After an interval caused by a wedding in Northern Ireland, a weekend and a Bank Holiday, what passes for normal service is resumed today as the bloggerel recommences.
The wedding was lovely. I shared the service with Stuart, the Minister of the Bride’s home church where the wedding took place, and Ben, the Minister at the church that the groom attends. Stuart led the service, I conducted the wedding ceremony and Ben gave the address. It was not as much of a tag-team wedding as the above description sounds, but for Alison it meant the Ministers of her past (Stuart), present(me) and future(Ben) churches all took part. There’s a nice synergy about that.
One of the things that is a little different in Northern Ireland is that they have streamlined the technicalities of the wedding service. They had already declared before the Registrar that there was no lawful impediment to their marriage so I didn’t have to ask them that. And instead of having to sign four separate hand-written copies of the marriage records (2 books held by the church, a certificate and the quarterly return for the Registrar) there was a printed copy of the marriage details from the Registrar and just one book at the church.
What all this added up to was a wedding ceremony with far less obtrusive technical sections so that the couple’s vows to each other were given even greater prominence. I think this is something we should adopt over on this side of the Irish Sea.
It got me thinking about whether there are other obtrusive technical aspects of church life that can distract from our prime callings of worshipping God, following Jesus and fulfilling his mission. Perhaps the most obvious one is… [drum roll] … the notices. They are a significant part of church life when they highlight important events, and share family news for prayer and support. But they can take over. I know of several churches where attenders are given a sheet with the news and events of the church and then someone stands up and effectively reads them out. Why?
In the first church I can remember attending they always gave out the amount of the previous week’s offering. I am not sure if it was as a challenge, to commiserate or as an encouragement. I can also remember that the Church Secretary, bamboozled by new-fangled modern technology, announced that there would be a strip film* in the church hall after the service!
But where do you put the notices in a service? I am torn. I know that if they are at the start of the service you can ‘get them out of the way’, but that suggests they are unimportant. However it also could give the unintentional message that what goes on in the church is more important than Jesus. In our morning services we usually have them midway through the service, but it is difficult to find the right moment where they are part of our act of worship without being obtrusive and interrupting the flow. I have started following them with prayers of intercession that may pick up some of the prayer needs alongside other prayers. Some churches have them right at the end, but then that can change the dynamics of the close of the service when people may want to pause and reflect on what God has been saying to them.
I am not sure there is a perfect answer to this, but I also do not see them as a ‘necessary evil’. In my view they should be an act of worship as much as anything else. It is a moment to offer a welcome to newcomers and help them feel at home in God’s family. It is an opportunity to focus our thoughts on the needs of others and on aspects of God’s mission through the church. Our Church Secretary has a nice balance to the way he does things – greeting by name people who are newcomers (if they want to be mentioned), highlighting one or two important events and sharing family news, and pointing people to the weekly sheet for all the news, information and prayer needs.
I’d be interested to know what you do in your church, and why.
I was tempted to close with some notices bloopers, but then I came across this cute wedding joke:
The child was a typical four-year-old girl – cute, inquisitive, bright as a new penny. When she expressed difficulty in grasping the concept of marriage, her father decided to pull out his wedding photo album, thinking visual images would help.
One page after another, he pointed out the bride arriving at the church, the entrance, the wedding ceremony, the recessional, the reception, etc.
“Now do you understand?” he asked.
“I think so,” she said, “is that when mum came to work for us?”
*Film strips were half-way between a full-scale film and a slide show where slides were advanced on cue by manually scrolling through a strip of film. I guess it was the forerunner of PowerPoint!