This is a re-post of a blog entry I did for Church of the Ascension, in Elmhurst, IL.
In small churches, our sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence (or absence) can seem erratic. One week we have a “top of the world” worship experience, the next week, we wonder if we imagined it. In a larger church, the sense of the spirit can seem more consistent–either in a positive or negative way. But in a small church it sometimes feels as though we ride the roller coaster of the Spirit rather than turn our sails into the wind of it. Why is this so?
My pet theory on this difference is that it has to do with us, the parishioners. Are we gathering expecting worship to happen, or are we bringing our worship to the gathering?
In Anglican liturgy, after the Peace, we have the Offertory. This offering isn’t just about paying our dues so the bills get paid. It’s about bringing a tangible offering to God in response to all he has already given us. Just like the Israelites offered doves and lambs, we bring gifts of money, our praises, our thanksgivings–and some of us have the privilege of making and bringing the bread and the wine. The Offertory takes place in the middle of the service so that we have a chance to respond to God’s Word. It is actually the beginning of the Eucharist, or the Great Thanksgiving.
What makes this important? It’s a matter of orientation. When we have the attitude that worship is something that happens to us, we simply show up on Sunday and expect God to be there. When we have the attitude that worship and thanksgiving are a response to what God has already done for us, we come to church already in an attitude of worship. And when we come already in an attitude of worship, we bring God with us when we gather…and that makes a huge difference in a small church.
Are you always going to be able to do this? No, you’re not. But if enough of us take on some kind of rite or preparation before coming on Sunday morning we will even out the erratic spirit that can affect a small church and potentially carry a brother or sister who truly needed worship to lift them from where they were at today–just as good worship should.
What can you do to prepare your worship?
- Make sure you have a quiet time before church.
- Lay out your clothes ahead of time and dress nicely (just have grace for those who can’t!)
- Get up by a certain time so you aren’t rushed to get to church.
- Read the Lectionary ahead of time and mediate on it.
- Write your check prayerfully, thanking God for his provision this week/month.
- Sing your favorite worship songs in the car on the way to church.
- Eat breakfast so you’re not focused on dinner during the service.
What helps you prepare for worship?