Many churches pride themselves in delivering a high quality worship experience. To the extent that the parishioners share in the work of the liturgy—as lay readers, choir members, acolytes, and ushers—they often have little creative authority. They are invited to watch, sing (their voices often blanketed by instruments), listen to the sermon, and finally to come to coffee hour, where they can learn about various ministry opportunities. Alas, though this approach to liturgy can be very meaningful to people and can produce a dazzling show, it also tells congregants that the church’s work is the province of experts, that those in the pews are helpers, not leaders.
In 2016, Not So Churchy’s Music and Leadership Teams decided to embark on a yearlong project in which the congregants themselves would interpret and present the scripture readings. They could read them, or use music, movement, or any other creative means needed to bring the reading to life in a meaningful way. In doing so, they would exercise creative and theological authority usually reserved for others. The project was partially funded through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment, Inc.
The work began at a three-day retreat in the fall of 2016. The congregants were each given a particular passage of scripture to present at an appointed service sometime over the following twelve months. They were then led through workshops on basic song writing, song leading, and choreography. After the retreat, the congregants brought early drafts of their presentations to workshops where they could practice presenting their pieces and listen to the observations of other congregants and creative professionals. Finally, on their appointed date, each member rehearsed with the musicians and then presented their reading during the service.
This project, which has become an integrated part of our liturgical year, has been a rich learning experience for the congregation, and provided an opportunity for the congregants to exercise their creative authority and leadership capacities.
Here, we want to make our learning available publicly so that others can benefit and take inspiration from it. In the following pages, four Not So Churchy members—Kristen, Eric, Marranda, and Hannah—share their experiences of creating scripture presentations. We’ve also included a brief How-To Guide and an example of how one passage was turned into a scripture presentation. We hope you find these useful.
We would like to thank Music That Makes Community and are especially grateful to Donald Schell, Emily Scott, and Paul Vasile for their encouragement.
Finally, we hope you try doing this with your own worship community. The experience has forever changed the way we understand the scriptures and ourselves.
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.
Written, produced, and directed by Jacob Slichter
Filmed and edited by Jeremy Kaplan
Additional footage by Jacob Slichter
Graphic design by Kyle Lasky
Special thanks to Lisa Madison and Music That Makes Community
Made possible by a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.