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Call to Worship and Paperless Liturgy

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the call to worship. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Elizabeth Pruchnicki and Billy Kluttz

Let us introduce you….

Pantomimed digging. Laughter. High fives. Spontaneous prayers. These are not uncommon ways for us to gather ourselves for worship at Immanuel Presbyterian Church’s weekly evening service.

Often, we begin worship with a single phrase; the leader motions for the congregation to respond. Liturgical leaders build prayers, sometimes already written, but often improvised. The congregation continues to respond with one voice, sometimes repeating the phrase or responding with their own broken words, prayers, or images. We might add a simple dance or movement. We might add clapping or instruments. We might hum underneath.

No matter how we open worship at 5:30 pm, we’ve decided to open worship together and everyone participates. Paperless liturgy is an integral tool, and we think it can be a resource for your church as well.

Why paperless liturgy?

Photo from Immanuel Presbyterian Church Facebook page

Historic: The first Christian liturgy was paperless! The earliest Christian worship didn’t rely on bulletins or hymnals. That’s good news for all of us as we seek to model our worship after our historical foundations.

Ease of use: Paperless liturgy requires no knowledge of prayer books, hymnals, or your weekly bulletin layout. Visitors and longtime members are set on an equal plane.

Accessible: Paperless liturgy cuts down barriers to participation, allowing non-readers, children, people with vision impairment, and others to more fully participate.

Engaging: It’s easy to zone out when the congregation is reading together from a bulletin. It’s harder when you’re actively engaged in the worship experience; it’s not for spectators. If worship is the work of the collective people of God, our liturgy should be, as well.

Expansive: Not just for the call to worship. At Immanuel, we’ve used paperless liturgies for call to worships, communion, prayers of the people, confessions, and more! Imagine a great prayer of thanksgiving where people’s hands are free to lift alongside their hearts. Envision a confession where your congregation looks at one another, and those they’ve wounded; it’s connectional. Paper-free liturgy can be a helpful addition to any segment of worship.

Adaptable: Do you reprint your entire bulletin when a major event or crisis happens on Friday or Saturday? How do we edit an opening prayer after a tragedy? Paperless liturgy allows your worship to reflect context. Important things happen between the time you print your bulletin and the time the congregation gathers for worship. Paperless liturgy gives us the flexibility to incorporate the totality of who we are and what we’ve been through each week.

Less is more: Smaller bulletins are better for the earth. It’s no secret that paperless liturgy makes for shorter bulletins. That not only means less paper and ink, it also means less work putting a weekly bulletin together. Perhaps some weeks you won’t even need to print a bulletin!

Empowering: Anyone can be the leader. If a child can’t read, they can still teach a phrase or give instructions for an improvised prayer. If an older adult can’t hold a hymnal, they can still be a leader. Let paper-free worship be a tool for including everyone in worship leadership.

Types of paperless liturgy

Consistent Response: This is the easiest and most natural type of paperless liturgy. Often done during the call to worship, consistent response is the bread and butter of paperless liturgy.

With consistent response liturgy, the worship leader begins by telling the congregation what their response will be. It should be something simple and easily remembered. A common go-to is “Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.” Have the congregation practice once before continuing the liturgy. The congregation repeats the same line throughout, so even if they don’t have the recitation memorized immediately, it’ll catch on quickly.

Feel free to add a particular gesture, sound, movement, or clapping to the refrain. If the liturgy is about working hard, have the congregation get involved by with a pantomined dig while they say something simple like,”the work is our prayer, and our prayer is our work.” Anything will do, and get creative! Consistent response liturgies are a great place to involve full body movement or additional sounds like clapping or whistling.

Call and Response: The congregation repeats varying lines following non-verbal cues. I often lead this type of liturgy by saying, “repeat after me” and then I’ll hold my hands close to my chest while I say my lines, then I’ll open my arms to indicate that they are ready to repeat after me. I’ll do that in our preface for the varying call and response lines. For example, this piece is cut from a paperless communion liturgy we created:

Worship Leader: You are invited (hands clasped together)
Many: You are invited (Worship Leader hands opened out to the congregation)
Worship Leader: You are needed (hands clasped together)
Many: You are needed (Worship Leader hands opened out to the congregation)
Worship Leader: You are wanted (hands clasped together)
Many: You are wanted (Worship Leader hands opened out to the congregation)
Worship Leader: You aren’t just invited, You are needed, You aren’t just welcomed, You are vital [continue with the full liturgy, until it’s time to repeat those phrases again]

This form of paperless liturgy requires trust between the worship leader and the congregation. Call and response requires a combination of consistent response and an increased reliance on gestures and eye contact. Remember that paperless liturgy benefits most from repetition.

Improv Responses with Pre-written Openings or Special CuesWe often use this type of paperless liturgy for confession. The worship leader opens a dialogue by asking the congregation to name a sin. She’ll open with a line such as, “We recognize our participation in systems of oppression that unfairly keep the marginalized and impoverished disenfranchised. And we name those systems here.” Then she’ll remain silent for the congregational naming. We might also offer areas of concern and wait for improvised responses from the congregation.

Fully Improvised LiturgiesOther weeks, we might fully improvise a paperless liturgy. An outline or suggested theme facilitates leadership, but we find that less is more. For example, an outline for an improvisational call to worship might read:

  • Naming of God and Divine Attributes
  • Thanksgiving
  • Petitions
  • Aspirations and closing

This collect-style outline allows even inexperienced leaders to create an improvised liturgy.

Tips and best practices

  • Lead by example, not explanation.
    • Begin a paperless liturgy with the liturgy, not an explanation. Do not say, “and now we’re going to try something different.” People will learn through doing. Say as few words (outside of the liturgy) as possible. Trust the Spirit.
  • It’s not going to be perfect.
    • If the congregation misses a cue, respond positively. Take a breath and try again.
  • Gestures are important (so is eye contact).
    • Try different body postures and gestures to cue the congregation to respond, to be silent, to wait. Help your worship leaders reflect on how they can creatively use non-verbal leadership cues in paper-free worship.
  • Start by going semi-paperless.
    • Paperless liturgy works best if it’s introduced bit by bit. Start with an improvised prayer of invocation or illumination and work to incorporate paperless liturgies as the congregation becomes comfortable relying on eye contact and gestures instead of the worship bulletin.
  • Be creative. The only limits for paperless liturgy are your imagination.

Conclusion

We did not invent paperless liturgy. But we are, perhaps, its greatest enthusiasts. We’ve borrowed and repurposed ideas from lots of great liturgical leaders and scholars. In a similar way, we hope that these ideas are a starting point for your congregation. Take what we’ve suggested, change it, and let us know how God works through paperless liturgy in your community of faith.  


Billy Kluttz works as Evening Service Coordinator at Immanuel Presbyterian Church (USA) in McLean, Virginia and Community Music and Arts Director at Church of the Covenant (PCUSA) in Arlington, Virginia. Billy is passionate about creative community engagement through liturgy and music. He is currently certified ready to receive a call in National Capital Presbytery.  

Elizabeth Pruchnicki is pursuing her Master of Theological Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary. She combines an academic passion for public theology with parish ministry as the Director of Youth Ministry at Immanuel Presbyterian Church (USA) in McLean, Virginia.

Welcoming Children in Worship

As we heard from pastor Kara Root in Minneapolis, at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church children participate fully in worship. This includes teaching the congregation at the “children’s message” time, writing and leading the offering prayer each week, serving as our usher team once a month, leading our monthly food shelf collection, leading opening liturgy for Advent, sharing in serving communion, and as other ways as we can find to have them lead us and share their gifts from month to month.  Here is why… (the below is taken from our pew insert).

WHY WE WELCOME LITTLE CHILDREN TO WORSHIP… At the time of baptism, parents, godparents and the whole congregation promise to bring children to worship.  Not to do so would be like sitting down to the family evening meal but excluding the kids.  Sure their manners might be far from elegant, but we welcome them because they are part of the family.  Being with family is how we learn to be family.  Worship is no different. Young people giggle, they poke, they ask questions and they swing their legs because they are young children.  Children learn about worship and how to participate by experience, by how they are welcomed into the community, by what they see big people doing.

WHAT IS WORSHIP? Worship is how we respond to God.  When we gather in worship we all come together to encounter Christ, and we watch together for God’s presence in Scripture, our own lives, and the world around us.  When we worship God, we are reminded that we belong to God’s love, and we are empowered by the Spirit to participate with God in loving and healing the world.

HOW DO YOUNG CHILDREN LEARN TO WORSHIP?

  • By being taught they have a place in the community of the church.
  • By seeing, hearing, feeling, even smelling, the sanctuary as a place of welcome and worship.
  • By being around other children in the worship space.
  • By watching how their significant adults sing, and make prayers and offerings.
  • By sharing prayers, communion, and worship leadership alongside adults.
  • By being given ways to watch for God’s presence in their own lives, and encouraged to share where they notice God and how they participate in God’s love.

ADULTS LEARN TO WORSHIP by “becoming like a child” (Mt. 18:3). Children notice, absorb and feel deeply. They respond freely.  Children perceive God.  Children learn to worship from adults and adults learn to worship from children. Bringing a child to church can be frustrating. Their behavior can make it hard for parents and others to worship.  Then again, many facets of parenting can be challenging. It’s the rewards that make it all worthwhile.  While we do not want our children to be disruptive or hamper the worship of others, all of us together need to be reminded that children are not the church of the future.  They are the church of the present and are to be treasured as such.  Children and adults alike are able to watch for God, and participate in God’s love and healing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITH CHILDREN

  • When possible, arrive in time to find a good place to sit. Let them sit next to the aisle, near a work station or in the front pews.  Even let them stand on the pew next to you so that they can see.
  • Tell them before they come in what will happen in worship.  Show them the parts of the service where they have an active role, and the parts where we all listen or watch others quietly.
  • Take advantage of the worship supplies and materials available at the door when you arrive, and bring them to your seat.  Return bags and supplies to their place when you leave.
  • Worship with your child, guiding her or him through the service so they can feel what it is like to worship together.
  • Worship at home through saying Table Grace together, or Bedtime Prayers, or even, “God bless you.”  Ask your kids questions about how they noticed God’s love in their day, and how they shared in it.
  • Remember that sometimes children just plain need to run around and play.  That’s why we provide a bright and safe Nursery space for your young child at any time during worship.  Gather them back with you for Communion so they can experience God’s blessing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITHOUT CHILDREN

  • Be helpful to parents of small children by not making them feel awkward or unwanted.
  • Acknowledge children by smiling, or nodding in their direction, to show your appreciation of them.
  • In fact, make a child’s presence a part of your worship by inviting their family to sit next to you, praying for them, taking an interest in them.
  • Make a special point of sharing the Peace of Christ with them when everyone else is greeting.
  • Find a young child before or after the service, make eye contact, introduce yourself, tell them you are glad to see them and will be looking for them next week.  You might just be the reason that family returns.

(adapted with permission and gratitude from pew insert by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN)