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Filling 'The Sermon Slot'

I became a 'Lay Worship Leader' in the Winchester Diocese in April 2005.

In practice, this has meant taking usually monthly services of Matins (when Mothering Sunday, Remembrance Day and so on do not take precedence).

Our training consisted of seven evenings in successive weeks, after which we were commissioned by the bishop. It was impressed on us that we were on no account to bless, absolve or preach to the congregation (functions which were all reserved for the priesthood). Not blessing and not absolving were easy enough - we could adapt prayers so that we were praying on behalf of the congregation, usually with the congregation, for God to absolve and bless us all.

In the hope that it may help anyone new to taking services, I offer some practical considerations that have helped me:

  • Avoid, in the words of Noel Coward, 'falling over the furniture': wear rubber-soled shoes, for example.
  • Wear a microphone if possible: even if you can speak loudly, without one the congregation may feel you are shouting at them.
  • The congregation may be obliged to juggle between a service booklet, pew sheet and hymn book, but you will feel much more confident if you have your own booklet with the service, hymns, readings - and even the ad libs - all included.
  • I have a standard template to which I add each month the downloaded bible readings & hymns, psalm and collect. I then print on A4 paper; for a 12-sided booklet you get your printer to print pages 12,1 - with 2,11 on the reverse; then 10,3 - with 4,9 on the reverse; and finally 8,5 - with 6,7 on the reverse. This then folds into a booklet (you will need a long-armed stapler). If this seems too complicated, simply print as normal and then fold and insert each page into plastic envelopes in an A5 folder, which is a comfortable size to hold.
  • Avoid any suggestion of ego-tripping: e.g. do not go up into the pulpit, and consider sitting in the nave rather than in the priest's chair, or -unthinkably- the bishop's throne if you have one. For the same reason, try to involve as many of the congregation as possible in the service: anyone can go up to the altar to receive the collection, for example, it does not have to be you. The reading of my 'thought for the day' is shared between three people. (And - unworthy thought - it all adds to the congregation numbers!)
  • You will also learn from feedback from the congregation, both positive and negative - I was surprised by the amount of both but, as always, a spoonful of sugar helps the critical medicine go down.


See also under 'Sunday by Sunday' a description of the use of the 'thought for the day' format and quotations as one possible way of meeting the 'not preaching' requirement.

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