. Say it right out clearly, while affirming the right of others to think differently. You don't have to be omniscient, just honest and fair-minded.
Rules of thumb on timing:
Beyond These Walls: 4 minutes
Announcements: 10 minutes
Candlelighting (with only 7 candles): 5 minutes
Offering: 4 minutes
Please be sensitive to possible sexist implications of gender-specific language.
Rehearse the service in the sanctuary a few days before it is to be presented.
On using the microphone:
Practice speaking into it before the service and find a position which suits you. Remember that position.
Just before speaking to the audience, turn it off, move it to the desired position, and turn it on again.
Do not adjust it as you speak.
This procedure should minimize the distraction associated with microphone adjustment.
2-3 months ahead -- get approval of the S. S. C..
1-2 months ahead -- submit write-up for the 2U newsletter.
6 weeks ahead -- contact music director.
Noon Tuesday prior to the Service -- Order of Service due in.
It is the policy of the Sunday Services Committee that the presenters and coordinators meet within a week after the service to critique the service. There should be one or two other people present who attended the service and agreed to participate in the critique.
We find it an excellent way to prepare for future services.
Plan for an hour (you may use less).
Have a comfortable setting.
Have copies of the order of service.
Try to meet within one week of service.
Beginning: Start with self-critique by presenter(s). Possible questions are:
1) How did it feel...
a) when you were preparing?
b) during the service?
c) after the service?
2) Did you accomplish what you wanted?
Middle: All participants discuss...
1) What was good about this service?
2) What could have been better?
End: Go over checklist of basic issues (you may have covered these already above)...
1) CoherenceDid the elements contribute to a flow?
2) CommunityDid you feel included?
3) The WordPresence of a message, theme?
4) FeelingDid the service move you?
5) MechanicsAttention to detail?
Critique is not the same as criticism. Our purpose is to explore together our experience of what works well in worship.
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