Tag Archives: service

Lessons and Carols for Small Churches

Lessons and Carols for Small Churches

Someone asked for a hymn based lessons and carols format for churches with small or no choir. Here is a template of one that I have used in the past.

Entrance Hymn “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”
Opening Prayer
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
First Lesson Genesis 3:8-5, 17-19
“Once In Royal David’s City”
Second Lesson Isaiah 11:1-3a, 4a-9
“Away In A Manger”
Third Lesson Luke 1:26-38
“The Snow Lay On The Ground”
Fourth Lesson Luke 2:1-7
“Angels From the Realms of Glory”
Fifth Lesson Luke 2:8-16
“What Child Is This”
Sixth Lesson Matthew 2:1-12
“We Three Kings”
Seventh Lesson John 1:1-14
“Silent Night”
Recessional “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Other carols to consider: “Joy To The World,” “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day,” “Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” any Advent hymn or, you can substitute any solo or a choral anthem the choir is working on.


Barter Ministry

Here is a barter ministry idea for churches.  Your church would create its own barter system based upon a service provided by a member with no value placed on the service or the time spent, just a credit.  Here some examples:

I give you a piano lesson.
You dog sit for someone.
That person bakes cookies for a shut in.
A person drives someone to a doctor’s appointment.
Someone else baby sits for a few hours.
Someone repairs a leaky faucet.
A woman offers a dance class twice a week.
A glazier replaces a window.
Someone changes oil.
Someone donates an hour of house cleaning.
A farmer offers a day of horseback riding.

All those services, regardless of time or skill, are worth a single point and don’t cost the recipient anything unless there are materials needed such as plumbing or carpentry.  Each church would have to tweak or limit time intensive events like building a deck.

Everyone banks their points and is able to redeem them from anyone who enrolls in the program.  This may or may not be applicable to regular liturgical, church or service to the church activities such as coffee hour, ushering, cleaning, donating flowers, etcetera.  It would work best between people rather than “the church” unless you want to include service to the church as a service to the community.   YMMV.

A program such as this would greatly serve the poor but could tax the handyman (who would gain mega points, though) and  everyone could list what they are willing to offer in services and limitations.  There are two ways to promote service.  A church can have its members make a list of services they are willing to offer and someone with a need can check the list and contact that person.  The other way is to allow people to list their wants and a provider can contact them to offer that service.  Both lists would work very well simultaneously.

Each individual church would need to tweak their own by-laws and perform a few months of dry runs followed by circadian by-law updates to fix bugs, disadvantages and services offered.  It could be maintained online, in a book or by an individual.  The organizer could create a formal receipt which will be turned in to them who then updates the points.  This is not a barter from person to person but to the community.

If I only offer piano lessons and nobody takes me up on that, I will bank no points so it would behoove me to offer other services such as house sitting, shoveling snow or dog walking.  And of course, I can’t offer plumbing services if there is no proof that I know anything about plumbing (although I do do my own).

So If I give you a piano lesson and earn a credit, I don’t have to barter specifically with you in return for a service.  I can use that credit to take a dance lesson or have someone clean my house and they in return don’t have to barter with me.  The bylaws can be tweaked in a myriad of ways such as, one is able to give their credits to another person or a certain service is worth two credits.  Maybe there would be a limit on how many credits you may give or receive each week.  

Ultimately this program would work best if nobody puts a value on their service and looks simply to serve.  It would be a great opportunity for a congregation to build community, serve one another and be Christ for one another.

Thoughts On Choosing Music For a Liturgy

I am often asked how I go about selecting music for each Mass.  The answer is actually quite complicated on a whole but it is easy when broken down into individual components which I employ or consider on a regular basis. 

I worked in a Roman Catholic Church for fifteen years and played for five Masses each weekend.  While serving this parish, I really honed my knowledge and familiarity with the Lectionary.  There are three years in a cycle.  Year A, B and C.  Each Sunday of each year has its own readings.  For instance, a specific Sunday in year A will have three readings and a Psalm.  Year B, the same calendar day will have different readings, and likewise for Year C.  The collection of pre-selected readings come from a book called “The Lectionary.”  It is a collection of scripture organized and sorted for each Sunday of the year for three years.  That means, every three years you will hear the same reading.  There are however a few exceptions to the rule.

The priest at this church where I served for fifteen years took his homilies out of a book that some theologian wrote.  No, his homilies were not his own, he did not write them, they were canned.  But, they were good.  I had my own personal copy of the Lectionary and during each Mass for the entire 15 years of service, I would scribble in the margins and stuff it with post-it notes about the music I used, what the congregation responded well to, what went well with the readings or the homily and what the homily was about, etcetera.  Over the years Father would marvel about how flawlessly I could match the readings and even to his homily.  He credited the Holy Spirit. 

So in planning music, the first method I would consider is what I call “ACTS.” – If I choose a hymn or song from each the the following categories, Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication (ACTS), I can’t miss.  Many hymn books come with a thematic index.  Even so, it isn’t difficult to grasp the theme of a hymn by reading it carefully and prayerfully.  Many hymns may also encompass multiple topics.  When you choose hymns for the average liturgy in the order of ACST, you can’t go wrong.  That is one method.

I aslo take into consideration the season. If you schedule Christmas hymns during the Christmas season, most liturgist will be forgiving if it is casually chosen.  The same applies to a Lenten song during Lent or an Advent song during Advent (which is not Christmas).  Of course, the exception to this rule is planning music to accompany sacramental action.   Just keep in mind that every seasonal song may actually have a place on specific Sundays of its season.  “On Jordan’s Bank” is an Advent hymn but works well on the Second or Third Sunday of Advent or even on the feast day of the Baptism of Jesus. 

Thematic.  Sometimes a pastor will preach on a theme and often for several consecutive weeks, so, I’ll go along with them.  Having regular meetings with the pastor to discuss the seasons, readings and community dynamics can be a great tool.

I also choose music based upon what the worshiping community may need to sing (we are what we sing).  For instance, I once played for a church which was opposing a parole shelter or halfway house from moving in next door (who wants sinners coming to our church?) so in consultation with the pastor I scheduled “All are Welcome,” “The Summons,” “Amazing Grace,” and “God has Chosen Me” for about four weeks straight.  It is not enough to ask God for forgiveness if we can not forgive others.  The giving of money, going to church or even serving on a committee to the church does not free people from the responsibility to forgive. The act of forgiveness is very hard, but, very easy.   Despite our protestations, the shelter went in and the parolees  became wonderful tenants.  Not only did they attend our church, but they performed many community service projects on our building and a few of them became members, got married and started families in our congregation.  We lost some of our more pious members but we can now sing “All are Welcome” and mean it, and know it, and live it.  It was a true transubstantiation.  Even the haters are welcome back if they are willing to forgive themselves for, adoration leaves no room for pride.

Of course, I would always first consult the Lectionary for the readings. Some liturgists use the Lectionary for what I call “Eureka Planning.”  That is when you read the scripture for a particular day and can match it to the text of a hymn.  For instance, on the second Sunday of Easter, Years A, B AND C, the scripture reading is about Jesus appearing to Thomas and Thomas doubts that it is really Jesus so Jesus invites him to place his hand to the wound in his side.  A perfect hymn or song to sing here would be “We Walk By Faith” which echoes that scene in the third verse.  I may use an upbeat setting of that hymn for the opening to foreshadow what will be heard in the readings.  I may use it for after the homily to augment what I know the pastor may break open in Word.  The possibilities are endless.  That can be the most frustrating part of planning.  You can have fifteen songs which would be perfect for any one Mass but you only need four. 

I have eclectic tastes and usually program music so that there is something for everybody at every liturgy crossing instrumentation and genre.  During the hymns and songs, I am always cognizant of the congregation and their level of participation.  If they really like a song or are moving along to it, I make note of it.  If they aren’t, I make note of it but then try to analyze why and then figure out how I can fix whatever may be wrong.  Of course, some organists can’t do this from their balcony aeries with their backs to the congregation and 54 ranks of pipes staring them in the face.

I also think that each liturgy should be a production and that each person should leave the service a different person than when they came in. That is easy to do if you can encourage them to sing one song or let out one “woot.” At least on a cellular level they will have taken a deeper breath, oxygenated their blood, and they may even zap a few brain cells, leaving with a clearer mind or more energy. Singing has the power to physically change a person and for the better because it does aid in the oxygenation of the blood which does wake up the brain and that is why it is a crucial tool at the disposal of every pastoral musician.  A congregation that sings, goes out into the world as better people – a transubstantiation.

If your church uses the Revised Common Lectionary, it is easy to choose music based on the scheduled readings.  I would plan a tentative schedule for an entire year.  If the pastor chooses the readings, I will schedule music as far as he plans but would then lean toward seasonal planning. 

Just to recap, there are six criteria to consider: 
A. What the congregation knows; Not the same as what you like.
B. How quickly they learn;
C. What are the needs of the assembly, congregation and outside community. 
D. Seasonal songs
E. Topical and thematic songs and/or requests from the pastor
F. The Lectionary

Keep in mind that there are also dozens of websites, many are denominational or publisher based, where selections of suitable songs and hymns have already been mapped out for you.  Just as a pastor can have canned homilies, your selections can be canned.  Generally, if you use them, you can’t go wrong.  The difference is like giving someone  cash for their birthday as opposed to giving them a handmade gift or something you picked out yourself.  If you use a planning guide to choose your music, it will be good.  If you do your homework, work with the pastor, the parish and the people, it will be better. 

If worse comes to worse, there are hundreds of church musicians who post their music schedules online for their choir members and the world to see.  Steal them.

When choosing music for a choir or soloist, it is pretty much the same as the aforementioned with a few added components of what is in the library, the budget and the skill level of the choir.  If your choir worships music and loves to perform, well, there you have it.  If the choir is in love with God, loves the people of the pew and, for them, music is not a ministry, but a tool to ministry, the sky is the limit.  Adoration leaves no room for pride. 

Preludes, postludes and offertories are also an expression of my faith.  I try to play something spirited, dynamic and engaging.  In one church I served, the pastor welcomed the people at the start of the service then he sat down and my prelude began.  Every prelude had to be something interesting since they all sat there and listened intently.  The postlude was the same, he invited them to sit and listen.  When I was finished they were invited to go out into the world to love and serve the Lord and each other.  One Sunday I played a still and quiet piece (which is rare for me) for the prelude.  Because they were accustomed to toccatas, fugues and a broad range of dynamics in the prelude, a little old lady came up to me after the service with her walker and said, “What the heck was that?  Don’t ever do that again.” 

Building Membership

A few weeks ago I began a litany of seven observations as to why people don’t go to church.  The first reason had to do with how we do our best to keep people out of our little social clubs.  The face of Christ is revealed in every person that we meet but I suspect that even He, given his politics and the people he hung out with would not be welcome in some of our houses of worship.  Here I will discuss a very simple solution.

How many hours per week did Jesus spend in the office? He didn’t. He went out to where the people were. That is what we and our clergy need to do. I knew a Presbyterian pastor who spent five days a week from 9 to 5 sequestered away in his office.  Most of his time was spent on homily preparation (which were quite boring).  His church is now closed.  In five years time, he brought no one into the church.

I also knew a priest who would prepare his homily on Saturday around three o’clock – one hour before the four o’clock mass.  His homilies were always magnificent and not because he was exceptionally good at extemporization, or that he quickly perused canned homilies for ideas, but because of how he spent his week; He was rarely in his office.  Instead, he was in everyone else’s office. When not in the rectory he was out visiting people. He attended every single event that was held at the church. If he couldn’t attend some gathering or meeting he would at least show up when it was over and always provided an opportunity to make himself available to the people. He knew everything going on in everyone’s life and when he preached on the weekend, he always incorporated stories of the people in the parish and how the life of the parish sinuously intersected with the Gospel teachings. His every waking moment was preparation for his homily and his homily was always a charge to to everyone to walk the Gospel walk.  It was all quite simple.  His church went from three Masses per week to five in a fifteen year span.  Two of them were standing room only.

Have you ever noticed how people love to talk about something which they are passionate about? Sports, movies, music, a trip, politics, their job, family? People love to talk about what they love.  The priest in the aforementioned story loved people.

I once attended a music convention for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians and I left re-energized and newly inspired to do my job. I came home from the week long convention and told everyone about it and invited them to join me next year. The following year, no one joined me and that was okay but when I came back, all I could do was to reiterate how magnificent the experience was.  The following year one of my choir members joined me and when she returned all she did was rave about how magnificent the convention was and how inspired she became.  Indeed she was a changed person and became more active in the church.  Not only in music but in other ministries as well. The following year three more choir members joined us and the next year four more people joined us and they were not even in the choir.  Not only were we reaching out to people but so were my choir members as they began talking about the convention to music directors and choir members from other churches.  One year we had about 35 people go to the convention.  Energy begets energy.

One of the conundrums that churches have is that they like to talk about their problems and issues. When Jesus stepped out of the boat and walked on water, he invited Peter to join him but Peter was skeptical.  When he saw the storm and the high waves, he had doubts and indeed he failed. That is what our churches do, too.  They look at the storm and they talk about their failure.  We need to feel as big as the sky because it is just a storm. Have you ever seen a storm on the ocean from a distance?   It is just a storm.  I’ve never seen a saddle fall off a horse so the church needs to learn to become one with the saddle.  To not be afraid of the storm, the horse or the saddle.  Ultimately, to be one with the Gospels.

So, some of us come up with new ideas and gimmicks in a churlish attempt to attract people to our churches and often times they fail. If not immediately, eventually. One of the reasons is our methods of PR. Putting an announcement in the church bulletin only reaches the people who come to church and who read the bulletin.   Many people are also not interested in our movie night because they have Netflix.  Others are not interested in our educational programs because either they are too busy or we fail to inspire them to apply what they learn from those programs.   Algebra and geometry are perfect examples.  If you teach only the formula, it is difficult to understand.  But, if you teach real world application, they become valuable tools.  Just ask any construction worker or home owner who likes to fixit themselves. 

There is a church who about 25 years ago had a women’s club who made it their mission to spend the year talking about their church to people in the community seven days a week. It could be a passing comment or an invitation, but they would talk about the church, the people, about the activities, the coffee hour, what they did as far as ministries and they wouldn’t be preachy about it, either. The church saw significant growth over a period of five years all because of simple physics: Energy begets energy. As people joined, they too, from example, talked about the church to other people, made invitations and even more people joined. Soon the church was filled with life and many active groups. Then they stopped their outreach and enjoyed the fruits of their labor. The children of that growth spurt are now grown up and gone, those new members are now elderly and the church is now struggling, not seeing any new growth.

It is not enough talk to our friends and family members. We already know them and they probably already go to church if not the same one.  We need to reach out to the stranger and the lepers among us. I never understood fear and prejudice, that’s not how I was raised but our parole shelters, AA meetings and food pantries are bursting at the seams with people who don’t go to church but may partake in its largess.  I know a wealthy church who sponsors a weekly soup kitchen and they serve about 200 people each week.  Strangely, none of those 200 attend that church.

Jesus sat with ordinary people. He even sat down with even the disreputable.  Public opinion was never a problem with Jesus. He was a genuine human person, a real brother to the poor, the weak, the sick, the alienated. He was not a benefactor, or a patron, or a philanthropist – but a brother. 

In this lies the greatness of Jesus. To have real power and influence one does not control or manipulate. One serves and builds and loves.   Some people may come for the movie night or the free food, but what will make them come back is the listening ear and the welcoming embrace.

Immanuel, a name which means “God is with us.”  It does not mean that God solves our problems, shows us the way out of our confusion, or offers answers for our many questions.  It means he is with us, willing to enter with us into our problems, confusions, and questions.  

I used to answer a suicide hotline and the first skill we were trained in was listening, being quiet and being present.  My greatest successes and breakthroughs were when I said nothing.  Henri Nouwen wrote, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”
We, do not aspire to suffer with others.  On the contrary, we develop methods and techniques that allow us to stay away from pain.  Hospitals, nursing homes, rest homes, funeral homes, they all often become places to hide the sick, the suffering, and the dead.   Suffering is unattractive, repelling and disgusting.  The less we are confronted with it, the better.  It is something we want to avoid at all cost.  Among some people, compassion is not among our most natural responses.

But, in times of trial, if someone were to say to us, “I do not know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you, that I will not leave you alone,” we have a friend through whom we can find consolation and comfort.

What really counts, is that in the moments of pain and suffering, someone stays with us.  More important than any particular action, or word of advice, is the simple presence of someone who cares.  They show solidarity with us by willingly entering the dark spaces
of our lives.  For this reason, they, like God, are the ones who bring hope and help us discover new directions.  From the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.”  Not because mourning is good, but because they shall be comforted.
  Do our churches comfort or have really good card parties and pot lucks? 

Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is dong what we need to do or is the right thing to do.  Even in the presence of fear.  Many people are afraid of bees because bees can sting and it hurts. Some people will even kill a bee on sight not realizing or, with little concern, that these industrious little insects are responsible for most of the fruit and vegetables which we consume on a daily basis. Something we hate and fear so much is also extremely valuable to us. Some of the people we hate and fear are strangers and lepers and, just like bees, they can bring value to our churches but first we need to go to where they are because they certainly won’t come to us.  They have a perception that the church is full of hypocrites.  Hate begets hate and the people who bash the church the most are the people whom the church has had a history of turning away.  It is simple social physics.  hate begets hate.  Energy begets energy.

My sister was a Jehovah’s Witness and instead of going door to door, she spent every day at the parole shelter assisting the men with transportation, support and navigating the DSS.  She brought over 50 men into her church. Some of them got jobs and some additionally got married in the church.  Many of them brought skills of construction, plumbing and electrical experience and volunteered their services to the church and its membership in appreciation for the kindness, grace and mercy it offered.  Energy begets energy.

I recently attended a one-day retreat where there was a panel of five clergy who talked about why they chose the church as their career.  A lot of the priests talked about their passion for Jesus.  One priest had an inner city church and talked of her (Episcopal) passion for the people.  At the end of the retreat, the panelists fielded questions from the assembled.   A question was asked “Is it possible to turn Jesus into a ‘Golden Idol?'”  The woman priest said “Absolutely. It is easy to worship the messenger but fail to hear his message.  Just look no further than the Crusades where we killed people in Jesus’ name.”   The only priest who passed on answering that question was one from an affluent parish who had admitted to have been attracted to the church because of his love for liturgy, pageantry, candles, mystery, couture finery, documents and education.  He never once mentioned people in any of his answers.

It was also interesting to note that none of the clergy had a eureka moment or were struck by lightning when they fell in love with church/Jesus/ministry.  They all said it was a gradual process. One salient life moment they all had in common was that  there was one person in each of their lives who first made an invitation.

I know, strangers can be scary to approach but some of the greatest saints were murderers first. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Imagine what could happen if all people did something. Jesus said in the book of Revelations that if a church is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, it is like spit in his mouth and he will spew it out.  I suspect that many churches today are lukewarm.

We turn to God when our foundations are shaking only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.  If the foundation of our churches are shaking we can let the walls crumble around us or we can go out into the world to get help. So with that in mind, do as St. Vincent de Paul suggests, “If a needy person requires medicine or other help during your prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind.  Offer that deed to God as your prayer.  Do not become upset or feel guilty because you use your prayer time to serve the poor.  God is not neglected if you leave him for real service.  You should prefer the service of the poor to making your prayer. For, it is not enough to love God, if, your neighbor does not also love  God.”

-Malcolm Kogut.