Contemporary Service for Ash Wednesday

by Taylor Burton-Edwards

In 2010, I received a request for a "contemporary" Ash Wednesday service. This was a first for this office, to my knowledge. Typically, we’ve commended using the ritual in the Book of Worship because it does what this service needs to do and because it does so using highly ecumenically recognizable language and symbols and standard United Methodist resources.

At the same time, the "feeling" of that service, if done "straight" (i.e., without very careful attention to issues of flow) can be rather choppy, offering far too many opportunities for distraction in a service that should be all about attentive focus.

 


Photo: Cross of Ashes
by Jennifer Balaska. Public Domain.

So below is one design that does what the existing service does but with music from The Faith We Sing and Worship & Song, fewer spoken words, and greater attention to multiple senses and flow.

If you're up for something different this year, give this a try, and let me know by e-mail or the Facebook United Methodist Worship Group how it went, along with any adaptations you made or improvements you might suggest.

* Stand as you are able.

ENTRANCE
The worship space should be fairly dark, illuminated only by candles (perhaps several banks of votive candles placed around the worship space) and the light on a projection screen, wall or scrim.

Have an usher stationed, along with signs posted, encouraging people to enter in silence.

Project these words or phrases -- each of them moving if possible, in a loop -- perhaps in a light purple, large font (72 point) against a dark purple or black background:
Prepare
Reconcile
Repent
Mercy
Mortality
Know Yourself
Prayer
Fasting
Deny Yourself
Read Scripture
Listen
Silence
Dust
Ashes
Kneel . . . Now

A video of these words is available here.

A couple of minutes before the service formally begins, instrumentalists begin to play "O-So-So" (The Faith We Sing, 2232) ) or Dust and Ashes (Worship & Song, 3098) softly. A vocalist hums the tune once or twice before inviting all to sing verse 1, kneeling. Project the words of the song on the screen just before the singing is to begin.

SCRIPTURE AND RESPONSE
Instrumentalists continue playing the song softly while a reader reads.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Do NOT project the words of this text. Let the focus be on the reader and on listening to the text. Let the screen keep the background (but not the words) of the opening loop. When the reader finishes, let the instrumentalists finish the verse they are playing, then invite the assembly to sing.

The Faith We Sing, 2232, Verse 2 or Dust and Ashes, Worship & Song, 3098, Verse 2
Still kneeling; words on the screen.

Again, instrumentalists continue playing while a reader reads.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
The screen returns to the background as before. The reader finishes; the instrumentalists finish the verse; then cue the congregation to stand and sing.

*"O-So-So," or "Dust and Ashes," Verse 3
While the pastor or deacon or lay leader (if no deacon is present) or lay speaker (if no lay leader is present) brings the gospel to the center of the assembly and reads it . . .

*Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
All standing, instruments still playing the song.

*"O-So-So," Verse 4 or "Dust and Ashes," Refrain, twice
The assembly sings as the reader of the gospel moves back to the front and the pastor lifts the container holding the ashes. At the words "reconcile your people" in verse 4 of "O-So-So" or "lead us through the desert sands" in "Dust and Ashes," refrain (second time), the pastor blesses the ashes with the sign of the cross.

Receiving the Ashes
As the song concludes, the pastor gestures in silence for the people to come to receive the ashes. This should be done in a deliberate, unhurried way. Give each person ample time to kneel or bow to receive. Offer one station per 35-50 people, and plan for 10 seconds per person. The action is offered in silence, with the words, "Remember, you are dust" and "Repent, believe the gospel," alternating on the projection screen, scrim, or wall.

As the ashes are received, a soloist with soft piano or guitar accompaniment sings.

Solo: "How Can We Forgive," 2169, The Faith We Sing or "Falling on My Knees," Worship & Song, 3099
A soloist with ensemble/congregational response (for those in line or having already received), may sing.

Solo/Congregation "Forgive Us, Lord/Perdon Señor," 2134, The Faith We Sing (TFWS) or "Depth of Mercy," Worship & Song, 3097
Instrumental music from this and other appropriate songs focused on repentance, confession and forgiveness (but NOT the cross! Lent is not Holy Week!) may continue until all have received and returned to their places. Then all sing.

All: "Sunday's Palms Are Wednesday's Ashes," 2138, The Faith We Sing (TFWS) or "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone," 3104, Worship and Song (W&S)
Musicians begin segue into TFWS 2157 or W&S 3135.

Declaration of Pardon and Peace
Pastor: In Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
People: In Jesus Christ, we all have peace.

Ensemble sings "Come and Fill Our Hearts with Your Peace" (TFWS 2157) or "-In God Alone" (W&S 3135) once through, and invites congregation to join as they share Christ’s peace with one another, words projected onscreen. In the background of the projection you may wish to project the word "Peace" in other languages -- Peace, Shalom, Eirene, Salaam, Shantih, Ruh, Paix, Paz, and whatever other languages may be spoken in the region where you are.

Song: "Come and Fill Our Hearts with Your Peace" (TFWS 2157) "In God Alone" (W&S 3135)

If this service continues with Holy Communion (highly recommended!), follow the guidance beginning here. If not, skip to the end of this resource (Sending Forth without Communion) for suggestions for concluding the service shortly after the Peace.

INTERCESSION, THANKGIVING AND COMMUNION

Instrumentalists should segue smoothly from "Come and Fill Our Hearts" or "In God Alone" to "Lord, Let Your Kingdom Come" (TFWS 2201) Music may continue playing during the spoken intercessions, and time for silent or spoken requests before the leader (deacon, lay leader, lay speaker, or song leader) sings "Lord, in your mercy." In keeping with the request of the Council of Bishops, be sure to add an intercession for the earth, as follows, "Together, let us pray for the earth, with thanksgiving for its bounty and for wisdom and strength to care for it and all life upon it." Project on the screen only the words for the song and the theme of each intercession, as follows:
Each other
The suffering
Local concerns
World leaders, justice, peace
The earth
The whole church
The communion of saints

The people may be standing and invited to join the leader in praying at the "orans" position -- hands raised slightly out to the sides, elbows bent, palms up.

*Sung Intercessions: "Lord, Let Your Kingdom Come" (TFWS 2201)

Instrumentalists segue to the opening of The Great Thanksgiving (TFWS 2257a).

The Great Thanksgiving (TFWS 2257)
The presider (elder or local pastor) leads The Great Thanksgiving using the musical setting and The Great Thanksgiving for Early in Lent from The United Methodist Book of Worship (60-61). The presider may invite the congregation to continue praying in the orans position. The congregation uses the musical setting TFWS 2257. These words may appear on screen just before the congregation needs to sing them. Instrumental accompaniment (soft chords related to the setting) may continue through the presider’s prayer. There is no reason to include the entire prayer onscreen.

Sharing the Bread and Cup
During the distribution, the congregation and a soloist, using the choir or accompaniment edition, may sing.

"Taste and See" (TFWS 2267) ) or "Come to the Table of Grace" (W&S 3168)

Once again, plan on at least one station per 35-50 persons served, and do not rush. Other instrumental music relating to Holy Communion may be offered from The Faith We Sing or Worship & Song. As all are served and the table is re-set, instrumentalists should begin segue to TFWS 2241, "The Spirit Sends Us forth to Serve" or "As We Go" (W&S 3183). This plays in the background during the dismissal with blessing.

SENDING FORTH
Dismissal with Blessing

Deacon or Lay Leader or Lay Speaker:
May God, who has forgiven and fed us,
now make us strong for these days ahead.

May Jesus lead us, and we be found faithful to follow.

May the Spirit drive us into the wilderness,
burning away the chaff of our lives,
and purifying our hearts for all to see
and be blessed.

Pastor: And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Mercy, Master, and Fire,
Be with us and remain with us always!

People: Amen!

"The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve" (TFWS 2241) or "As We Go" (W&S 3183)

Deacon, Lay Leader or Lay Speaker:
Go in peace, to love and serve God and your neighbor.

People: Thanks be to God!

OR

SENDING FORTH (WITHOUT COMMUNION)
Instrumentalists should segue smoothly to "Walk with Me" (TFWS 2242) or "As We Part for Towns and Cities" (W&S 3180) during the dismissal and Lord’s Prayer that follows.

Dismissal with Blessing

Deacon or Lay Leader or Lay Speaker:
May God, who has forgiven us
now make us strong for these days ahead.

May Jesus lead us, and we be found faithful to follow.

May the Spirit drive us into the wilderness,
burning away the chaff of our lives,
and purifying our hearts for all to see
and be blessed.

Pastor: And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Mercy, Master, and Fire,
Be with us and remain with us always!

People: Amen!

"Walk with Me" (TFWS 2242) or "As We Part for Towns and Cities" (W&S 3180)

Deacon, Lay Leader or Lay Speaker:
Go in peace, to love and serve God and your neighbor.

People: Thanks be to God!

 

Taylor Burton-Edwards is Director of Worship Resources with The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.

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April 24, 2014
SPRC: Your Role When the Pastor Changes

Nearly one-third of all United Methodist congregations change pastors each year, but it may have been a while since YOUR congregation changed pastors. This training for Staff Parish Committees and other laity will offer tips and remind you of your responsibilities in this process.

Date: Thursday, April 24, 2014
Time: 6:30 pm, Central Daylight Time

Duration: 1 hour
Presenter: Betsey Heavner
For more information, Betsey Heavner, bheavner@gbod.org