Many smaller congregations served by part-time ministers are faced with the sometimes daunting task of filling the pulpit while not having the funds to secure professional ministers. This task, while challenging, has the potential of generating new and innovative styles of worship, says the Rev. Marguerite Sheehan, of First Parish Unitarian in Northfield, Mass.
First Parish has begun hosting a monthly “Chalice Sunday Service,” which combines a traditional service with a “small group ministry” model. The service includes all the elements of a meaningful worship service, including opening words, hymns, a children’s time, an offering, and a prayer or meditation. In place of the sermon, a lay member chooses a centering topic (reflected in the hymns and a reading) that is offered for reflection.
The congregation is invited to gather in a circle, listen to the reading and a few thought-provoking questions, and then each person has the opportunity to share a short response (without interruptions or cross conversation.)
There is also time built in for the participants to offer gratitude to other people in the circle who may have stimulated their hearts and minds or offered a divergent response, thereby challenging their own thinking. This model encourages reflection on a broad range of spiritual and religious concerns and reinforces deep listening and fellowship.
The “template” is easy for lay leaders to plug into, says Sheehan, “which means that a wide spectrum of the congregation feels confident in stepping up to the plate to facilitate the services. Visitors to the church report that they feel welcomed into Chalice Sundays.” For more information, email Sheehan.