Scripture Presentations: a Brief How-To
Scripture presentations can take any number of forms. At Not So Churchy, people have read, created songs or melodic refrains, choreographed movement, and incorporated props and dramatic techniques. Many more possibilities await. Each person approaches the work differently, drawing on their particular abilities and desires to learn. No single solution works for everyone, but here are some frequently asked questions and answers that may help get you started.
Q: How long is the process from start to finish?
A: Some of the pieces have come together in a flash, while others evolved over time, including instances where creators abandoned their first idea for something more promising. This is the nature of creating.
Q: How do I get started?
A: Though the timeline and process of creation can vary widely, here’s an outline of what you might expect.
Spend one night at home with the text and see where it arouses your interest, alarm, confusion, passion, anger — anything. Pay attention to those feelings and what they might inspire. Consider that your presentation needn’t solve any problems you see in the text. Identifying and accenting those problems can create insight.
Then, see what your intuition tells you about how you might present the passage. Your options include such things as . . .
Singing the text and having the congregation sing a refrain. Adding movement. Reading the text while someone else leads the congregation in movement or song. Making interesting use of the space—lighting candles or adding elements that accentuate your reading, positioning multiple readers or singers around the room.
You have any number of options, including things no one else has yet tried.
Spend one afternoon on your own or with a friend. Try some ideas. If you want to add song, try singing the text and see what ideas emerge. Sing them into voice memos. You can send those voice memos to a collaborator.
Or, if you want to add movement, see what your body wants to do as you read the text.
And so forth…
Workshop your piece with others. At Not So Churchy, we hold workshops on Saturdays, every four months. This gives you a chance to try out your ideas, no matter how unrealized they feel at the moment.
- After you digest what those at the workshop noticed, you can make adjustments and develop or simplify your presentation as needed.
- On the date of your presentation, rehearse your reading in the worship space with all of the musicians, readers, and organizers involved. At Not So Churchy, we rehearse ninety minutes before the service starts.
Q: What skills or training do I need?
A: Those of all skill levels, including those with no training at all, can do this. The most vital skill is one you already have— the ability to reflect upon what the scripture means to you. If you have particular skills you’d like to develop (songwriting, choreography, etc.), reach out to those you know or one of the team members or the pastor for help.
Q: What works/doesn’t work?
A: You’ll get specific insights as you create and then workshop your piece. As you start, however, you might consider three things that generally make things easier for the presenter and congregation:
- Room for breath (physical breath and mental breath, too)
Q: How much instruction will I need to give the congregation?
A: You’ll notice this in our time of workshop, but you’ll find that with a little practice on your part that the congregation can be wonderfully responsive to your intentions. We’ve learned that people are natural imitators. If a leader models an action or a melody and gestures, the congregation will do it. Workshop leaders and those with more experience can help you structure your presentation and use gestures so that the congregation follows you easily.
Q: Any tips for how to write a song if you’ve never had any musical training?
- Get the text of your reading and underline the phrases that inspire, infuriate, haunt, or otherwise stick with you.
- Pick up your cell phone and open the dictation software.
- Start singing those underlined phrases and see which ideas hold your attention.
- Remember the value of simplicity, repetition, and room for breath.
- Pay attention to ideas that feel surprising or unexpected.
- Remember that you can always ask the congregation to add harmony. They will!
- Remember that one short melodic refrain can set off an entire reading quite nicely. You needn’t compose music for the entire text (though you certainly could if you wanted).
Q: How do I get past my fears, including my fear of singing on my own in front of a group?
A: Several things:
- Recognize that this is a fairly universal anxiety.
- Reach out to musical friends for support.
- Recruit a collaborator, someone to watch and listen as you sing, or if you prefer, to sing with you.
- If singing in front of a group feels like too much, ask someone to sing on your behalf.
- Attend a song-leading workshop. Music That Makes Community holds these regularly. Check their calendar for opportunities near you.
- Finally, remember that your work is not to perform but to invite others into the scripture and to model the vulnerability we all crave.
Words of Advice
From Not So Churchy members who have already presented:
“It helped that I was surrounded by a community of encouraging people.”
“I realized I have inherent musicality, and I tapped into it. I sing and make up little songs all the time when I’m not thinking about it.”
“It helps to be in dialogue with your passage. Read the text. How does it speak? Maybe you’ll notice a refrain. Maybe you’ll notice where the words feel wrong and you need to paraphrase. You have that ability and permission.”
“Try reading or singing your piece in different spaces. I learned from that. The text reads and is heard differently depending on the particular physical space.”
“Be open to create in community. Team up with someone. If singing in front of others feels too overwhelming, a creative partner can lead your song, can even do the singing as you think of what you want the song to do.”
“I found that the gestures were already in me. A lot of it really felt natural.”
“Remember that when you present your reading, the community will be your instrument. It’s a great instrument, and you may be surprised at how wonderfully it responds to your desires.”
“Be open to changing it. You might start out with one idea and then suddenly see the need for it to become something else.”
“The practice sessions and rehearsal before service really helped. It helped me trust the community and the musicians, and it helped me practice the gestures.”
“I’m not quite sure how, but I figured out how to not be so self-judging.”
“Remember that your vulnerability creates and holds space for the vulnerability of those in the room with you. Your vulnerability is a powerful offering, more powerful than mastery.
“When you start, it helps to make eye contact with everyone in the room and get them to breathe with you.”
We encourage you to use this resource in your own context. If you have found these videos and reflections helpful we also encourage you to join us through making a financial contribution towards the ministry of Not So Churchy.