A Conversation about Holidays and Worship

by vernsanders on July 11, 2010

Last week, in my Monday Morning Email newsletter, I posed the following questions:

I’ve been thinking about holidays and worship. There are three kinds of holidays that affect worship, and worship planning. There are the liturgical holidays, like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. I think that most of us plan ahead for, and know what worship will be like on these holidays. Then there are the so-called “Hallmark Holidays”: Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and so forth. Because of the sentimental/”honor” aspects of these holidays, most churches at least give reference to them, if not make a big deal. But what about secular national holidays like Memorial Day or the Fourth of July in the US, or the Victoria Day in the British Commonwealth? Do you think they should be celebrated in church? Are they “required celebrations” for your church’s music and worship ministry? If so, why? And if not, why not? If you don’t agree personally with your church’s decision/policy toward celebrating national/secular holidays, what do you do about it?

MME June 28 2010

I had a number of replies.

Jimmy Chancey serves near a military base:

Our church is located about 2 miles from MacDill AFB, as a direct result, many in our congregation are retired military.  Patriotic holiday recognition is a must for our congregation.  We decorate with a HUGE American flag and red, white and blue buntings along the front of our balcony.  Yesterday (July 4), we opened the service with pledge of allegiances to Christian flag, then American flag.  Congregation then sang My Country tis of Thee, choir sang This is American and soloist presented I’m Proud to be and American.  In our more traditional congregation, I like it.

Claire Rydell likes celebrating holidays:

I love the national holidays. My early music ensemble played about 30 minutes of old time tunes yesterday and then we played lots of spirituals during worship. I think any reason to celebrate is a good one.

O.D. Hall believes that holidays can be a great opportunity for outreach, and even included his latest order of worship for July 4:

For a good many years we have taken July 4, or the Sunday before the 4th, as one of our major outreach opportunities. Titled Celebrate Freedom we do an all-out patriotic show with lighting, media, and special effects. I’ll list this year’s program below. Our pastor, as most pastors do I imagine, refers to the founding fathers’ quest for religious liberty and their dependence on The Creator, and turns it around to proclaim our freedom in Christ. We make a special effort to invite military, police, fire, EMT, and government from the community, and have a reception for them after each service. We have a good representation from each group and it forms good relationships in each area. We saturate our surrounding community with invitations to this special service.
While some may disagree with the “God and Country” format we major on the outreach and “pre-evangelistic” nature of the opportunity just as we do in our Christmas concerts. I believe this was the approach of the early church when they seized the winter solstice and festival of fertility and turned them into Christmas and Easter.
A friend of mine in the theater gave me his definition of a worship service and a show.  It’s a show if you have lights on the orchestra stands and the conductor uses a stick. We had a show. We used “living pictures” behind a scrim in addition to projected media, and for the first time used the new DL.3 lights that project moving images over the entire walls.
Here was our program for Celebrate Freedom, July 4, 2010:
Patriotic Overture (Camp Kirkland)
We Need A Parade (Clydesdale)
Full out parade down the aisles and across the stage including a uniformed band, unicycle riders, stilt walkers, jugglers, various townspeople,  a state champion baton twirler, and confetti canons at the end. (More than 50 people in the cast.)
Presentation of Colors
Riverside Police and Fire Color Guards
Salute to the Armed Forces (Kirkland)
Representatives from each branch of the service with accompanying flag bearers for each
Freedom Still Rings (byTom Sterbens originally recorded by Steve Amerson)
(Living pictures of NYC firefighters raising the flag over WTC, Flag raising on Iwo Jima, other heroic scenes)
In God We Still Trust (by Harold Ross)
(I used a quartet with the choir instead of a solo.
Again with living pictures including the signing of the Declaration of Independence)
Welcome by the Pastor
Let Freedom Ring (Gaither)
Led by a small group with rhythm section while choir & orchestra exit)
Pastor’s message from I Peter 2:11-17
God Bless America
America the Beautiful
Forgive me for waxing on, but I believe we need to seize opportunities like this for outreach. Besides that, it’s rewarding and great fun for the choir and orchestra and for the whole church. It turns a low-attendance holiday weekend into a record-attendance event. We did three services back-to-back with a full house at all three, and the trumpet players survived!

Finally, Bob Kunkle checks in on a holiday service in a liturgical church:

I am employed as the Director Of Music & Organist and also a member of a Lutheran church that has a history based on the liturgical church calendar. We plan our services around this liturgical calendar.

This past Sunday July 4th our two worship  services  were planned around a patriotic and liturgical theme. The hymns, special music and the pastors sermon were patriotic based. It’s been a long time since I have had so many complements on my special music as what I did this past Sunday.

I personally feel there is a place in worship where we can  use both the liturgical worship with the none church year holidays. Of course this is my personal opinion, many of the folks in higher positions in the Lutheran faith would not agree with my statements.

In the church at which I serve, this year the service in our sanctuary was cancelled in lieu of our participation in a community service in the town park (our worship band helped lead the service). It was odd for me, because there were a lot of people in the park who clearly didn’t care that there was a worship service, and a few booth vendors who were actually anti-church.

Yet we were where the people were that day. Our youth band played from a float during the parade. We did have an impact upon the community.

What do you think? I’d love to hear how you feel about holiday services. Labor day is coming up next…how do you celebrate it? Please leave a comment below.

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