Laity Sunday is embraced with enthusiasm in some congregations and ignored by others. If your congregation has an established pattern then, of course, we encourage you to continue it. And if you aren’t used to letting laity take the chancel, then we hope you’d at least consider it this year. Laity Sunday can take all kinds of forms, with all levels of involvement in the leading of worship. If there is no one prepared or ready to give a sermon or message, then perhaps there could be testimonies, on video or live, that would add a lay voice to the proceedings. There could be a dialog sermon, perhaps, or other way of allowing the lay voice to be heard from the front of the sanctuary or on the screen.
We also encourage the worship team to plan to keep the theme going, even on Laity Sunday. Let the laity voice be a continuation of the worship plan and not an aberration or a diversion. There are notes here to help with the planning of the sermon as well as the service as a whole. Let the pastor and the lay speaker work together on the message, regardless of who will actually deliver it.
The purpose of worship is always to give glory to God, to direct the thoughts and hearts of the worshiping congregation God-ward. In short, worship is always about God before anything else. That said, it is also the time when the community gathers to recapture a shared vision of who they are as the community in that place and time. And whether that place is virtual, communicated through screens or face to face, it is also about making disciples of Jesus Christ. There is no need for this thrust to be set aside because a layperson is bringing the message of the day.
The word for today is presence: God’s abiding and constant presence — not a random, “force-like” presence that just is. This is an intimate presence, a personal presence, a presence that knows your name. What a proclamation to bring this week! You are known. In our over-mediated society, it is often the individual who gets lost in the mass of voices and noise that surrounds us. There are many in your congregation who can attest to feeling lonely in a crowd. This week could be an antidote to those feelings.
This is why testimony is such an effective tool for knowing and being known. Many worshipers have observed that once a testimony is shared, then that person is seen through new and informed eyes. We are not just faces in the crowd; we are the one who … met God face to face, survived an illness, turned his/her life around; the one who found hope in a hopeless situation; the one who found love renewed, and on and on. Tell your story and listen to the stories of others.
Perhaps, if you’re meeting in place, you could invite attenders to bring something that represents their journey and set up a worship center, keeping in mind all the physical distancing requirements. Or have participants email a photo that says something about who they are and how God has affected their lives. You could do this with explanations or simply let people speculate as they watch the slideshow. It could generate some healthy conversations.
Let the worship be a celebration of the laity, of the people in the pews or behind the screens, scattered or gathered. Let the leaders give thanks for the people. Here might be a chance to do some statistical check in (maybe it’s charge conference time?) — not as a way of bemoaning who’s not there; not as a complaint because we’re so small. Jesus worked well with twelve. Let it be a thanksgiving for who is here, who is a part of us.
Let there also be an open door, an anticipation for those who will be a part of us in new ways perhaps, a reminder that we are always seeking to issue an invitation, not simply to grow the church, but to make disciples, to spread the gospel. We work for the kin-dom of God. And we press on.
Laity Sunday 2020 - Planning Notes
About the Acts of Thanksgiving
Acts of thanksgiving, although stated as an integral part of our Basic Pattern of Worship, are an uncommon or commonly truncated element when Communion is not celebrated. Today is an opportunity to model and explore what these acts can be if you are not celebrating Holy Communion.
About the Invitation to Thanksgiving
An act of invitation to thanksgiving is probably needed in most settings, much as the Prayer for Illumination, to help transition the energy from listening, commitment, and prayer in the previous movement (Word and Response) toward the energy of offering ourselves to God in thanksgiving for all God has done and is doing and will do to save us and renew the universe.
The principles of transition are the same. Match the contents, volume, speed, and energy of what came before, then move them to what is needed for what comes next.
In this case, “Go Ye, Go Ye into the World” is already a rather energetic song, made more engaging if it has been sung in a round for the final verse. Still, it is a song of exhortation, urging people to act. Part of that action has been our prayers for the church and the world.
Now we move from prayer to thanksgiving, still in the spirit of going in the awareness that Christ goes with us. Exhortation (the song), prayer (the prayers we have just prayed), and thanksgiving are all different kinds of energy. Give attention not only to the words used in the invitation to thanksgiving, but to the kind of energy with which these words are spoken.
About the Pardon before the Acts of Thanksgiving
Anyone, lay or clergy, may lead an act of confession and pardon. If the leader of the act of pardon is the pastor, use “you are forgiven.” If the leader is a layperson, use “we are forgiven.”
About Serving Communion
One of the ways to maintain the flow of the service when you celebrate Communion is to ensure you have an efficient way to serve the elements. You don’t have to make people wait in long lines or for long periods of time in their seats. The typical amount of time for people to be able to receive both bread and cup without a sense of rush is ten to twelve seconds. This means you can easily serve five to six people per minute. Calculate the number and placement of serving stations to allow all in your congregation who wish to receive to do so within five minutes, if possible.
A Note about Presiding
While this is Laity Sunday in The United Methodist Church, the special day does not change the work laity and clergy each do in the leadership and life of the church, established by both Discipline and doctrine (This Holy Mystery).
Authorized presiders are clergy, whether ordained elders, provisional members preparing for ordination as elders and assigned to a particular local church, other denomination clergy functioning as local pastors or provisional members, licensed local pastors, or, in extraordinary circumstances, ordained deacons given authorization by the bishop to preside in their particular ministry setting.
A layperson or deacon may assist at the Lord’s Table by preparing the table, holding the liturgy book for the authorized presider, or leading intercessions if they are included within the Great Thanksgiving. The prayer is led by the authorized presider. It should not be divvied up among two or more presiders.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.