We are getting close to our summer series at Eliot Church and I am in the midst of preparation. It would be easy, I think, to fall into a sense of inadequacy about this. After all, many folks think of summer worship as primarily "compromise-based". The minister in many congregations is often on vacation as are many members. Services are often shorter. Religious Education programs--particularly for kids--are skeletal or non-existent. This situation causes many people inside and outside of the church to consider it "closed" until the fall with the doors kept open by something not-quite-as-good. This is too bad. We are not closed. In fact, some of the most interesting worship services occur in the heat of July and August.
Of course, there are compromises. It was compromise, after all, that made the uke our primary liturgical instrument during this time last year. However, I think of these changes as a source of strength. The uke worked out pretty darn well! The absence of RE means that we have to be open to the possibility of one or two (or hopefully more) kids in the sanctuary. Services have to be able to adapt to a multi-generational group in an integrated way.
Other perceived "facts' about the summer just aren't true. Many congregations--particularly in the UUA--will make it through the summer on the strength of their dedicated (and often excellent) volunteer lay-leaders. This is not the case at my church. Out of the nine services, I am preaching five of them. Our Affiliated Minister is preaching one. So is our Assistant Minister for Religious Education. That leaves two others.
That said, services are different. This is a better word. We do not settle for second-class worship at our church. What we do provide is worship that has been adapted in a way that makes it most effective for the setting.
The two largest worship challenges for me this summer have to do with the music and the service length. Once again, the uke takes center stage for the hymns and any "special music". I have written about this elsewhere but it may be worth noting now--as I am both both musician and preacher--that the entire flow of worship changes. Hymns leak into sermon-time and reading-time. There are fewer clear boundaries between "parts" than is usual. This is fine. The time restriction has always required a more "conversational" approach. Lower attendance also brings me down out of the pulpit to the lectern on the floor. We use one half the church, too, so we are closer together. We are a more compact congregation and our service reflects that.
Sometimes a"reading introduction" will be as long as the homily. Sometimes the prayer or a hymn that we are learning will seize the primary spot. In these cases one might be tempted to say that there wasn't a sermon at all! Perhaps, though, it would be more accurate to say that the entire service is one big sermon with organic changes in pace and medium. There are also occasional breaks for congregational participation. I recommend this "big sermon" approach to summer preachers. This is a chance to bring in elements that wouldn't fly with a larger group. Ineffective compromise in worship only occurs if we exibit slavish dedication to making it like it usually is. Then we have cast a negative light on the differences. We are much better off understanding that this summer church is open for business, but the way we do our work has changed--even grown.
My "summer congregation," by the way, likes fairly traditional things. We are not considering adaptations that will make worship unrecognizable. If you come to Eliot Church normally, you will know you are in the right place in July and August. If you don't normally visit, you should think about dropping by. You may find that you are in the right place too.
Oh...I almost forgot! I have a link to a blog for folks who are interested in music and worship in a liberal church setting. Liberal Religion Gets Loud has something of a contemporary worship bias (not a bad thing, by the way). I find it interesting to see what other folks are up to...