Billy Kluttz on Paperless Liturgy and Music

Sometimes not providing written or projected words and notes is the best way to make liturgy truly the work of the people. Paperless liturgy and paperless music can be great tools for including all ages and abilities in worship.

Billy Kluttz is the associate pastor of music and arts at Church of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia. He also coordinates Sunday evening worship at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia. Kluttz co-led a 2018 Vital Worship Grant project to create intergenerational worship services at senior housing communities in and around Washington, DC. In this edited conversation, he talks about using paperless liturgy and music in senior care and church settings.

Is paperless liturgy and music simply another way of describing screen projection in worship?

No. It refers to liturgical words and songs that are simple enough that everyone can participate. We teach them to each other, and we look at each other—instead of a screen or hymnal—while we sing or respond to the worship leader’s words. Paperless songs and liturgy are great tools for worship engagement because they are relational.

Where have you used paperless music?

I’ve used it in several Presbyterian (PCUSA) congregations in and near Washington, DC. We also used it during our Seabury Resources for Aging grant project. Our project, called Common Threads, was a four-part worship series that Elizabeth Boyd and I led at two senior residences. She is Seabury's congregational resources coordinator. Seabury provides personalized, affordable services and housing options for older adults in metro Washington, DC. It also works with DC-area congregations to make their faith communities more inclusive for older participants.

What do you appreciate about paperless music?

Paperless songs support a congregation’s youngest and oldest members. It allows those who cannot yet read, as well as those who struggle to see, to sing alongside the congregation. For our intergenerational Common Threads series, we invited people of all ages from partner congregations to worship with Seabury residents. We composed an original paperless song for these services and used it to open and close worship each night. Each week, we taught the song aurally without the use of printed music. By the end of each weekly service, everyone was humming the melody!

Did you adapt this concept at all for senior citizens?

Yes. Although most Seabury residents who participated are from independent living, many live with memory, cognitive, or physical challenges. We printed large versions of the song lyrics and incorporated them into the liturgical decorations at each table to reinforce the learning and aid anyone with memory loss.

Must worship leaders be skilled music composers to use paperless music?

Not really. There are lots of great resources online for finding paperless songs for your community, such as Music that Makes Community. You can also create an easy paperless song for your congregation by choosing one line from a favorite hymn.

Why and how do you use paperless liturgy?

Similar to paperless songs, paperless liturgy facilitates everyone’s participation in worship services. In Common Threads, the paperless liturgy took three main forms: consistent response, call and response, and improvisation.

In consistent response liturgy, the worship leader begins by telling the congregation what its response will be. It should be something simple and easily remembered. The Common Threads series focused on themes common to every life journey: joy, sorrow, hope, and change. The change-themed service was based on Ecclesiastes 1:4–11. Our consistent response that evening was, “Things come, and things go.” We had the congregation practice the response once before continuing the liturgy. The congregation repeats the same line throughout, so even if people don’t memorize it immediately, they catch on quickly.

It helps to add a gesture, sound, movement, whistling, or clapping to the consistent response. So, if the liturgy is about working hard, you can involve the congregation by pantomiming digging while they say something simple, like “the work is our prayer, and our prayer is our work.” Anything will do. Consistent response liturgies offer lots of room to get creative!

What's an example of call and response in paperless liturgy?

In call and response, the congregation follows nonverbal cues to repeat what the worship leader just said. I often lead this type of liturgy by saying, “Repeat after me.” I’ll hold my hands close to my chest while I say my lines, then I’ll open my arms and hands to indicate that they should repeat after me. Here’s an example from the Common Threads communion liturgy:

Worship leader: You are invited (hands clasped together)
Many: You are invited (Worship leader’s hands opened out to the congregation)
Worship leader: You are needed (hands clasped together)
Many: You are needed (Worship leader’s hands opened out to the congregation)
Worship leader: You are wanted (hands clasped together)
Many: You are wanted (Worship leader’s hands opened out to the congregation)
Worship leader: You aren’t just invited; you are needed. You aren’t just welcomed; you are vital.
[Continue with the full liturgy until it’s time to repeat those phrases again.]

And how do you use improvised responses in paperless liturgy?

Worship leaders generally memorize pre-written openings or special cues to make room for improvised responses from worshipers. We intentionally left room for improv during our Common Threads worship series. We would invite the congregation to share a word or a short phrase during the liturgy itself.

Here’s an example from our Common Threads communion liturgy. The leader would say, “And so, I wonder, when was God present in your joy? I invite you to share—silently or aloud—a word or phrase that reminds you of God’s presence in your stories of joy.” Of course, we changed the word joy to sorrow or change or hope, depending on the weekly theme.

What do a worship leader and congregation need to succeed with paperless liturgy and music?

It requires trust between the worship leader and the congregation. When you are introducing a new worship practice, check your own emotions first. If you tacitly signal your discomfort or uncertainty in teaching or introducing a new practice, your congregants will pick up on the silent cues. Also, call and response requires a combination of consistent response and an increased reliance on gestures and eye contact. 

Finally, don't assume that age correlates with willingness to try new things in worship! Some of our most creative worship practices (paperless liturgy, improv drumming, paperless singing) have been most readily embraced by our oldest participants.

LEARN MORE

Browse dozens of songs in the Music that Makes Community database. Read Singing in Community: Paperless Music for Worship by Augsburg Fortress. Most songs from Taizé Community are meditative and easy to learn by heart.

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