To enrich support and care for the bereaved by developing liturgical practices that sustain the faith of grief-stricken worshipers while remaining vibrant and inclusive of the whole church community.
Provide a brief summary of the purpose and goal of your grant.
For this past year, Lyons Evangelical Church has explored various ways that our congregation can publicly acknowledge and express grief during Divine Worship, in ways that are flexible for various personalities and 'stages' of grief, consistent with our "Evangelical & Reformed" theological tradition, and culturally meaningful and understandable. We have cultivated discussion around this theme in our Worship Committee, through special guest speakers, via an all-church retreat in which we 'tried out' numerous new songs of lament for use in worship, through discussion on our Church Council regarding the significance of our church's historic three cemeteries, and through theological & practical revival of our annual Totenfest celebration.
What questions have you asked about worship in the past year?
- What cultural attitudes and practices regarding grief - and particularly, public expressions thereof - can be affirmed and utilized in our worship, and conversely, which ones need to be challenged, subverted, transformed and replaced?
- What resources in our church's liturgical and theological tradition can serve as the best 'potting soil' for explaining why new songs, practices, and liturgies are being employed in regards to #1? Given that our church has a 150 year history, what stories and habits that were present in different seasons of the church life can be drawn to the fore once again and remembered as a basis for change and fuller, more worshipful expression of grief?
In what ways has your project engaged your congregation so that it impacts the worship life and habits of the congregation?
First, initially our worship retreat was for worship committee members, but a much wider interest was expressed. We opened it to all members, and 35 (of our then active 70 members) gathered to reflect, share stories, listen to speakers, & sing together. Learning a list of new songs at the retreat boosted our ability to 'stretch' our Sunday AM singing habits in subsequent weeks. Second, discussions began in our Worship Committee but throughout the year stretched into Congregational Care & Evangelism Committees as well. Third, bereaved saints became "experts" driving new ideas - for example, a GriefShare ministry has been birthed from this year's discussions (beginning Aug 2022), led by a mother who lost her 10 year old child 5 years ago.
What criteria have you used to evaluate your plan to foster vital worship?
Because we are a small church (now about 120 in attendance for Sunday worship), a primary criteria is the feedback discussions that happen just after our services. Myself (as Minister) and our leaders listen for what stirred biblical reflection, moved the heart, reminded of God's faithfulness, and (re-)connected friends across time and geography. In choosing our 11 new worship songs, theological criteria has been utilized. Our speakers were selected in order to provide coverage of three aspects of worship and grief: visual expression, musical/singing expression, and spoken narrative / testimony.
What issues have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?
Though this year has been one of numerical growth for our church (i.e., ~40 new members join in the past year), yet one of our leaders on the worship committee near the beginning of this process resigned in August 2022, absenting themselves from this process. This individual's choice remained a sensitive pastoral dynamic throughout the year, and positively, it served as an ongoing reminder that not all of our members will be able to engage grief (theirs & others). Another surprise, that has turned into a wonderful future project, was learning of our congregation's concern and pride in our historic three cemeteries. This grant prompted a project for 2023 to connect with historic families, fundraise and beautify these three sites of memory.
What would you like to share with other Project Directors?
We began this process with a sketched-out plan, and we have steadily included, enfolded, emphasized and brainstormed about this issue of grief in worship. As a result, we have on hand a larger group of songs for Sunday morning that fit our style and theology, have strengthened the connection (& clarified the distinction) between our worship planning and congregational care, will launch a GriefShare ministry (we will offer the closest group within 30 miles of our church) in Aug 2022, have initiated what we hope will become an annual worship retreat, have raised the importance of visual arts in our church buildings, have birthed a cemetery renewal project, and have formulated many new ideas for an annual Totenfest celebration. Thank you!