Sunday 24 May 2015

I attended St. Aidan’s again last Sunday. It was Pentecost Sunday, celebrated on this occasion with the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. The paper doves from the week before’s café worship were on show, suspended from balloons filled with helium floating above us or hanging from items of furniture and interior architecture. There was a similar mixture of ages present as at the café worship.

The structure of this service, not surprisingly, followed a more traditional reformed pattern than the café service. There were two hymns, the second being sung in two segments, the first after the baptism and the second segment at the close of the service. The music was provided by a pianist, and the pianist also played some “music for the soul” after the reflection. Congregational responses provided opportunities for congregational participation throughout the service. The congregation was also invited to share the peace with one another using a response projected on the screen. Again children were involved in carrying the Bible and taking up the offering. The children stayed in for the whole service.

The baptism was an adult baptism. Roxy’s reflection for the day was on the significance of baptism and its part in believing and belonging. It prepared the congregation for the administration of the sacrament. The candidate for baptism was supported by her family and by members of the congregation. She was presented with a lighted candle, lit from the Christ candle, to symbolise her passing from darkness into the light of Christ. After her baptism, she gave a moving testimony of how important receiving this sacrament was to her, having grown up under Communism in the former Soviet Union. It was a sobering reminder for us not to take our baptism for granted.

The liturgy for the sacrament of Communion was a “responsive” liturgy with plenty of participation from the congregation. Communion is celebrated monthly at St. Aidan’s. Communion wafers were used instead of pieces of fresh bread. The bread and wine were served using “intinction,” a method where the bread (wafer) is dipped in the wine and consumed. People came forward and formed two lines – there were two serving stations. This method enabled the congregation to be served reasonably quickly.

As well as the actual worship, the service also included a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing new elders and electing congregation members for the Ministry Settlement Board being formed. It dovetailed nicely into a service that emphasised among other things the life of the St. Aidan’s community, part of the body of Christ.

Sunday 17 May 2015

I attended café worship at St. Aidan’s Presbyterian Church, Northcote last Sunday. I chose St. Aidan’s because it has developed a monthly cycle of four different styles of worship, café worship being one of them. The service started at 10:00 a.m. and was preceded by a shared breakfast in the church foyer at 9:30 a.m. The church provided cereal, fruit, toast and drinks, and members also brought a contribution, such as pancakes or muffins, to share. The shared breakfast was a good opportunity for community building.

The café worship itself was organised around a theme – on this Sunday it was “Who do you think you are?” with a particular focus on the people of St. Aidan’s and their forebears in faith. The themes for the year’s café services are chosen as part of the planning process for worship services in the preceding December. The worship unfolded following a written order of service, including an opening and closing hymn. The church was set up like a café with people sitting in small groups around tables, with 3-6 people at each table. There was a mix of ages present, a number over 65 but with a cluster of younger adults and also 6-8 children and young people. It was obvious that this style of worship appealed to a range of ages. The relative informality, the flexible seating and the opportunities for participation clearly strike the right note.

The service began with a welcome and candle lighting, the candle being lit by one of the young people. The opening hymn was followed by a Prayer of Thanksgiving – in this case a Prayer of Thanksgiving for St. Aidan’s using the letters of the alphabet to organise the prayer. After the selection of Scripture readings, Alf and Roxy (the minister and ministry intern) presented a brief overview of global and local church history under the title “Looking at our DNA.” This overview was crafted in such a way as to involve a number of the congregation. This led into a time of conversation (“Table Talk 1”) in which those present were asked to compile a list at each table of the things people valued about belonging to St. Aidan’s. This provided a good opportunity for small group conversations to take place. A time was included for feedback, and the report sheets were then gathered up to be used in preparing a new parish profile.

After sharing the peace and taking up and dedicating the offering there was a second opportunity for table conversation, this one called “Table Talk 2.” This time people were given a paper outline of a dove and asked to write on the dove how they experienced the Spirit at St. Aidan’s. This too generated quite a bit of table conversation. The doves were then gathered up to be used in the following Sunday’s Pentecost service. The service concluded with “Prayers for Others,” notices on the weeks activities at St. Aidan’s, a closing hymn and a blessing.

St. Aidan’s is an accredited “Kids Friendly” church, and this style of worship is one of the ways it includes children and young people in worship. They are included, for example, in the table conversation, and they are also involved in bringing in the Bible, the candle lighting and taking up the offering. I think the key learning for me is that this kind of service is a good way of working across the generations.

Sunday 10 May 2015

I attended worship at Mairangi & Castor Bays Presbyterian Church last Sunday. I went primarily to speak on our Vanuatu mission project and got a good reception. It gave me the chance, though, to observe worship in a church of a similar size and ethos to our own. The visit thus had a spin-off for one aspect of what I am looking at on my sabbatical leave.

This church has many ‘grey heads’ (committed, faithful people) like ours, but it also has a cluster of younger children (more than we have) and this was reflected in the shape of the early part of the service. It also reflects the decision of the parish in 2013 to become a ‘Kids Friendly’ accredited church.

The order of service (printed and projected on screen) was similar to ours, but it did have some interesting differences, and I mention these now. The service began with the entry of the Bible and a welcome and notices. Two Bibles were carried in, one by the duty elder and one (a children’s Bible) by one of the children. This was the first of elements of the service involving children. The next was the ‘Lighting of the Christ Candle’ after the opening hymn, and it was followed by a brief congregational response led by the child lighting the candle.

The first notable difference was the inclusion of a ‘Community Time’ after the candle lighting. It provided an opportunity to emphasise upcoming church events, as well as to focus on things important for belonging to a community. As it was ‘Mothers’ Day’ the focus of this community time was on mothers and mother figures in the lives of the congregation. Some of the mothers present were asked to respond on what is special about being a mother. I am drawn to the concept of a ‘Community Time’ – we need reminders that we are a community at worship, and we need time to celebrate the things that are important to us as a community. It also more goes beyond being just a time for people to greet each other (which we do well now at Stanmore Bay).

The ‘Community Time’ was followed by the offering and dedication – children as well as adults were involved in taking up the offering. I liked the Prayer of Dedication, which made reference to the offering also being used “to maintain our community of faith.” The Lord’s Prayer and a second hymn came next after the dedication of the offering.

A ‘Family Time’ centred on the children came next. It started with asking the children to mention what is special about their mothers, and getting a range of responses. It was linked into the day’s Scripture reading, John 15:9-17 (especially vv. 12-14). This led into talk about washing of clothes and Caleb introduced the children to washing clothes in a basin ‘Vanuatu style’ with a practical demonstration. All good fun! The children then went to their activities as the congregation sang a short song ending with the request that the children might choose to follow and live in Jesus’ way.

The service then continued with a Scripture reading, a third hymn, and the message (a video clip and a PowerPoint presentation on our Vanuatu mission with the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union). The service proceeded after that with ‘Prayers for Ourselves and Others,’ and closed with a final hymn and the Benediction and Threefold Amen.

There were two key learnings for me: the ways the children were involved in the worship, and the inclusion of a ‘Community Time’ as part of worship.