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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2004 Archives > January 2004 > Worship Model: Preparation and Service for Hanging of the Greens

Worship Model: Preparation and Service for Hanging of the Greens

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Each month, United Methodist seminary students—and others—will offer worship ideas for Sunday service and other special celebration. We hope pastors and worship leaders will use these fresh ideas from our seminaries.

Advance Preparation:

It is easy to make changes to the altar and surrounding area because so much focus is placed there during Sunday worship. Yet preparation can be more effective if done from the exterior of the worship space, through the entry and narthex, into the actual worship space or sanctuary. When done with simple, but proper planning, the seeker and long-time believer will notice that something has changed and expectation will begin to grow.

The Exterior:
When a person arrives in the parking lot with the intention of encountering God, what tools are available on the exterior of the worship grounds that could be used to transition the guest into the Advent Season?

* Update roadside signs with fresh greenery whenever possible or quality faux greenery when fresh is not available or not conducive to holding up to weather for several weeks. The addition will be noticed and will work as a draw inward. Also remember to update messages weekly on movable message signs. Use words of transition like "Something's Happening" or "He Is Coming" or ask provocative questions like "Are You Ready?" or "Have You Prepared for What is to Come?"
* Like other guests who arrive, walk up to the church entry noticing all that is said by the journey. Does it say, "Who cares?" or "Something special is about to happen around here!"? Add greenery over door lentils, a bountiful wreath full of color and bow, or topiaries on either side of the entry.

The Entry:
The moment your members and visitors arrive inside of God's House, the space begins to speak. The liturgy speaks light and life and new birth. Does the space coincide or clash?
* Have extra greeters for the Advent Season. Place one just inside the first set of doors (if you have multiple) and another at the next set. If you are in a colder climate have greeters offer to hold purses or bibles while people take off their coats or try to unwrap scarves and take off gloves. Be eager, excited, and full of life about what is to come within the inner sanctuary.
* Have a new welcome mat placed just within the most interior door. Be sure it is full of life and light. Don't think practical right now, think glorious! Put the black rubber mat in a storage room for a couple of weeks and bring out the bright printed poinsettia or the "Welcome to Our Home" mat.
* Wrap small white lights in clean lines that lead to the worship space. Allow them to be directional so that people follow their glow into the sanctuary. Look at your entry space and you will be surprised what forms are available to wrap the lights over and through.
* Clear tables of extra clutter that can be replaced after Christmas. Instead, use greenery with brilliant purple or deeply rich blue fabrics cascading over the edges of the tables, even billowing onto the floor. Go for quality, not quantitative clutter.

The Sanctuary
* Ask your musician to begin playing 15 minutes earlier than usual. Have music appropriate to that week's message quietly wafting through the air every Sunday leading up to the Christmas Eve worship.
* If you have other talented musicians in your congregation, ask them to commit to one of the Advent Sundays and play 15 minutes to a half an hour prior to worship in a soft, preparatory fashion for early arrivers. This allows for a different form of contemplation than normal.
* If banners hang all year, remove them now. If banners never hang, bring out a few that speak to the season. If banners are outdated and say all the wrong things, simply drape fabric along long empty walls, as it will warm the surface.
* If you have gifted artisans in your congregation, ask one to take just one symbol from your special bulletin covers or from the weekly message and create a focal point over the altar. This can be done on brown craft paper with chalk or pastels. Each week, the artwork can be removed to another spot in the sanctuary as the new symbol is placed over the altar. As Christmas arrives, the story is then told around the worship space.
* Place fresh greenery whenever possible, or quality faux greenery, around the altar space. Intersperse small white lights throughout as a way to lead the eye to the altar. Add nothing that detracts from the central altar area. Add only what enhances or leads one to it.
* Keep worldly, Christmas-y items out of the sanctuary. Red bows, peppermints, and reindeer can be enjoyed in our homes. God's Home is better adorned with splendid angels, the holy family, or bursts of stars, instead.
* Place your Advent wreath prominently before or on the altar with purpose. Offering plates can be removed from the altar for a few weeks, kept under a decorated tree of Chrismons and lights, or on a side table, and returned to the same location after offering is brought forward by ushers. (Remind ushers of the change!)

Sample Hanging of Greens Worship
Once all preparations have been thought out and arranged, a simple service can put them all into place. See attached sign up list for speakers and workers. One reader and several workers are needed per item that will be hung during the worship, depending on the size of your sanctuary and the amount of items to be hung within it. Open positions up to full families, singles, youth, small groups, lay speakers and others. Once all slots are filled by volunteers from the congregation, simply schedule a practice run-through by all participants the week before the worship. This smoothes out logistical bumps and makes everyone more comfortable with their contribution of reading or time.
Place all items to be hung in an adjoining room to the sanctuary or some where else out of site, but easily accessible as each are needed. Have readers sit in first several rows of sanctuary, as to lessen the amount of time approaching and returning to the altar area. As each grouping comes forward, the reader will approach the lectern while the others go directly for their items. Without a waiting period, the reader begins to read from a microphone while the others begin placing their item in the sanctuary. The microphone will need to be slightly raised in volume to be heard clearly over the low rustle and bustle of the items being hung. There is no talking among the workers who are hanging items. The congregation should be focused on the items being hung, yet be hearing clearly the explanation as the background. The two should weave together, not fight for the spotlight.

Praise songs or choruses from The Faith We Sing supplement to the hymnal may be sung.
* #2167 More Like You
* #2164 Sanctuary
* #2157 Come and Fill Our Hearts

Greeting & Prayer:
Focus on the preparation, the transition, and the glory that is to come.
* Example greeting - LEADER: You have come expecting.
PEOPLE: We come with hope!
* Example prayer - Glorious God of all peoples from all times, we come this morning expecting something wonderful. We come as your children in hope of all things that are possible through your Son, Jesus. We come as we are: broken, bruised, and worn, awaiting renewal, justice, and deep abiding love. We come to this place to worship you, O God. Come, revealing your Self to us. Amen.

Call to Worship:
Use a psalm or another lectionary text to formulate the call to worship. Lead the people into worship on a journey toward the scripture.
* Example call to worship based on Psalm 25, lectionary text for 1st Sunday of Advent.
LEADER: To you, O Lord, we lift up our souls. In you we trust.
PEOPLE: Do not let us be put to shame; do not let our enemies triumph over us.
LEADER: Make us to know your ways, O Lord. Teach us your paths.
PEOPLE: Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation.
LEADER: For you we wait all day long.
PEOPLE: Be mindful of your mercy and of your steadfast love.
LEADER: For all ages and all peoples wait upon you, O Lord.
PEOPLE: Do not remember the sins of our youth or our transgressions.
LEADER: For all ages and all peoples wait upon you, O Lord.
PEOPLE: Lead the humble in what is right, and teach the humble your way.
LEADER: For all ages and all peoples wait upon you, O Lord.
ALL: All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his
covenant and his decrees. Through the power and presence of Jesus. Amen.

Opening Hymn:
A song of grace and peace would be rightly placed here. The hearts of the people would then be better prepared to move into full worship. Several examples can be found in the United Methodist Hymnal.
* #206 I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
* #202 People, Look East
* #213 Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates

Use three texts interspersed throughout the following worship. This year's lectionaries tell the narrative, lift the excitement, and bring the hope that we will encounter God. Use first text here and others inserted between the readings to come.
* Hebrew Bible: Jeremiah 33.14-16
* Epistle to the Church: 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13
* Gospel Lesson: Luke 21.25-36

Act of Hanging of Greens:
Group by group, the adornments would enter the room with one person reading the historical/liturgical information about the item and why it is used, while the others in each group actually put the items in place. Depending on length of each to place, a verse or two of a familiar hymn that coincides with each item being placed, could be sung by the congregation after the reading was complete and before the hanging was done. (Another reason why a practice run-through is important...) If used during actual worship on the 1st Sunday in Advent, readings will need to be kept at varying lengths to provide the most adequate overall worship length. Give the congregation enough information to say "Aha!", but not so much they ask, "When will this end?"

Be sure to place readings in order of what makes sense for the hanging. For instance, the tree will need to be placed and a reading given on why trees are used in worship at Christmas, prior to the lights being hung. The lights need to be placed on the tree prior to the Chrismons. Think of the hanging as layers of a cake. The spray needs to be put on the pan before filling it with the cake mix and the mix before the frosting, etc. The hanging is no different. An example line-up could be -
* Greenery
* Christmas Tree
* Lights
* (additional scripture reading)
* Chrismons
* Poinsettias
* Advent Wreath
* (additional scripture reading)
* Candles
* Nativity

There are many resources available for the historical/liturgical readings on the web and in print for each of these items. Some excellent examples and resources are -
* The Hanging of the Greens: A unique inspirational worship service for Advent by Shirley Snyder. Shirley is a spouse of a United Methodist pastor and writes, produces, packs and ships from her home in Washington, PA.
* The United Methodist Book of Worship, pages 257-262
* The Special Days and Seasons of the Christian Year: How They Came About and How They are Observed by Christians Today, available through Cokesbury
* Worship Without Words: The Signs and Symbols of our Faith, Patricia S. Klein

Prayers & Praises of the People:
Once all the readings are complete and all the items have been hung, prayers and praises can be lifted in whatever form your congregation usually lifts them. If the tree is large enough, prayer/praise slips can be created ahead of time, trimmed four to a page, and given out by ushers when members and visitors are seated upon entry. At this time, they can be gathered by the children of the church, read (depending on the size of the congregation) and laid on the boughs of the tree between the Chrismons.

After the prayers/praises have been lifted, a pastoral prayer, the Lord's Prayer, or another may be given, followed by either one or two of these examples -
* BOW #260 Blessing of the Chrismon Tree
* BOW #261 Blessing of the Advent Wreath
* Lighting of the 1st Advent Candle, BOW #262 (first reading only)
* Closing Hymn #719 in United Methodist Hymnal, or another

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life lighting our way. Go with this assurance. Go with hope.

Final Thoughts
When given some time in planning and a good eye for the space given to worship in and around, a wonderfully spiritual hanging of greens can be experienced by all. Once the line up and historical/liturgical information is obtained, this basic hanging of greens worship can be used year after year as a new tradition in your church. New additions can be added and older ineffective items pulled out as the years pass by. Challenge youth and young adults to search the web for interesting facts about the items planned for hanging. Incorporate their finds in the readings as they begin to illuminate the basic structure that has been formed.

"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:28

Melany Chalker received her call while in the West Michigan Conference, though she currently is serving her fourth year as student pastor at Springville UMC in Onsted, Michigan, within the Detroit Conference. Melany will be graduating with an MDiv. /specializing in Liturgical Arts from Methodist Theological School in Ohio this coming May and will be working toward her goal of being ordained an elder for pastoral ministry.

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