October 2010

My diocese has asked me to provide some helpful stuff for planning for Christmas. I include it here as well.

How important is your Carol Service? What should determine what is included, read, sung, or preached or prayed?

When at York Minster I was approached by a theological student researching a PhD. It was about Carol Services. Two things had ignited her thinking: her own experience as a church organist of realising for the first time what ‘Lo he abhors not the Virgin’s womb’ was all about in O come all ye faithful (after playing it for years and years; and a statistic that said the majority of people worship once a year only, and the majority of them come to a carol service.

In other words, for a large number of people we get one chance only a year to say something coherent, challenging and doctrinally satisfying. And it’s entirely possible that the vast majority of regular worshippers are themselves baffled by, or numb to, some of the language and concepts used in our carols. Rachel researched by giving a questionnaire to the Minster’s congregations, and it was amazing to see how many classified themselves as non-Christian and even atheist, but felt it was important to worship this once.

So: how will you plan your Carol Service, and what will you include? There are some fine resources on offer.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons (Church House Publishing, 2006) is the first port of call. You might be shackled to the Kings College pattern of Nine Lessons and Carols. It’s here, of course, but there are at least six other ways through offerd as well. Patterns are provided in the Advent and Christmas resource sections.

All the CW material is on the web. Bookmark this page – it will save vast amounts of time, and bad typing.

Irritatingly Times and Seasons is only available in PDF form – here

For the thinking behind Times and Seasons, and for useful ideas about making services live, see Using Common Worship: Times and Seasons by David Kennedy (Church House Publishing 2006).

There’s some fantastic stuff for the whole season in the Together for a Season series. The Advent and Christmas one is, by Peter Craig-Wild and others (Church House Publishing 2006). This is more than an ‘All Age’ resource, but that gives the idea.

I’m a great fan of the stories behind hymns and carols. So The Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, by Ian Bradley (Continuum 2006) is a real find (and I found it in a cut price book shop).  The ‘core repertoire’ of carols is surprisingly small, so if you’re introducing a new one it can help to tell its story. Ian Bradley is a respected church historian and hymnologist. The book also debunks some myths: forget the mice chewing through the organ pipes for Silent Night – the actual story is much better.

One of the ways in which we can demystify carol services is to make the words of the carols sung by the choir available in the order of service. It’s good to be accurate though, and Kings College Chapel do us all a service by making their orders of service available: I shamelessly cut and pasted from here. And if it’s in Latin, do the English translation as well.

And finally: when producing orders of service it’s always good to find a shortcut. I found the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site to be pretty accurate and informative too. Cut and paste – but always worth checking the spellings.

And finally finally: there’s a host of more general liturgical stuff on Oremus The site is put together by liturgists I trust – the hymnal and Bible browser are great.

One of the joys of weddings and funerals these days is the ‘home produced’ order of service. I used to spend my days in York Minster ensuring I saw this kind of thing before publication. It’s very difficult to do that for a funeral in parish life.

I took a funeral today, and the Order of Service (which I’d not seen) was beautifully produced – the son was a graphic designer. He’d included the hymns – and the hazard here is that they get grabbed from the internet. Thus it was that we had 8, not 5, verses for Abide with me.

I like hymns, and research them when I can. I’d not come across these ‘middle’ verse before though. I love them!  Verse 3 begs Jesus not to walk by, and rather to be ‘condescending’ – being with us at our level rather than being superior. Verse 4 looks for mercy, not judgement, and verse 5 is all about teenage rebellion. Brilliant.

It’s all the more poignant when the story of the hymn reveals that Lyte died three weeks later. And it was poignant for me because my funeral today was of a man who had had mental illness for nearly 50 years, and whose family had stuck with him through all that time.

So here are the verses. Enjoy.

3. Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

4. Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

5. Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

Another thing from Carolyn Headley, in Liturgy and Spiritual Formation (Grove, Worship Series 143)

I’ve used this in every liturgical talk I’ve done since I first read it. It’s a quote from someone called Ostdiek. It sums it up for me. If liturgy is about little rules and fussing about then it’s not for me. But if it’s about the living encounter between God and the church then sign me up.

Spot the shape of the Eucharist in here:

Liturgy is not a thing. It is the act of a people who gather with the Risen Lord to keep covenant with God – to hear God’s word, to pray, to offer thanks and praise for the marvellous thing God has done for us in Christ Jesus, and to leave with a mission. It is a moment in which we lift up the outward deeds and inner movements of our daily lives to allow them to be enlightened with a Gospel word and to be signed with a gesture of dying and rising. Liturgy is a verb, filled with people’s celebrating and living.

G Ostdiek, Catechesis for Liturgy p. 3

I owe this to Carolyn Headley, and her Grove Book on Liturgy and Spiritual Formation (Worship Series 143).

She notes that if you put together the things that Paul prays for at the beginning of each of his letters you get an amazing description of what a mature Christian might look like. It challenges me to pray for those in my care (and for myself) that God will help us grow like this.

Just have a read…and be amazed!

Paul prays for those who believe…

that Christ: would dwell in their hearts and his power would fulfil in them every good purpose.

that God: would fill them with knowledge of his will;
give spiritual wisdom and understanding;
sanctify them through and through;
encourage their hearts; give them a spirit of unity;
strengthen them in every good deed and word;
be glorified in them and them glorified in God;
and keep them blameless at the coming of Christ.

that they: would be brought to perfection;
be filled with the spirit of wisdom and revelation;
have their hearts enlightened to know the hope to which they are called and the riches of God’s grace;
have strength in the inner being;
know God better;
be rooted and grounded in love;
know the love of God;
live a life worthy of their calling;
bear fruit both in work and in knowledge;
be strengthened with power;
have endurance and patience;
overflow with hope;
be filled with joy and peace in believing;
and joyfully give thanks to the Father.