Still Small Voice 6: How to prepare a liturgy

Submitted by SCM on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 12:02
in Prayer

Welcome to the 'Still Small Voice' blog series, a round up of blogs sharing approaches to prayer, suggesting ideas and thinking about how prayer and contemplation relates to action.

So, you’ve just remembered it’s your turn to prepare the prayer for the end of SCM on Tuesday. Where to start?

Who: know your ‘audience’ – likes, dislikes, usual ways of doing things etc. You don’t need to stick to the status quo, but it’s good to know what it is before you throw it out the window. Some groups don’t like change, some group love it, either way it’s good to know. (If you want to introduce new stuff to a group who are quite set in their ways, it can be best to meet them halfway – e.g. introducing one new song in a service and keeping the rest as songs they know) Also consider how the group can interact with the liturgy – you’ll lose people if they have to just sit and listen to someone talk for 10 minutes (unless you’re a really engaging preacher!).

What: know your theme – you might be given one by the group, or be left to come up with one yourself. For inspiration, remember ‘TONGS’ :

  • Term theme (does what it says on the tin)
  • Other sources (found a prayer or reading that you want to use?)
  • News (focus on something happening in the wider world)
  • Group (is there anything important happening in the life of the group?)
  • Season or lectionary (is it Lent etc? what are the lectionary readings?)

When: know your seasons – summer, winter, Advent, harvest, morning, evening all have their own feel – for example, traditionally morning is a time for praise, evening for thanksgiving, and night time for confession. (The season can even be your theme – which is killing two birds with one stone) (Please don’t kill any birds).

How: know your format – are you fitting into the usual format for worship used by the group? If not, you might want to try : ‘Approach, Listening, Response’. You can also look at other liturgies for inspiration (for a traditional format see the morning and evening prayer liturgies of the major denominations, which you’ll be able to track down easily on the interweb).

Where: know your space – when you’re thinking about the format of a liturgy, bear in mind any physical restrictions you’ll be dealing with (e.g. sitting in a circle can be difficult in a church with fixed pews). Think about providing a visual focus for worship according to what theme you have chosen. Also consider how accessible the liturgy is (e.g. it will be hard for some to sit on the floor, children and candles are not necessarily the best combination etc)

Why: know your place – worship is not a performance. It isn’t about proving how clever you are with words (this will serve as a reminder from the authors to themselves) - it is an offering. In the words used at the collection in the Methodist service “...all thing come from You, and of your own we give You” (other people probably say something pretty similar).

Sometimes it’s a case of adapting a ready-made liturgy for your group. Sometimes you’ll want to write your own liturgy from scratch. We mostly fall somewhere between the two. Two points on this front:

1) If you’re going to write your own liturgy, practice. Also, think about different formats. Doing some normal writing exercises can be good, to develop your writing style etc. But, please, don’t go all over-perfectionistic on us – creativity is a messy business.

2) If you are using other people’s prayers, look at lots of different formats, styles, sources etc. There is a vibrant diversity of liturgy in print, don’t limit yourself!

By Holly McGuigan and George Walsh

You can find the other blogs in the Still Small Voice series here:


Tags: contemplationresourcessubversive