Seasonal

Preparing for Summer (Year A)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons: Year A 2020, copyright © 2019 Augsburg Fortress.

Preaching

Summer preaching is a great time to reframe how God continues to make a claim on the beloved community of the church against all odds. God’s persistence in the life of the church is truly a treasure! Accounts of Jesus forming his followers through storytelling and with mighty acts inspire us to persevere and even flourish.

Jeremiah the prophet was compelled to speak even though he had no assurance that his words would have any effect (Lectionary 12/13, June 21/28). The great fertility of God’s word produces fruit like rain promotes crop growth (Lectionary 15, July 12). In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds, we are to shine like the sun even when weeds are planted because God is the gardener and God will reap what is sown (Lectionary 16, July 19).

Maybe your congregation has a community garden whose produce is given to hungry people. Perhaps there is one person in your congregation with an amazing gift for hospitality who knows how to welcome newcomers. Maybe your youth take time for a mission trip. These are all examples of the beloved community following in the ways of Jesus. Talk about them in preaching.

Jesus promotes a singular focus on what he calls the “kingdom of heaven.” Parable after parable speaks about glorious things coming from a small seed, a little yeast, or a treasure hidden in a field (Lectionary 17, July 26). Jesus brings the abundance of God to a hungry crowd with just a little bread and a couple of fish (Lectionary 18, August 2). God works in small, hidden things here and now. What are the gifts that we have received that look small but really are not small? What treasures are hidden in our communities that spark the imagination to see the kingdom of heaven right in front of us?

Preaching close to the summer texts can reveal a sense of awe in Jesus’ command of wind and wave, his healing power, and his own identity as the one who saves. Notice the disciples’ fear of the storm at sea and their mistaking Jesus for a ghost. Notice Peter, the “Rock,” sinking into the water before being pulled out by the hand of Jesus. And then see how those in the boat worshiped Jesus (Lectionary 19, August 9). Weaving this narrative into our own patterns of fear and doubt, how might we be reassured by Jesus’ attention to the fearful, terrified ones in the rocking boat? How do we experience Jesus attending to our doubts? How can we receive his power and presence in the tumult of our lives, and how does such receiving lead us to worship?

The beloved community we call the church is continually being shaped by its attention to the word of God. Each day, and particularly on Sunday, our baptismal callings are formed in Christ for life. Despite our setbacks, misunderstandings, or distractions, God continues to come close. The prophet Isaiah declares that “the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord” (Isa. 51:3; Lectionary 21, August 23). We are given a precious gift through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We might find renewal in this gift in the summertime. And we might receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Intercessory Prayer

Summer is often a time of fewer people in church, a more informal atmosphere, and less programming around worship. So it’s a great time to try out different ways of praying or simply work toward more lay leadership in the form you already use.

If you currently use the weekly petitions provided in Sundays and Seasons with little adaptation, you could stick with that while also developing a pattern of lay prayer leadership. People might be more willing to do this for the first time if it’s explicitly cast as summer experimentation. You could give individuals and teams the weekly Sundays and Seasons petitions and ask them to add each week (1) something current from the news and (2) something local. The “something local” could be either an ongoing issue and the people addressing it (refugee resettlement, opioid addiction) or references to the seasons, weather, and environment.

Alternatively, you could give prayer writers guidelines for crafting the intercessions, such as Gail Ramshaw’s Praying for the Whole World: A Handbook for Intercessors (Augsburg Fortress, 2016). Or give them a topical outline with the six foci of our prayer: the church in all its forms worldwide, the earth/environment, the nations/society, this congregation, those in particular need, and our communion with those who have died. You might also encourage them to use one or more cycles of prayer (see some examples in “Preparing for the Time after Epiphany”), praying in turn for various missionaries or for social service or other nonprofit organizations supported by the congregation or its members.

Depending on the makeup of the congregation, you might assign a month or a week of prayers to individuals, families/households, small groups within the congregation (Bible study group, women’s group, VBS participants), or teams formed for prayer writing. Teams could well include children, teenagers, and the elderly homebound. If you have laypersons who bring communion to folks who are homebound or in care facilities, the communion visitor and the visitee could be a team to draft one or more petitions for the next week’s prayers. Not all visitors/visitees will be up for this, but when the homebound person is thoughtful and “with it,” they might enjoy the challenge. Ideally, some of the people who have experimented with prayer writing during the summer will be willing to continue this ministry into the program year.

Here are a few other summer prayer experiments you might try:

  • Sung prayer refrains. The choir may now be sitting scattered through the assembly and can help support its singing!
  • Bidding prayer. This form of prayer leaves silent space for the assembly to pray for what has been named. The leader may say, “I ask your prayers for justice and peace in the world.” After a period of silence, the leader says the lead-in to the assembly’s response. Since many of us are so uneasy in silence, it might help to have some sort of music accompany the space for prayer: a singing bowl, a gentle gong or chime, or an instrument repeating a short melody.
  • Visual symbols. Adults or kids could choose or create a symbol for each of the six prayer categories (a clear bowl of water for church, a potted plant for the earth, a globe for the nations), and someone could hold up each symbol in turn to help focus prayer. (Invite the assembly to keep eyes open in this case so the symbols don’t go unseen.)
  • Encourage the assembly’s own prayers. Invite the assembly to voice the names of those who are sick. Then start including other categories to name aloud: their own godchildren, nations where there is conflict, places dealing with natural disaster, communities still recovering from tragedies long out of the news, children in unsafe situations, and so on.

Assembly Song

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” say the lyrics of a familiar song. But summertime is not always easy for musicians, choirs, and leaders of song as we take breaks, travel, rest, and enjoy the long days of this season. Your usual leadership may not be available, and each week could bring a change in available resources. But take comfort! This really is an age-old challenge; even J. S. Bach composed some cantatas for one singer or a handful of instruments when resources were scarce. So, use what you have and rejoice in one, many, or, well, just you! Pull out a few beloved and known pieces of music for preludes and postludes. Take a break and enjoy those favorites again. Or if summer brings extra time to practice, what a great opportunity to work on something special and have it under your fingers for the upcoming year.

Summer is a wonderful chance to include all those who are available, from singers to instrumentalists to anyone who wants to join you in leading the church’s song. Often during this season, we experience both droughts and floods when it comes to musicians. Explore Evangelical Lutheran Worship’s Holy Communion Setting Eight with the help of Paul Friesen-Carper’s ensemble setting (Augsburg Fortress, 2015). These arrangements allow you to include every singer and almost every instrument available. Invite those in your assembly who can read music to attend a rehearsal and coaching session at the start of summer (or several during). Give them music in advance. Then, have them join you when they are able and create a summer band, choir, and/or orchestra. Some weeks you will have more participants, some weeks fewer. Just make sure you are well rehearsed in your own vocal part and/or leadership at the keyboard. Make sure you practice leading the song before you teach others to lead with you! Even the most experienced musicians sometimes forget that.

Intergenerational choirs and song leaders are another wonderful summer tool. Children who have attended camp or Vacation Bible School could sing songs from that experience and then teach them to the assembly. You could also add impromptu percussion or even dance to a simple gospel acclamation. Consider using “Halle, halle, hallelujah” (ELW 172), which can be led by organ, band, piano, or even a cappella voices. Children could use simple egg shakers or hand drums, and adults could shake their keys along with the music. Be creative. A simple box can make a drum. Fill a container with dried beans and you have a simple shaker instrument that anyone can play.

Summer is also a great time to explore singing a response during the prayers of intercession. Conclude each petition with “. . . we sing and pray” or “Lord, hear our song.” Both Evangelical Lutheran Worship’s Service Music section (#178–180) and the Hear Our Prayer collection (Augsburg Fortress, 2007) contain excellent sung prayer responses and, in the latter resource, guidance on how to lead them successfully. You might also use a simple hymn refrain that fits the day’s lectionary texts or your assembly’s resources.

Worship Space

Renewing worship space for the summer months might start with the practical. Does worship attendance increase or decrease? Does seating need to be added or removed? If seating is fixed, and attendance decreases, rope off sections and encourage the assembly to sit closer together for more robust congregational song and voice and the strengthening of fellowship. Are music ministries on break over the summer? If possible, refresh their space. For example, don’t leave bell tables up all summer that won’t be used for months. Find a new seasonal use for the space—for children or a configuration for special summer musicians. As you shift or reconfigure space, take the opportunity to declutter both worship space and common areas. We can become immune to noticing our own clutter, but visitors will not be immune, and a clean, well-tended space communicates both welcome and care for God’s house.

Many Sunday school and faith formation programs take a break over the summer, allowing for a time of planning and renewal. Yet this sometimes sends the message that there isn’t anything for children on Sunday mornings. Find ways to communicate that children are welcome, wanted, expected, and needed in worship over the summer. Refresh or create areas for children in worship. Set up an eye-level display of children’s Bibles inviting kids to pick one and take it with them into worship. If possible, buy new children’s Bibles (the Spark Story Bible, Whirl Story Bible, Frolic First Bible, and Frolic Preschool Bible, all available from Augsburg Fortress, are excellent choices). If you offer children’s activity bags, refresh and restock their contents. Try out a “pray-ground” in an area that is unused in the summer. A pray-ground is a designated space for children that encourages them to be in worship while also engaging them in child-friendly ways (toys, small chairs, large children’s rug, books). Plan liturgical elements that engage children. Set out a bowl of egg shakers and other child-friendly percussion instruments. Greeters or ushers can invite children to take an instrument and play for a designated hymn.

In the summer green season, celebrate growth, fruitfulness, and the beauty of God’s creation. Instead of purchasing flowers from a florist, in summer months have gardeners in the congregation bring in arrangements of flowers or colorful plants.

Find a large glass or plastic bowl and set it where people will see it as they come in to worship. Add to it each week items that relate to the gospel such as coins, a water cup, plastic pearls, seeds, grains of wheat, a rock. This makes for an easy intro into a children’s time: “What was (new) in the bowl today?” Or each week, before or after worship, invite children to draw one of these items with chalk on a sidewalk near your building. Draw worshipers’ attention to these images as they enter or leave.

An easy way to include the assembly in creating art for worship is with large illustrated coloring posters (see illustratedchildrensministry.com). Tape the poster to a table and invite people to color on it before or after worship, at a special summer event, during youth events, or at any church gathering, and then display it in your worship space for the summer season. Even if your group doesn’t fully finish the coloring project, hang it up and use it as a reminder that we are all works in progress and that God is continually shaping and growing us.

Seasonal Checklist

If summer worship and education schedules change, update 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). Use Blessing and Sending for Mission (Occasional Services for the Assembly, pp. 159–60) on the Sunday prior to departure. Consider inviting participants to assist with worship leadership upon completion of their program.

Use Farewell and Godspeed (ELW, p. 75) when people leave the congregation to move to a new community or to bid farewell to graduates leaving for college, other study, or other opportunities.

Encourage people to worship with a local congregation while traveling. Publicize the “Find a Congregation” tool at elca.org so that travelers can research churches in the places they are visiting.

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 or fall—freshly baked communion bread, community garden, food drive, etc.

Find musicians to serve as cantors or to play instruments if your regular music leaders will be taking a break over the summer.

If you intend to offer a back-to-school blessing or blessing of workers on Labor/Labour Day weekend, begin planning and advertising now.

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 2020 date and planning resources). Begin organizing service projects and advertise the schedule for the day.

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From sundaysandseasons.com.

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