One of the underrated aspects of liturgy, a subject I am interested in but am also quite aware that others are not as interested in, at least deliberately and consciously, is the matter of logistics and planning. It is perhaps an aspect of human resources, but an entertaining one nonetheless, to witness and be a part of the planning and organization that goes into making sure that church services run smoothly, especially where multiple congregations are involved. Over the past couple of days I have been involved in a couple of conversations where these logistics were involved and it is greatly amusing to me to see how this is done and in how timely of a fashion.
One wonders if this was always the case. I have had a special request for a sermon in one of the congregations I help serve dealing with the subject of the liturgy of the early Church of God. This is by no means an easy subject, as liturgical matters do not often attract the attention of people who like to write, and few such works from early church history survive. This is not to say that there are not any such works, but rather that the information is far less detailed than we might wish to be the case. It is not surprising that this is so–there are probably not very many people who could have written about the subject and most of them may not have been inclined to do so. It is my understanding and observation at least that some 99 out of 100 people who are involved in the work of making church services go smoothly are not inclined or interested in writing about it. They simply go about doing what needs to be done on a daily and weekly basis, whether that involves practicing for special music or the piano or the hymn ensemble, choosing songs to lead for church services, preparing messages, and the like. Most of the people who do such things are both too busy to pause and think about the processes that they are involved in, or they are simply not thinking about the subject at all beyond their own personal role in it.
Nevertheless, it is an interest of mine, so I will take this particular opportunity to ponder about the subject a little bit. We have a few notes on the order and structure of the early church of God, and from what we do know in scattered references, we can gather that the basic structure of the early church of God and its services sprang from second temple Judaism. We know from Luke 4, for example, that the synagogue at Nazareth (and presumably others) had a weekly Haftorah reading, because Jesus reads and then midrashes on Isaiah 61:1-2 in his message there, taking the pattern of reading the Bible that had been established as an opportunity to speak about the messianic fulfillment of prophecy. Similarly, we know from Acts that Paul regularly had the opportunity to give messages when he visited a new synagogue based on his own credentials and biblical learning. We also know from 1 Corinthians 14, for example, that there was some kind of order and structure as to how many messages there were. We are lacking the sort of formal liturgy that the church possess at this point, but we have at least some indications as to certain elements of its structure.
For me, a fascinating question is how is it that we got the liturgy that we did, and what are some implications of it? Yesterday at services, the songleader implied that the opening prayer was the beginning of church services, and this is a common implication that people take from our own liturgy. The general assumption is that if one arrives at services before the opening prayer that one has arrived on time, when in reality arriving after the hymns begin is being late. There is at least one church organization I know of–because my mother and stepfather attended a joint Feast of Tabernacles with that organization on the island of Tobago about a decade or so ago–that begins services with the opening prayer and then sings the opening hymns, which makes it all the more obvious that the opening hymns are an integral part of church services and not merely a prelude, but it would be good to be more conscious of this fact. At any rate, the smooth operation of church services has always involved some sort of planning, and a lot of that planning involves those people who are actively involved in serving a congregation. It is worthwhile to recognize and appreciate and think about that work from time to time.
Litergy has also been of interest to me as well. Our congregation dropped the additional hymn after the “announcements” section because, I’m guessing, the quick up-and-down, sitting-standing of the elderly membership was taxing on them. When we have special music, though, it is done at that time.
I brought the matter of the three initial hyms to our local minister. Why are they sung before the “opening” prayer? Are these songs extraneous to the service? He said that he would research the matter. I also meditated on it. Just as he was learning the Church’s reasoning, the thought came to me that these songs were the appetizers. We are guests at a formal dinner. The Host indicates when the entrée is about to be served and the blessing is given, but the appetizers are considered to be a part of the experience.
Our minister emailed me to say that the decision committee had gone back and forth on this for an entire day some years ago. They decided to keep things as they are in case of late arrivals in order for them to miss less of the messages. He added that their conclusion was much like the appetizer-main course analogy.
It is interesting to note that the doctrinal committee had gone back and forth on this liturgical matter. My specific interest as it relates to my own research is to examine what sort of documentation exists about how it is that our format exists in the form it does. There is certainly a great deal of flexibility in that form that exists now that did not exist decades ago when it comes to things like dramas and choral presentations filling the time of a sermonette, or the announcements moving into the sermon directly, as happens commonly here as well.