Jeff took the boys to see Harry Potter this morning, so I took Ella with me to the white church in town, with the intention of "breaking the ice" in advance of this evening's ecumenical prayer service. Immediately upon entering, I identified myself as "a visitor" and asked about the nursery. The greeter told me that the girl who runs it may show up, in which case she'd introduce me.
I let Ella pick our seat and she chose a side pew with no cushion. An unfortunate choice because the pews were so close that the seat pressed into my calves when I stood, which - truthfully - wasn't often. The morning service - very like this one - was a wonderful preview of the evening service to follow. Rev. P. welcomed everyone to what's now called in the PCUSA "Reign of Christ Sunday," but he confessed to being partial to the old "Christ the King" designation.
While the organ played, a young acolyte entered from the vestibule in the back and walked along the center aisle carrying a lighted candlelighter/snuffer. He lit the two candles on either side of the pulpit, then recessed to the vestibule. His action was the extent of formality or ceremony during the service.
The "call to worship" was Jer. 23:5-6 and was followed by a hymn. There was an opening prayer and a prayer of confession said in unison, not confession as in a creed1 but an admission of guilt which was followed by the pastor's assurance of pardon. The congregation sang the "Gloria Patri" with everyone, including the pastor, facing the front wall of the sanctuary, i.e., north. The passing of peace totally upset the atmosphere which went from this pensive, soothing, mental exercise to physically walking around, bumping into people and greeting and chatting and ... such a complete change!
The children's message was delivered by a PTS seminarian/intern. I was very impressed with her. She'll make a great pastor someday. Ella went up front to sit with all the other kids. She was slow getting up there, though, because she lost her shoes just as the children were called forward. Then she struggled to get them back on the correct feet and one went far under the pew and the seats were so close together that I couldn't help her go faster! But, she's very brave and found her way up there.
The adults grew instinctively restless during the children's sermon, mostly filling out their offering envelopes. One man had a printed text that he was looking over. Turned out that, after the children disappeared into the room behind the front sanctuary wall, this man went up to the pulpit to read from his papers. Part of it was called a "prayer of illumination" and then he read Col. 1:11-20, nearly identical to last night's second reading.
But, before all this, the handbell choir played "Give Thanks." One woman, only one, was very good. One lady lost her place and her neighbor tried to help her recover it. The two youngest players messed up the middle pretty good.
After the First Lesson, we sang "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" which I don't really know. But I'd noticed something strange: two rather large people, a husband and wife team, sat in the front pew and seemed to be informal worship leaders for the congregation. Now, it's typical for Catholics to stand as soon as the hymn music begins to play but these two waited through the musical introduction and stood just as they were about to sing!2 And the rest of the congregation followed their lead!
Before reading from the Gospel Lesson, Rev. P. told the congregation about a party he'd been to the night before. Several people expressed sounds of mock disapproval but he let it be known that it was a rare and special event, the centennial of the town's synagogue, at the Excelsior. I'd forgotten all about it. Not that I was invited. But how nice that it was scheduled just before the ecumenical prayer service.
Again, the Gospel reading was about the same portion as we heard last night. He observed that readings about Jesus' crucifixion usually come up on Good Friday or during Lent but here's this odd - his word - Scripture reading on the last Sunday of the church year. The only point I remember of the sermon was that it's as if the cross is Jesus' throne, the seat of his power, the place where he speaks to his people. He said that the Gospel reading is filled with irony.
The offering was announced as our "worship" of God with our gifts and tithes. In the pews were envelopes towards poinsettias for the sanctuary at Christmas. I took one with the intention of returning it that evening, either with money if I could get some or without. I guess, then, the offertory, which is listed in the bulletin immediately after, is when the plates are brought forward to the pastor. We sang the doxology which I know by heart. The seminarian read the prayers of the people and led us in the Lord's Prayer. We sang "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and received the benediction and rather than simply dispersing, the acolyte came again with his snuffer and took the flame from the candles.
Fortunately, Ella came running out from the back room just in time! She came out carrying a reindeer. I asked her whether someone gave it to her or whether she just took it. She said that she just took it and that she wanted the penguin instead. She's such a crook.
1 strangely, no creed was recited.
2 when I told Jeff later, he surmised they were conserving their energy.