In times of church change, liturgies can help us move forward.

A purple flower lined forest pathway leads us forward.
Credit: Rick Obst, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Published On: March 6, 2018

During this upcoming year, as major changes to our church structure are under consideration, many of us will be planning worship services for people who are dealing with and working through the complex feelings involved with change: the grief, loss, and sadness in saying goodbye to the courts of the church as we have known them; the hope, anxiety, and anticipation for the emergent structure; and the ever-present complexity of feelings that come with being a part of any community.

As worship leaders, we attempt to create liturgies that meet people where they are, which is hard to anticipate at the best of times. Like the people in Ezra 3, when the second temple was built, we may not be able to “distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping” (Ezra 3:13) amidst all of the noise. Both those who cheer and those who weep need our care and support. Finding worship words to address this complexity is nearly impossible, but necessary. Thank you, worship leaders, for taking this challenge on.

Often in worship planning, when I am unable to find the right words (spoken or sung) for the situation that I am trying to honour in the liturgy, I hear the wisdom of Sly and the Family Stone: “Many thangs is on my mind; words in the way.” How can worship create space for all “the thangs” to speak outside of words? What rituals and symbolic actions can speak on our behalf when words fall short?

I have adapted two traditional Christian rituals—the laying of stones and the lighting of candles—in these liturgies in the hope that they will help those of you who are marking the transition during worship: Sankofa: Looking Back, Moving Forward and Simple Service of Goodbye.

Are there beloved rituals you have adapted? Are there new rituals your community has found particularly meaningful? Planning worship can seem like an impossible task at times, so please remember that you are not alone. We do this sacred work together.

 —Alydia Smith is Program Coordinator: Worship, Music, and Spirituality at the General Council Office.

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