Seasonal

Preparing for Summer (Year B)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2018, Year B, copyright © 2017 Augsburg Fortress.

Summer allows for creativity in worship style and leadership. This is partly due to the fact that there are no major church holidays or liturgical seasons between Holy Trinity Sunday and Reformation Sunday. It is also due to the fact that, in North America, schools are on summer vacation. Students, staff, teachers, and parents have different expectations of what this season’s routines will be. Many of your members are likely to be traveling, and the congregation may be sending groups to church camp or on mission trips. Take advantage of the flexibility of summer to try some new things!

Ordinary Summer Time

Many of your members may be out of town for part of the summer. Encourage them to worship wherever they may be and to share ideas gleaned elsewhere with you. Confirmation students might bring back bulletins or complete sermon notes while in other congregations to count toward their education requirements. Members could be invited to post photos of themselves at various churches on your congregation’s social media platforms. Consider creating a hashtag for folks to use while sharing travel photos online, or give them a small sign to hold in pictures, saying “XYZ Church was here!”

While celebrating these travels with people, don’t forget about those folks who are only around in the summertime. Is your congregation located near a popular summer vacation destination? Do you have “snowbirds” who travel south for the winter but will be around full time during these summer months? Find ways to engage whoever is present in the ministries of the church this summer. If attendance in your congregation tends to decrease in the summer months, be sure that those who are present are still told that they are important! Don’t neglect your regular worshipers and the routine of weekly worship.

Also be attentive to those who “can’t afford” summer—parents who must work full time while their children are out of school, but can’t afford expensive camps or day care programs. (See nytimes.com/2016/06/05/sunday-review/the-families-that-cant-afford-summer.html for an excellent article on this topic.) You might consider offering vacation Bible school free of charge to accommodate all families or asking your teenage members or adults to provide activity days at the church periodically so parents can have a safe place to bring their children.

Extreme Summer Time

Often summer is seen as a time of growth, life, and abundance. With long hours of sunshine and the peak of the growing season throughout North America, it is easy to focus on the beautiful side of summer. Don’t forget those who have a more difficult time. Summer can bring extreme heat, wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Watch the news and remember in prayer those people and places affected by natural disasters. Plan to offer opportunities for your congregation to give financially or to volunteer as needs arise. Consider how your building could be used as sanctuary for those who do not have air-conditioning in their homes, or whose homes have been flooded.

Commemorations or Local Celebrations

There are a number of lesser festivals and commemorations during the summer months, but after Holy Trinity Sunday, the color of the paraments will be green throughout this stretch of the time after Pentecost. You might draw attention to those lesser festivals and commemorations or schedule local celebrations such as a church picnic, the anniversary of the congregation’s founding, the honoring of charter members, or a class reunion for recent new members. If your congregation celebrated Mother’s Day, remember to also plan a celebration for Father’s Day on June 17.

Summer is a wonderful time to have a joint worship service with other faith communities in your area. You might worship together on Memorial Day, Labor Day, or a Sunday close to the Fourth of July. If your members are unaware of the existence of full communion partnerships with other Christian denominations, a joint worship service can be a time to bring those to light. You could find a neutral worship space like a neighborhood park, or plan to worship in their sanctuary this summer and yours next summer.

Worship Space

If your worship space has movable seating, try a new configuration for summer. Be attentive to where sunlight enters your space during worship times so that worshipers and worship leaders don’t have the sun in their eyes. Consider doing something different with the paraments or banners or whatever other decorations you normally have in the worship space. Maybe your quilting group or Sunday school students or a particularly crafty member could refresh the summer worship environment this year. Search the basement or attic—are there pieces of artwork, communion ware, or paraments that could be brought out and displayed again for this season or reimagined into new art for the community?

If your building has a chapel or an old sanctuary that has been repurposed in more recent remodels, perhaps you could try worshiping in that other space for a while. If you have multiple worship services on Sunday, try holding the smaller one in the alternate location. Hold a Monday evening prayer service in the alternate space to reach folks who may be away over the weekend. Using various places in the building for worship can remind your congregation that God can be worshiped in any location at any time.

Lectionary Themes

The Revised Common Lectionary offers two options for Old Testament readings and psalms in these months—a complementary series that is meant to underscore the themes of the gospel for the day and a semicontinuous series that works its way through 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings before moving on to Wisdom literature (with psalms that relate to these readings). If you use the semicontinuous series, you could prepare a sermon series or Bible study on the Old Testament books that will be read in worship. The goals of the lectionary are best realized when one series or the other is used consistently throughout the time after Pentecost. The complementary series is recommended for use in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; resources such as Sundays and Seasons are designed to support that recommendation.

This season’s gospel readings share stories from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Later in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus will predict his own suffering and death, but in these chapters, the reader is still getting to know him through his teachings. There are miracle stories and parables, and there is also conflict with the Pharisees and with Jesus’ own family. Many of the passages from Mark are familiar and have parallels in Matthew or Luke. Read the gospel for each Sunday carefully to be sure that your worship plans are based on Mark’s version of these stories rather than a harmonized version of the story or the version told by another evangelist. You might begin your worship preparation by reading Mark 2–6 straight through to get a feel for the tone of this evangelist and his style of storytelling.

Throughout the time after Pentecost, the second reading moves through several of the epistles. This could lead to a focus on one letter for several weeks in a row. You might offer a sermon series on 2 Corinthians or Ephesians, or plan a Bible study on one or both of these books, so that when people hear the readings in worship, they will find deeper meaning in the texts.

Bread of Life

The gospel readings for the last five weeks of summer are from John 6, in which Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people, walks on water, and describes himself as the bread of life in great detail and theological richness. The connections with communion are obvious, as Jesus calls himself bread and commands his followers to eat his flesh. If your congregation does not celebrate weekly communion, this is a good opportunity to begin or try out the practice.

Other connections can easily be made with holy communion. If you usually use wafers for communion, find someone to bake bread for these weeks. You could offer communion instruction for children or those new to the faith to learn about the meaning of the sacrament.

If Jesus is the bread of life, then our calling as Christians is to share that bread with others. This would be a good time to highlight any feeding ministries of the congregation (food pantry, free meals, sponsored meals through other organizations). You might collect a special offering to support these ministries or use the opportunity to begin a new ministry for feeding the hungry in your community. Summer months are generally sparse times for food pantries, and school meal programs are on hiatus, so these readings from John 6 might provide much-needed inspiration for a food drive.

Summer is gardening season for many people. While Jesus talked about being the bread of life, in reality people need more than bread to survive. Fresh produce can be difficult to come by for low-income people. Would your congregation be willing to host a farmers’ market or offer a place for folks to bring their excess produce to share with others? If you have space on your property, you might consider planting a community garden. Maybe you could partner with a food pantry and supply it with donations of fresh food each week. Sharing food is a concrete way to honor Jesus’ teachings in this gospel passage.

Music and Liturgy

There are ten musical settings for Holy Communion in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Your congregation might try one that is less familiar during the summer months—the season is long enough to learn it well. The Kyrie may be omitted for the time after Pentecost, so a cantor would not be needed for that portion of the liturgy. Setting Ten is quite easy to sing, even for guests or infrequent worshipers, because the sung portions of the liturgy are set to familiar hymn tunes.

Choirs and other musical ensembles often take a break over the summer. Instrumental music and vocal music are powerful ways to experience God, so work with music staff and congregation members to find other sources of musical offerings for the summer. Would a different choir member be willing to sing a solo each week? Are your high school students able to share their gifts on the oboe or violin? Do any of your regular worshipers have relatives who are musicians and plan to be in town for a visit this summer? Recruit creatively!

Regardless of the presence of a choir or other musicians, alternate ways are available to celebrate God’s word through music. If you don’t normally sing the psalm, this might be the time to try it. If you don’t have a cantor to lead the psalm, divide the congregation into two sections to sing antiphonally. Music can be added to worship with a sung response to the prayers of intercession, such as “Lord, listen to your children praying” (ELW 752) or “O Lord, hear my prayer” (ELW 751).

Seasonal Checklist

  •  If your worship times change for summer, be sure that all the relevant places are updated: websites, social media, newspaper listings, answering machine messages, outdoor signs, and internal publications such as a newsletter.
  •  Schedule and plan commissioning services for any special ministries organized by the congregation (vacation Bible school, mission trips, church camps). Consider inviting participants to help with worship leadership upon completion of their program.
  •  Prepare printed signs for people to hold in photos, or create hashtags to be used on social media posts by your people who may be traveling, so they can remain connected to your community even from a distance.
  •  If you are planning to use a different worship space or to rearrange your existing space, find volunteers to help with moving furniture and preparing the visual environment. Consult with musicians, ushers, and altar guild members about the practical needs of a worship space.
  •  Recruit volunteers for any special ministries you may be starting this summer—freshly baked communion bread, community garden, food drive, etc.
  •  Find musicians to serve as cantor or to offer special music if your regular music leaders will be taking a break for the summer.
  •  Secure park reservations, rent sound equipment, and work out other details if you’re having outdoor worship. Will you need a license to serve alcohol if you’re celebrating holy communion? Will you need a sound permit?
  •  Summer is the time to make plans for “God’s work. Our hands” Sunday, if your congregation plans to participate. This annual day of service is generally scheduled for a Sunday in early September (check elca.org for the 2018 date). Begin organizing service projects and advertise the schedule for the day. See elca.org for resources.

From sundaysandseasons.com.

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