â€˜O Lord, is it Sunday already!?'
(Some help with worship design)
By Marcia McFee
Do you have an intentional process for preparing worship that feeds your creative spirit rather than depletes it? When we create something, we usually have a process to follow: a recipe, a blueprint, a storyboard. Without these, the tasks sometimes become overwhelming or unpredictable.
When we embark on creating meaningful and memorable worship that is part of a community's spiritual journey over time, we also need a process to help guide our work. It will help worship design be more life-giving for staff and worship teams and more disciple-forming for our worshiping communities, whatever the size.
I use three very important concepts â€“ anchor, frames and thread â€“ in my Worship Design Studio, an online planning resource for churches (www.marciamcfee.com). The bedrock of my creative process, they make preparing worship fun, manageable (and even inspiring).
Whether I'm creating for a very small church or gathering, or at a large church or event such as General Conference 2012, these design terms pave the way!
Symbols and metaphors are the basic language of our worship and faith narrative, helping us grasp big concepts in tangible ways. For example, water is a sign of the renewing power of God. We connect to that concept through our everyday experiences with water.
An anchor is an essential starting point whenever I design, a tangible metaphor from life that can connect us to the theme of our worship and our faith story. Rich enough to offer many variations, it literally "anchors" us throughout a liturgical season or sermon series. It can come out of the lectionary or be associated with a non-lectionary theme.
During General Conference, we will worship in a space that is on the shoreline in Tampa, Fla. Using "shoreline" as an anchor for all of our worship offers many possibilities: We "set sail" into new horizons of ministry. We "weather storms" on the sea. We recall many stories of Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee â€“ including his calling his first disciples there.
Exploring and researching how an anchor image will speak powerfully of the work of God in our lives brings me endless inspiration!
Frames contain the overarching theme, much as a storyboard does for filmmakers.
Once I have a theme and anchor image, then I title the season and create titles for each of the worship experiences â€“ essentially creating a theme and sub-themes. This helps me conceive of the movement from one worship experience to the next.
I also write a two- or three-sentence synopsis about each service, including a main scripture focus, to inform my teammates (Yes! Have a team!) who will be helping me gather possible music, visuals, liturgy and ritual actions.
For General Conference, the Gospel of Mark became fodder for frames. Jesus is constantly at the shore â€“ calling, teaching, healing, getting into boats, walking on water, calming the sea. These stories are natural frames for the movement from one worship experience to the next, as we are a community "in the boat together" and "riding out the storms with Jesus."
Threads are elements that repeat (perhaps with variation) each week. They create a rhythm for the season and unite the whole.
These can come in the form of visuals created for the whole season or that morph slightly throughout, music that repeats (maybe a theme song) or liturgy, such as using the same spoken response each week. Threads offer continuity and familiarity, allowing congregants to enter worship more deeply each week.
Morning prayer each day of General Conference will begin with singing a beautiful new song that says, "Shall we gather... at the water of God's grace? At the shoreline... at the water... can you hear the voice of God? Saying... follow me..." Although new, this musical thread will become a familiar and daily reminder that at the shoreline we are called to follow Jesus. Visual threads will also be found throughout the series, surrounding and immersing us in the story that forms us as disciples and calls us to "go and do likewise" in the world.
An intentional process of worship design allows us to give our best creative selves, to offer memorable, deep and rich imagery and life-transforming ways of telling the story that is ours as disciples of Jesus. It allows us to be faithful to the spiritual journeys of our congregations.
Marcia McFee, director of worship and music for General Conference 2012, is a worship designer and leader for conferences and a consultant to local churches. She offers training online and at workshops across the United States and in her hometown at Lake Tahoe. Learn more at www.marciamcfee.com.
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