By Robin G. Jordan
On his blog Chuck Lawless has posted seven evaluative questions that he offers to the students in his pastoral ministry classes when they ask him, "How long should a worship service be?" These questions are useful in deciding what should be included in a service and what should be trimmed from it.
As I have pointed out in a number of posts, a common obstacle that North American Continuing Anglican churches face in reaching the unchurched and lightly-churched population of their communities is the length of their Sunday services. These services as a rule are too long. While the regular attendees of a Continuing Anglican church may not experience the services of the 1928 BCP as tedious, visitors do, not just young people but older people too. The length and tiresomeness of the Prayer Book services is one of the main reasons that they do not return for a second visit. It is also one of the main reasons that they are not likely to recommend the church to their family and friends after a visit.
The chief reason for their length is that those planning the services do not take advantage of the 1928 BCP's rubrics that permit the omission of a number of elements from the services of Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. The fault, however, is not entirely that of the worship planners. The congregation may have become so accustomed to the inclusion of various optional elements in the service and unauthorized additions to it that they are likely to complain if these optional elements and additions are omitted. The church may also have a pastor, supply priest, or other service leader who does not appreciate the need for brevity in the Sunday service.
In this post I am going to suggest several ways of shortening the service of Morning Prayer which is often the primary Sunday service of Continuing Anglican churches that do not have a priest of their own--a not uncommon situation in Continuing Anglican jurisdictions as aging priests retire from active ministry due to declining health and shrinking congregations are unable to pay the stipend for a part-time priest, much less a full-time one. They are:
1. Omit the opening hymn and eliminate a procession with processional cross and torches. A procession is traditionally a part of the entrance rite of a service of Holy Communion, not Morning Prayer.
2. Use only a single opening sentence of Scripture. Isaiah 57:15 is a good penitential introduction to the General Confession that follows. Serving as a penitential introduction was the original purpose of the opening sentences of Scripture at Morning Prayer.
3. Omit the long Exhortation and use the shorter Invitation to Confession. Pause after the Invitation to Confession to give the congregation an opportunity for self-examination.
4. Substitute a metrical version of the Venite for the prose text in the Prayer Book service and use it it as the first opening hymn of the service.
5. Limit the Psalms to one. Sing Henry Greatorex's "Glory be to the Father" or a metrical version of the Gloria Patri after the Psalm.
6. Substitute a short metrical version of the Te Deum, Benedicite, or Benedictus es for the prose texts in the Prayer Book service.
7. Place the sermon or homily immediately after the Second Lesson and not at the end of the service. When the sermon or homily is stuck on the end of the service, visitors are often too exhausted or bored to give their full attention to the message.
8. Substitute a short metrical version for the Benedictus Dominus Deus or Jubilate for the prose texts in the Prayer Book service.
9. Use the Apostles' Creed rather than the Nicene Creed. It is not only shorter but is traditionally used at Morning Prayer.
10. Take advantage of the rubric, "And NOTE, That the Minister may here end the Morning Prayer with such general intercessions taken out of this Book, as he shall think fit, or with the Grace," and substitute for everything that follows this prayer from Forms of Prayer to be used in Families:
...accept, O Lord, our intercessions for all mankind. Let the light of thy Gospel shine upon all nations; and may as many as have received it, live as becomes it. Be gracious unto thy Church; and grant that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may serve thee faithfully. Bless all in authority over us; and so rule their hearts and strengthen their hands, that they may punish wickedness and vice, and maintain thy true religion and virtue. Send down thy blessings, temporal and spiritual, upon all our relations, friends, and neighbours. Reward all who have done us good, and pardon all those who have done or wish us evil, and give them repentance and better minds. Be merciful to all who are in any trouble; and do thou, the God of pity, administer to them according to their several necessities; for his sake who went about doing good, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.11. Sing a closing hymn. If a collection is taken, it may be taken during this hymn.
12. Conclude the service with this prayer from Forms of Prayer to be used in Families:
The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord make his face to shine upon us, and be gracious unto us. The Lord lift up his countenance upon us, and give us peace, this night and evermore. Amen.What suggestions do you have?