The ministry of the Worship Elder at University Hill Congregation is an offering of leadership in prayer on behalf of the congregation that gathers to worship. We hope that the following outline of the congregation’s common practices and regular disciplines will give shape to the creative energy brought by each Worship Elder to the glory of God.
It is our custom at University Hill to refrain from making use of printed unison prayers in the published Order of Service. Our practice reflects a desire to invite the maximum participation of individuals in an act of corporate worship. While corporate song clearly benefits from unison voices (and harmonized ones, too) corporate prayer benefits from such unison voicing when the refrains are very familiar to all. Unfamiliar written texts often cause individuals to become self-conscious as, for instance, they strive to keep pace (children or foreign speakers) or disagree with the theology implied by the words that they are invited to speak. Instead, we ask an individual to undertake the discipline of attending to the scripture passages for the week while living in the world during that week so that she/he can offer prayers on behalf of the gathered congregation of God’s people on the Sabbath day. In hearing different voices offer prayers on each Sabbath day, the community overhears the diversity of faithfulness and of witness that is embodied in this particular congregational expression of the Body of Christ. The Worship Elder is invited to bring his or her own language of faith and to offer public prayers that are different in form from our daily disciplines of private, personal prayer. Of course, the Worship Elder may also decide to choose prayers to read, rather than to write prayers for the occasion. In either case, the crucial issue is to keep the life of the congregation and world in prayer before the God met in Jesus Christ.
The Prayer of Approach is directed to God (as are all of the prayers) and has God as the subject matter (not “we this, we that”, rather “You are, You promise, You give ...”). It focuses on the praise and adoration of God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Prayer of Approach is our response of awe, wonder and thanksgiving to God. As Worship Elders prepare by reading the texts for the day we ask them to look for the ‘Wow’ that the texts proclaim about God and to lift up something of this in the Prayer of Approach. In so doing, the Prayer of Approach can enable the congregation to move from preoccupation with itself into the holy presence of God.
The Prayer of Confession is an admission of the congregation’s need for God when faced with the truth about itself and the world. As public prayer in and for the church, this prayer (like the others) primarily offers the confession of the church (what we as a Christian community confess regarding the truth about us when standing in the presence of God). Since sin is centrally about breaking relationship with God the Prayer of Confession helpfully focuses on the temptations that cause the church to lose faith in God and, instead, to trust its life to idols that masquerade as gods. As a result, there is less need to emphasize only specific misdeeds of individuals (the symptoms of unfaithfulness in relationship with God). It is helpful when the Worship Elder names those temptations that distract the church as a people from living as a witness to the Kingdom of God.
Silence is a crucial element to incorporate in all public prayer. In particular, silence can open up a powerful space for personal prayers of confession to be offered. This can avoid the necessity of lengthy lists of the innumerable ways in which we, individuals, may have broken faith with God in Christ. We ask the Worship Elder to not be afraid to lead in prayer by hosting periods of silence. In fact, we encourage periods of silence when we gather for public prayer. Words can be helpful in focusing the mind of the congregation on God, but they can also fill the space in which God waits to speak.
The Worship Elder may choose to end both the Prayer of Approach and the Prayer of Confession with the customary “Amen” (Hebrew meaning “It is true”), indicating that these are two separate prayers or may move from Approach to Confession without stopping to say “Amen”. In either case, it is helpful to speak with the Minister of Music prior to the Liturgy to indicate when the Prayer of Confession will end (in order that the “Kyrie” can be sung at the proper time).
It is important that the Worship Elder remembers that children are present for the opening prayers in worship within University Hill Congregation. Children benefit from prayers that are written and spoken with care, brevity and clarity. Children hear prayers that are spoken from the heart. While accessible vocabulary is a gift for children - and adults who are new to English - we do not have to know the meaning of every word that is spoken in order to understand the deep intent of the prayer. We are aware that public prayer is more than words. Pausing in silence can invite the entire community - including children - into the mystery and wonder of communal prayer to God.
The Prayers of the People are the best example of liturgy (literally - “a public work undertaken by the few to benefit the many”). William Temple said: “the church is the one institution that exists primarily for its non-members”. It is in the Prayers of the People that the congregation most clearly intercedes for the world in its worship. The Prayers of the People are prayers of Intercession and Supplication. That is, in these prayers the community (1) asks for God’s redemptive presence in the church, world, community and individual lives and (2) offers its own life to God’s mission of healing and reconciliation in the world. Note that at University Hill Congregation it is our practice that the Presider for the day offers the Prayer of Thanksgiving at the Table at the time of Offering (and Communion). While thanksgiving may be appropriate as a part of the Prayers of the People, it is not the focal point of these prayers.
In crafting the Prayers of the People the Worship Elder may wish to follow the traditional sequence of petitions:
1. For the church universal
2. For the world
3. For the local community
4. For those in special need
Our goal is to keep the prayers broad in their scope. At the same time, it is helpful to include specific, concrete and current concerns in at least some of the petitions. There should be, so to speak, a connection between Saturday’s news and Sunday’s prayers. On the other hand, this is not an occasion to be explicitly political, or to moralize, editorialize, lecture or preach. Avoid ‘gabbiness’ in prayer. Petitions should be short and to the point. Now is not the time to share information. God already has it. If there is something that the congregation should know - like a special happening, a crisis, or a death - tell the congregation before the prayer begins, not during it. Five or six meaty but brief petitions should be enough. We cannot cover all the bases every Sunday. Total time of your prayer should not exceed five minutes.
To avoid a long monologue, the Worship Elder may choose to use a congregational response after each petition. This will keep the community listening and involved and will give it an opportunity to affirm what you are saying to God on its behalf. The congregation should be advised of this procedure before you begin the prayer. In order for the congregation to make a verbal response, it will need a consistent cue line. For example:
Leader: Lord (or O God) hear our prayer.
Response: And in your mercy (or, love) answer.
Leader: Lord, in your mercy.
Response: Hear our prayer.
An alternative to such responses is the observance of a period of silence between the petitions. It is our practice to include a time in the Prayers of the People for individuals in the community to give voice (aloud or in silent contemplation) to their prayers for others by naming individuals, households, peoples or issues of concern. The Worship Elder invites the community to do so and offers a clear signal when it is the appropriate time for these prayers to be spoken.
Since the Prayers of the People include a wide range of concerns it can be helpful to make use of repetitive phrases and/or structures in order to provide cohesion and unity. Poetic adaptations of phrases and/or images from the scripture passages and/or hymns of the day can help to evoke the deep memory of the community in these (and the other) corporate prayers. We encourage the Worship Elder to be in touch with our office by Thursday of the week in order to receive the scripture texts being read and the hymns being sung on Sunday.
It is good to end the Prayers of the People with a short concluding prayer that names the congregation’s trust and hope in God and that offers it to the purposes of God in the world. Our consensus about using gender-inclusive language in worship should be observed. While this does not preclude addressing God as Father, Worship Elders are encouraged to broaden the name and titles used for the Deity as reflected in the texts for the day or in other parts of scripture.
On a Sunday when the Eucharist is celebrated it is our practice to include the Prayers of the People within the Great Thanksgiving Prayer. On these occasions the Presider will lead the congregation through the recital of thanksgiving for God’s wonders and mighty deeds, culminating in Jesus Christ. The printed Eucharistic Prayer which is normally included in the Order of Service will include a heading for “Prayers of Intercession” (on Sundays when the full prayer is not included in the order of Worship the Presider will provide the Worship Elder with a copy of the Eucharistic Prayer). The Worship Elder moves to a designated mike just prior to this point in the Great Thanksgiving Prayer. Since the prayer begins prior to the Prayers of Intercession and concludes after them, we encourage the Worship Elder to carefully craft or select the four or five crucial, short intercessions that need voicing at the Table.
The Commissioning is a charge to the congregation (not a prayer to God) to live as faithful disciples of Jesus in the world. The Commissioning is not the Benediction, which is a blessing that declares the promise of the Triune God to be faithfully present in the lives of the disciples. It is our practice that the Worship Elder offers the Commissioning, while the Presider offers the Benediction. In the Commissioning the congregation is commissioned (co-missioned) as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world in the days ahead. The Commissioning says: “Go out for Christ”. The Benediction says: “May God bless you”. The Commissioning is greatly helped by clarity and brevity. It is not a sermon. The Commissioning is a simple, clear statement that the community is now authorized to live as the Body of Christ in the world and that it is time to go into the world that Christ loves. It is intended as an encouraging and hope-filled call to a life of joyful servanthood.
Normally the Worship Elder enters with The Singers and the Presider at 10:30 am, taking a seat next to the Presider on the south side of the Chapel, facing the musicians. At the conclusion of the service of worship the Worship Elder and the Presider wait for the conclusion of the Postlude. At this time they rise and walk to the Chapel entrance as a signal that the service is ended. The congregation greets the Worship Elder and Presider/Preacher as it leaves the Chapel.