I would like to find a number of persons who would be interested in trying out what I think is a new way of planning worship services for Methodist Churches in the U. K. It would be aiming toward a Sunday after Pentecost 2018. We would coordinate so that each church planned for a different Sunday.
It would involve getting a group of persons from a local congregation together long before Pentecost comes around. They would look at the three lectionary readings assigned for their Sunday. First would be studying them to understand their meaning for the Biblical author: what did he mean? Why did he write it? Why did his churches need to hear it?
The next stage would be to decide which reading or readings have something to say to your people. Don’t feel the need to use more than one. You want to focus. This is a critical point of the process. Spend lots of time on it. It would be helpful to note that when the earliest Christians met, this was their focus.
A little historical background here. The earliest followers of Jesus met weekly, as we do. They were faced with figuring out how to follow Jesus in an Empire that had values opposed to the Kingdom Jesus had spoken of and was crucified by the Empire for preaching. They worshipped years before the Gospels were written. If they were lucky someone visiting would have run into a letter of Paul’s which they copied and shared, that is, if they knew how to read. Occasionally the congregation would hear a sermon from someone so gifted.
Other than that, they followed what Paul suggests in First Corinthians, “To sum it up, my friends: when you meet for worship, each of you contributing a hymn, some instruction, a revelation…” (He also added “an ecstatic utterance or its interpretation”, which I left out here for fear of providing a red herring.) So the regular worship was not provided from the top by a preacher, lay or ordained. It came from the bottom. It was a contributing congregation, not a passive audience.
I’m not sure any Methodist congregation is ready to go that far, especially every Sunday. But- if you have a group planning a service on the basis of creating a dialogue between the wisdom of the lectionary reading and the life situations of a congregation struggling with being members of the Kingdom of God in an empire that is not friendly to Kingdom values- I think a congregation could handle that. I’m an American Methodist. But I’ve noticed that circuit plans have what they call ‘Local Arrangements’, where I think this would be appropriate. In those early days the congregation met on Sunday evening, at the end of a work day. Maybe you would want to do this for the Sunday evening service.
It would be possible for groups working on a service for a particular Sunday to share their process and product with the other groups that are doing it.
(These are some preliminary thoughts. I need several of you with a heart for worship to help me sharpen this up and flesh it out. Anyone interested?)