Click on downloadables for the complete list of Advent resources.
As pastors and worship leaders, you have to live between two sets of demands. The right-now demands and the season-about-to-come-so-you-really-need-to-get-ready-at-the-same-time demands. Sound familiar?
Planning for holy seasons can feel especially anxious. You may worry: Am I doing enough? But prayerfully let go of the anxiety. God is at work. Trust the maps our tradition has provided. Remember the in-breaking of the good news is not all on your shoulders. Allow these reminders to gently guide you toward Advent.
1. Keep worship minimal and restrained. We need minimalism and restraint in Advent. To stand against our everything-all-the-time culture. So here are some wise reminders (not hard rules) from our tradition.
- Drain the baptismal font. And place it in the walking path of worshipers. The Advent: Altar Arts downloadable resource includes language for a sign that explains this practice. Experiencing the dryness now lets us experience the fullness of this sacrament in time.
- Keep the altar decorations minimal. Instead of greenery and flowers, start with a simple arrangement of dry sticks. Instead of a big Hanging of the Greens event, have worshipers replace the dead sticks with evergreens during worship. One week at a time or on the final Sunday of Advent.
- Hold off on the Christmas carols. And yes, this one is tough. Remember that the carols are never wrong or bad. But they may get in the way of our experiencing a bigger truth. One that’s outside of our control and schedule. Look in your hymnal for the Advent selections. Explain this practice to your congregation. Share your own experience/frustration. Ah, holy waiting.
2. Remember the penitential character of Advent. Include times of reflection and confession during this season. Telling the truth of the good news means being honest about our deepest laments, our greatest joys, and our actual lives. Being real. Not simply nice. God’s rescue seeks nothing less than to make things right for all creation. And that requires recognizing where we have gotten things wrong. See the Advent: Confessions downloadable resource. And remember that it can be pastor or laity led.
3. Build in silence. Silence is a crucial a doorway for entering into mystery. Prepare worshipers for it. Normalize that it is sometimes uncomfortable. Start with a minute. Or even 30 seconds! Grow it week by week. Ask worshipers what they notice. And remember that silence doesn’t always mean a complete lack of sound. The noises of children, for example, are holy songs.
4. Let the scripture lead. For Christmas worship, don’t invite lots of left-brained analysis. And don’t dilute worship with lots of extra words. Simply let worshipers enter the story. The scripture holds a mystery that exceeds our understanding. Let the reading of it become the culmination of worship.
5. Invite community reflection on the Spiritual Practice for this series. The resources include an Advent: Spiritual Practice downloadable guide. It’s for home practice throughout the entire season. Make copies. Hand them out. Often. Share them wherever you go. And start conversations about experiences with fasting and silence. During worship. Before/after worship. In the grocery story. Or in small groups.
6. Incorporate a Blue Christmas Prayer Station. Instructions for this are included in the Advent: Altar Arts downloadable resource. But it’s worth repeating here. The holiday season can be especially painful for folks already facing grief, loss, loneliness. Advent should not ignore pain or offer cheap holiday cheer. So set up a table with candles in the worship space. Invite worshipers to light a candle before/during/after worship to mark the reality of this ache before God. You can also open your space during the week to anyone in your community who needs sanctuary. Just as they are. Not forgotten. Because Emmanuel comes for them.
7. Invite in young musicians now. And plan a musical worship celebration for a Sunday after Christmas! Christmas music should not end on December 25th. Christmastide continues through January 9 (the Baptism of the Lord). Lots of aspiring students learn seasonal music, but have few places to offer it. College students with dusty instruments in the closet may come home willing to offer their gifts. Local musicians may simply enjoy celebrating with music—and maybe a good meal afterwards. So start asking and inviting now. Consider a community worship celebration for a Sunday after Christmas. A big hymn sing of all those wonderful carols—plus the sharing of any local musicians. God style: all welcomed, not based on age, credentials, or expertise. Start exploring this idea with your pastor or a lay leader today. Think musical potluck festival rather than a high-production event.
The resources mentioned throughout this blog are available by clicking on the downloadables tab at the top of this page. Problems with downloading? Contact Admin@SmallChurch.org. We’ll get back to you within 24 hours.
Other questions or challenges? Contact me directly: Teresa@SmallChurch.org. I cherish the conversations.
Thanks for your ministry,