January 26, 2020
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
When Celebration Circle decided to invite the mission groups of Seekers Church to bring the Word to worship during this Epiphany season, we knew that would require us to bring a Word some Sunday about our own call and how we support the call of the mission group to “… energize and structure the worship life of the Seekers Church, and provide a place for spiritual accountability and growth for each other.”
We didn’t review all the Scripture lessons for the season before settling on this date, but when I did that later, I thought the Psalm for today harmonizes with our vision for worship here:
One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent: he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! [Psalm 27:4-7]
From the beginning, our life as a faith community has been focused around coming together for worship and dispersing for service in many different missions, ministries and callings within other organizations. For us, worship is the fire in the clearing that draws us together and the warm blanket we take with us as we go out to do God’s work in the world.
Celebration Circle is one of the longest-living mission groups in Seekers Church. From our beginning in 1976 Sonya Dyer invited others from the community to work with her to organize our worship services.
Our call guides our life together. We’d like to share it with you now.
(CC members read call in unison)
We are called by God to energize and structure the worship life of the Seekers Church and provide a place for spiritual accountability and growth for each other. In many ways, worship is the heart of our community experience, the time when we come together to celebrate the presence of God in our lives. In worship, our faith is deepened by the corporate witness to God’s love. Worship is corporate testimony to the theological journey of the community.
We believe worship is a way to connect our individual and corporate lives, ministries and gifts to God’s power. We believe the community gathers to worship and celebrate and to be empowered for the daily living of the gospel message. As a mission group, Celebration Circle seeks to raise up in the worship experience those issues of concern to us as God’s servant people. We want to allow God to speak through our work, which includes preparing liturgies for Sunday worship, inviting Seekers and others to preach during worship, coordinating and developing weekly and special services, educating the community for inclusive worship, and preparing the chapel, altar and worship materials.
Celebration Circle at Work
As part of our call we write Seekers’ worship liturgies, plan and coordinate worship and other celebrations, and coordinate preaching. Our work is some combination of what is traditionally done by ministers, worship committees and altar guilds. We try to live out that part of the call of Seekers Church to come “…together in weekly worship rooted in the Biblical faith, with shared leadership…” so that we can “…disperse with a common commitment to understand and implement Christian servanthood in the structures in which we live our lives.”
During our weekly mission group meetings, we select themes for worship based on the lectionary and concerns in the life of the community, compose the liturgies and special rituals, schedule the preachers and work with them to select the hymns and music, and plan the altar table. Wednesday evenings are busy, lively times. Our work together helps us confront our assumptions about God and face our prejudices about worship.
In addition to our corporate mission, we provide a place of support and spiritual accountability for the members of the group. We can usually find the time to celebrate birthdays and share each other’s’ joys and sorrows.
We want to give all Seekers the opportunities they desire to contribute to our worship life. We welcome offerings of leadership and suggestions about how Seekers’ worship can be improved so that, in worship, we are “…empowering others within the normal structures of our daily lives (work; family and primary relationships; and citizenship) as well as through special structures for service and witness.”
We welcome your ideas, and your experience, and your questions.
Getting the Work Done
Let us turn now to the questions of “who does all that work, and how do we get it done?
Celebration Circle meets weekly, on Wednesday evenings. During our two hours together, we make time for worship, personal sharing, exchange of spiritual reports, celebration of birthdays and other life milestones, and whatever work is needed to support the worship life of Seekers. That work includes selecting themes for worship based on the lectionary and concerns in the life of the community, composing the liturgies and special rituals, scheduling the preachers and working with them to select the hymns and music, planning the worship environment, and designing and producing the bulletin covers which include some visual reference to the theme and are used, like the liturgy, throughout the season.
The elements that we value in writing liturgy begin with inclusive images and names for God that are grounded both in scripture and in the everyday experiences of 21st century, western people. We strive for a poetic, liturgical language that is close to ordinary speech yet sensitive to rhythm and meter, to what a person or a group can easily say in a single breath, to words and sounds that roll effortlessly off the tongue rather than acting as stumbling blocks. We search for images that are concrete and immediate, allowing the metaphors and theological insights to arise naturally from our observations. We attend to both the glory of God’s creation and the wonders of human invention and lament the disasters that come from both. Whenever possible, we use short, descriptive words that are rooted in the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, rather than complicated, conceptual, polysyllabic words that are more at home in the theoretical, theological, or therapeutic worlds.
Shaping The Liturgy
Preparing a fresh liturgy for each season takes several weeks. Here is an outline of the process. We begin by finding a working theme. This season’s theme, “The Wholeness of What Is to Come,“ emerged from a group brainstorm imagining current events and images from the approaching natural season and the lessons for all weeks of the season. We look for strong images that raise questions rather than reinforce doctrinal answers. By the end of this first week’s meeting we’ve settled on a working theme for the season.
At our next meeting we select the reflection paragraph. Our homework for that meeting is to comb through all kinds of resources – Scripture, poetry, quotation sources, articles and books, looking for short, readable quotes that will invite further reflection. Sometimes we have 25 or 30 quotes to sift through, sharing our personal reflections until a theme emerges through consensus. Then, each of us chooses a portion of the liturgy to write: opening prayer, confession and assurance (drafted together to maintain cohesion), bidding prayers for thanksgiving and intercession, the great thanksgiving in communion to link with the rest of the liturgy, and the benediction. During the week each author sends their new part to me so I can format the full draft for our group edit.
Our next meeting is devoted to editing the draft, a sometimes stormy process as we struggle to bring some harmony to all that creative diversity. By the end of this group edit I’m often unable to remember which part I drafted. (What a blessing!) Along the way we also update the lectionary handout so everyone in the congregation will have easy reference to the lessons we will be contemplating during the season.
Somewhere in here we take the time to develop an altar installation and bulletin cover that, we hope, will encourage more reflection on the theme. I just finished organizing our collection of bulletin covers, going back to 1976 when we crossed into the New Lands and started worshipping as “The Seekers.” The collection is in the closet in the library. I’ve left some samples on the altar table if you’d like to take a look after the service.
In and around our work on the liturgy, we’re nurturing the rest of our worship life, scheduling preachers, coordinating music with Liz, Glen and other musicians, working in special celebrations and blessings.
On Sundays, we arrange the worship space and coordinate the different parts of the morning. One member of the group usually leads the gathering circle, and another usually serves as the liturgist, while others stand ready to find someone to light the altar candle, invite someone to receive the offering or pick up other loose ends. It can be a full plate.
Brainstorm a Worship Theme For Lent
To give you more than a verbal picture of our work, we decided to invite all of us to be part of the beginning of preparation of our worship liturgy for Lent. Last week we invited you to read all the scriptures we will be focusing on for the seven weeks of Lent this year so all of us could get a glimpse of how the process begins, with an open “brainstorm” to raise up fresh ideas and images. (Pull out the easel..)
When we do this in Celebration Circle we try hard NOT to judge or argue, just explore the possibilities.
In our brainstorm sessions we focus on three sources: Creation, community, and the collection of scripture passages we will be reading during the season. That’s the period between February 26th and April 12th – between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
Let’s begin today, as we do each season in Celebration Circle with the global/national, “creation level. Please offer your ideas with enough space in between for me to write them down. (3 Minutes)
Now let’s turn to what we can expect here at Seekers as we turn from Winter to Spring, late February to mid-March. (3 Minutes)
And finally, what did you see in the scriptures for this Lenten season that stand out for you? (3 Minutes)
(Read the notes)
Thanks! The next step for us will be to let a worship theme emerge from these images. I suspect that would open up some lively conversation here this morning, but we just don’t have enough time today. But this does give us a good start!
As you can probably imagine from these few minutes, this process can get pretty animated. For as long as I’ve been using this approach to writing liturgies – in the 38 years since 1982 – I’ve discovered a lot about the challenge of being made in the image of God, and living with justice and compassion given the knowledge of good and evil. That’s the kind of seeking we hope to encourage through our worship here at Seekers.
To review, Celebration Circle is committed to maintaining a flexible but familiar framework for worship that offers a variety of opportunities for shared leadership. The group works to give all Seekers the opportunities they desire to contribute to our worship life. We welcome offerings of leadership and suggestions about how Seekers’ worship can be improved so that, in worship, we are, as the Call of Seekers Church proclaims, “…empowering others within the normal structures of our daily lives (work; family and primary relationships; and citizenship) as well as through special structures for service and witness.”
We try to maintain a steady form for worship, with changing content season by season. Our “Gathering Time” helps create awareness of our community; Using the common lectionary helps tie us to the wider Church; themes reflecting Scripture, nature, culture and community help link faith and action; extended silences invite deeper reflection; gender balance in worship leadership honors inclusive gender equality; shared leadership in preaching, music and art and tries to encourage constant creativity.
For our small band of about 60, worship is the fire in the clearing that draws us together, reassuring us that God is around us, among us and within us. Sparks fly when someone throws on a fresh log, and things get warmer. We have a mission group to keep watch and help each of us tend the fire in ways that fit our commitments and our capabilities. And when we leave worship and disperse with a common commitment to understand and implement Christian servanthood in the structures in which we live our lives, we want the experience of worship to be a warm blanket that protects us and those we serve against the cold, cruel world. If you feel some stirring of call to this community-building work, check with one of us.
As we often remind ourselves when harmony rises up through the chaos in unexpected ways: Thank God we’re in this together!