Both the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000) and the Church of Ireland’s new Book of Common Prayer (2004) make provision for A Service of the Word that can be used in place of the Communion Service and Morning and Evening Prayer. Both service books contain guidelines that enable a congregation’s worship team to design a service that meets the needs of the congregation. The Introduction, Notes, and Explanation section of Church of Ireland booklet A SERVICE OF THE WORD states:
"A Service of the Word is the result of careful thinking about a new approach to Sunday worship. Sunday is the weekly festival of the Resurrection of Christ. It is the day when the people of God meet to celebrate the presence of the Risen Jesus who promised to be ‘where two or three are gathered together’ in his Name. It has become widely recognized that there are occasions when the prescribed services of Morning and Evening Prayer or Holy Communion may not meet the needs of a particular congregation. There have been experiments with less formal orders of service variously called ‘family’ or ‘all-age’ services and in some places ‘evangelistic’ services to which members of congregations invite friends who may have little Christian commitment."
It goes on to state:
"It will be seen that A Service of the Word represents a different approach to Sunday worship from Morning or Evening Prayer. There are similarities to those services in that the Reading of Scripture and its exposition are central. A Service of the Word is designed for worship when a wide spectrum of ages is expected to be represented in the congregation. However, it is not a "children's" service. Even the simplest working of the structure must allow and encourage adults to worship."
A Service of the Word can be led by a deacon or by a reader or other qualified lay person. A Service of the Word may also be used to replace all that precedes the Peace in the Communion Service of both service books.
Those planting new congregations will appreciate A Service of the Word as a form of worship that is freer and more accessible to those experiencing the Body of Christ at prayer for the first time. Its flexible format enables those planning the service to tailor the service easily to the size and resources of the congregation and the setting in which it is worshipping. The format lends itself to the use of non-traditional forms of church music as well as traditional ones.
Like An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer A Service of the Word does require some preparation. Planning and Preparing a Service of the Word offers suggestions on how to put a service together. A team approach to planning and preparing the service is highly desirable. Different members of the congregation can be involved in different parts of the service – leading or offering the prayers, reading the Scriptures, leading the singing, taking the Collection, and giving an exposition of the Word. The Scripture readings can be dramatized and non-traditional forms of sermons used. The guidelines for the Church of England’s A Service of the Word can be found here and those for the Church of Ireland’s A Service of the Word here.
The following is an order of worship based upon the Church of Ireland’s A Service of the Word:
GATHERING OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Exchange of the Peace
Hymn (or Worship Song)
Penitential Sentences leading to an Invitation to Confession
Confession of Sin
Absolution (or Prayer for Forgiveness)
Song of Praise – A canticle, a hymn or one or more worship songs may be sung. Metrical versions of the canticles can be used.
Collect of the Day
PROCLAIMING AND RECEIVING GOD’S WORD
Reading from the Old Testament or Epistles
Psalm – said or sung
Reading from the Gospels
Scripture Song – This can be a canticle or a song based on a canticle.
Hymn (or Worship Song)
The Apostles’ Creed
The Offering – A hymn or worship song can be sung as the Collection is taken.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Prayers and thanksgivings, or a litany
The Lord’s Prayer
GOING OUT AS GOD’S PEOPLE
Hymn (or Worship Song)
Dismissal Prayer – a Blessing may be said in addition to or in place of the Dismissal Prayer.
A Service of the Word is a form of worship that can be used by a small home fellowship meeting in a living room as well as larger congregations. A short Bible study emphasizing the application of biblical truths or principles to the lives of the members of the fellowship can be used in the place of a traditional sermon. Prayers from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer familiar to the members can be used in planning and preparing the service. For example, the General Confession and the Absolution from Morning Prayer, Rite I, might be used for the Confession of Sin and the Absolution; the Collect appointed for the day in the 1979 Prayer Book for the Collect of the Day; and the Prayers of the People, Form II, for the prayers and thanksgivings. CDs can provide accompaniment to the singing if the fellowship has no musicians. Or hymns, canticles, and worship songs can be sung a cappella.