New Patterns for Worship

A Gathering and Greeting

Stories from the four churches

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While the large and lively mixed-age congregation arrive for worship, the St Ann's music group plays a selection of thematic hymns and choruses in order to focus people's attention on worship and set the initial mood of the service.

The congregation join in the singing; the song numbers have been printed on the service sheet.The music stops three or four minutes before the ministers enter and take their places. The congregation become quiet, attentive and prayerful - a sense of expectancy is in the air.The minister rises to call the people to worship with the greeting:

God is spirit.
Let us worship him in spirit and truth.

Then, after the opening hymn of praise, the congregation sit for an imaginative presentation of the notices, done by two people in a 'sharing the news' style. This is regarded as part of the worship, both giving a sense of belonging and bringing all the church's activities into the presence of God. The notices end with a reminder of today's learning themes (for adults, children and young people), some silence and the opening collect.

Other options which St Ann's has used for Gathering and Greeting include:
* the giving of the Peace;
* a solo song or hymn;
* some verses from a psalm, sung as an introit by the choir at the back of the church;
* a spoken verse of a song or hymn.

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At St Bartholomew's the organist quietly plays a simple voluntary based on a seasonal hymn melody on the small village organ while the congregation arrive for worship.The minister has hurried from another village and makes his way to the vestry in order to robe and have a few moments of prayer before the service begins. The churchwarden has taken care to ensure that everything is prepared for worship before the minister arrives and she announces the opening hymn. As the congregation sing, the minister makes his way to his place from the back of the church. At the end of the hymn, he greets the congregation with a seasonal greeting and invites them to join with him in some moments of silence before saying a prayer of preparation for worship.

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At St Christopher's good quality taped music is relayed gently through the amplification system as the multi-cultural, mixed-age congregation take their seats. The choir is already seated five minutes before the service is advertised to begin.When the taped music ceases, the churchwarden gives out some notices, announces the opening song of praise and invites people to keep a time of silence before the organ plays the first line. As the lights are turned full on, a well-ordered procession of crucifer, acolytes and two ministers enters the church, the deacon holding aloft the Book of the Gospels. As soon as the song is finished, the president welcomes the people with a responsive greeting, announces the theme of the service and invites the people to make their confession.

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It is Pentecost at St Dodo's and the clergy and choir are hurrying to prepare for worship as the congregation arrive. The organist starts to play a difficult voluntary with some unexpected stops and starts five minutes before the service is advertised to begin. Four minutes after the service should have begun the minister appears at the front of the church, nods at the organist to stop playing, welcomes everyone and realizes that the amplification system is not working. High-pitched feedback jolts everyone awake as the amplification comes to life. No one can hear the announcement of the number of the opening processional hymn. Choir and clergy process slowly in a ragged crocodile to their seats.The minister turns and greets the people again- this time with a liturgical greeting. He then tells everyone to be seated and announces the notices for the week at some length, before inviting the congregation to join him in a prayer of preparation for worship.

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Greetings and their meanings

The opening greeting establishes a relationship between the minister and the rest of the congregation. In choosing what to include, the minister will consider the options (including a formal welcome, perhaps followed by more informal comments, a prayer, an acclamation of praise, or a call to worship) and try to use a greeting that is right for the context, and to remember that greetings convey unspoken messages:
* 'Hello!' ('Good morning', 'Welcome, everyone', etc.) is a reflection of shared human ordinariness that links worship with the rest of life.
* 'The Lord be with you - and also with you' speaks of mutual prayer for one another and an expectation of God's presence.
* A sentence of Scripture as the first utterance puts the emphasis firmly on God, but doesn't establish a relationship between worshippers.
* 'I couldn't hear you singing' establishes a (probably unhealthy) relationship of power.

Commentary

The service should have a clear beginning. The liturgical greeting may follow some introductory singing, or a hymn or a sentence of Scripture, and may be followed by a brief introduction or an opening prayer.

Note 1, A Service of the Word

Each church has its own way of making clear that the service is about to start, whether by the entrance of a procession, the start of the first hymn, or the turning on of the overhead projector.Whatever you do, make it clear. There is nothing wrong with some silence before a service, or some music or worship songs to help people prepare themselves, but everyone needs to know when we have stopped being a collection of individuals and are being summoned as a body of people to worship God together.

One of the functions of the opening stages of the service is to allow people consciously to bring to God all that is going on in the rest of their lives as they come to worship. The spoken texts can help that; so can silence.The sharing of the Peace might also be an appropriate part of the Gathering and Greeting. Care should also be taken to ensure that the form of greeting or opening prayer flows naturally into what is to follow. A greeting that works well if followed by a hymn of praise might not fit if penitence is to follow.

Notes to the resources

1 More examples of responses that may be suitable for use at the beginning of the service can be found in Resource Section G, 'Praise' (pages 223-233).

2 The resources provided below should be adapted as necessary if the Peace is to be included.

3 'Alleluia' may be added to many of the greetings, for example at Easter and Pentecost.

Texts for this section