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Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections September 26, 2014

It occurred to me that some of you might be wondering how the church life has continued in my absence—or perhaps you haven’t?Shortly after Easter, the Worship Council meets to consider Mother’s and Father’s Day, Pentecost, Welcome Back, Worldwide Communion, Remembrance and Advent/Christmas.  As most of you know, we develop our own worship at WPUC rather than purchasing prepared services from some outside source.  The scripture readings for each Sunday, one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one Psalm, one from Christian Scriptures and finally a Gospel reading, are set in a three-year rotation by an Ecumenical (inter-church) organization.  With the readings for each of these days in hand, the members of the Worship Council reflect on the readings and the uniqueness of the Sunday.  In addition, we have to consider if this is also a baptism or communion service or one of the other assigned days like World Peace Sunday or World Food Day or the host of other special days in the church year.  The Worship Council then meets to discuss the passages that they found most meaningful and even the words or phrases that spoke most clearly.  This allows us to select which of the four assigned readings we will use.  Next we pool the words, phrases and themes that have emerged from our reading.  This leads to outline and theme of the service.  It may also include discussion of symbols, visuals or activities we may want to use to enhance the theme.From this point, I set down to write a draft based on all of our discussions.  Essentially, I spend June and July writing services for the fall and winter.  While you may be worrying about sunscreen, I may be humming Christmas carols at my computer!  What this all means is that worship at WPUC begins about six months before you sit down in a pew any Sunday morning.  We try to honour the use of the lectionary, the prescribed list of scripture readings.  This means we read through the whole Bible every three years.  It is a good discipline that means we don’t get to pass over the challenging bits.  We make every effort so that worship speaks to us–that it is in the voice of our community.  This reasoning has come home to me on several occasions on this sabbatical as I visited other places of worship.  Many were grand and majestic, full of tradition and ritual.  They were each quite wonderful in their own way but, not quite ‘home’.Integral to this whole process is consultation with the music leadership.  Hymns, anthems and even the incidental music (before and after worship and during the quiet time and offering) is selected with care and attention to the themes.  I think music is especially important because there are so few places in our lives where we are invited to sing.  It is a magnificent way to glorify God whether you have the voice of an angel…..or not!  When we sing another part of our heart and soul is let loose allowing worship to become a much more embodied experience.So, let’s get back to where this reflection started.  The service for Worldwide Communion on October 5th will focus on the Christians of Syria.  When this group was chosen by the Worship Council in April I don’t think any of us anticipated how gruesome the situation would become.  In this service we will see the faces of the Christians of Syria, we will experience worship as it is celebrated in their Eastern Orthodox tradition with candles, incense  and bells.  Even the bread is being prepared as it would be in Syria.  The hope is that we will be able to pray with greater understanding and   empathy for those whose very lives are threatened because of their beliefs.In November we will mark the centennial of the start of World War 1, most often referred to as The Great War.  We dug deep, with the help of the United Church Archivist, to find worship materials from services in 1914 to use in our Remembrance Sunday service.  It is not hard to find play and musicals, museum shows and TV specials devoted to this anniversary.  It was supposed to be the war to end all wars but we know how terribly wrong that was.  For me, especially, I am looking forward to singing hymns that seldom find their way into worship anymore.  They are thought to be too militaristic or otherwise inappropriate for 21st century worship.  While this may be true, they speak to a time when the world was in crisis and people lived in fear; for themselves and the people they loved.  We’ll also include short vignettes of the lives of three people from that time.  In everything we have planned, we hope that God will be praised and a crucial point in human history will be remembered with dignity.Last we have Advent/Christmas.  This year we are going on a spiritual adventure complete with two explorers to show us the way.  The story of this season is so familiar that we know it by heart so the challenge in worship is to enable us to renew the spiritual experience within our own souls.  How can our faith be quickened or excited as we consider again the life of Jesus?  This is a huge challenge for the Worship Council, musicians and ministry staff each year.  There are no real surprises.  We must simply find a way to tell a story so that it gets under our skins.  It must energize us and ground us.  It is a moment when we have to discover anew why Jesus matters “to me”!So, that is what I was doing over the summer and why I have a unique vantage on what I am seeing and hearing on my travels.Blessings,Sharon

Categories: General News, Sharon