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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

How A New Pastor Should Add Ceremonies

Some ceremonies should be added by the new pastor without asking. He should just do them. If the people fuss he then says, "Oh, I thought that was the way it was done everywhere. That is what I grew up with/had on vicarage/saw at the seminary, etc. What is wrong with it?" Depending on the ceremony there is a very good chance the parishoner who raises the concern will say, "Oh, nothing. I just hadn't seen it before." Then you can go on with it. The other advantage is that it often takes a couple of months or more before they point out that you are doing things differently. By then it is fairly established.

Two words of caution: you have to be prepared to back down on adiaphora and you can't take the people's word for what their practice was. The first, I hope, is obvious. If genuflection or some other ceremony is a scandal, the pastor bends to the weaker brother. He does not leave the brother in his weakness. He starts teaching. But he backs off the ceremony to a ceremony that the weaker brother is more comfortable with. Remember - non-action is also a ceremony. If you stand at the altar before the Body and Blood of the Lord and act like it is merely bread and wine, with your hands in your pocket, etc, that is a ceremony. In any case, you might have to back off and should be prepared to do so. But the second caution is also important. The people are often confused about what their practice has been. They all remember it differently. If you are new, they've just come through a vacancy. Vacancies are a ceremonial mess. The vacancy pastor does things differently and often has subs in to help who also do things differently. So the people get mixed up about what they've always done, etc. They also remember things differently than one another. So you can't exactly believe what somebody says. It could easily be wrong. They do this also with the hymns. They will tell you they have never sung hymns that they have.

They will also tell you they sang hymns they haven't. In the former case they simply don't like the hymn and never learned it. So it feels brand new every time. In the latter case, they sing the same hymns (all of which are now in LSB) at every funeral they go to and get confused about where they sang them. The best way to compensate for their imperfect memory is to physically go through the last 5 years or more of bulletins and collate all the hymns they have sung. That is a bit of work but well worth it. Then you should also keep track of what you're now singing and how often. Then when they complain about not singing their favorite hymn you can tell them when you last sang it.

Anyway, you should add certain ceremonies and see what happens without asking. But you should be smart about it. You have very little choice when it comes to consecration because few of the people really know how that goes or what the pastor does except that he speaks (or chants) the Verba.

The problem here, with the Consecration, is that they will know how they set up and how they set up. There is a good chance you'll want them to do it differently. I don't think you make an error in hitting this head on prior to your installation. The altar guild is usually the pastor's closest ally in the congregation. Of course, there are exceptions. But that is usually the case. There is no glory in the altar guild. It is basically dishes. They do it because they love the same things the pastor loves. They tend to be eager to do what the pastor wants and enjoy learning about things. The one possible hairy point here is if they are using plastic individual cups. That is an abomination. Very few, if any, congregations that are using plastic cups don't have a set of glass cups hidden away somewhere. Tell them your installation is special. You want to break out the china. You'd like the glass cups. Then deal with how special the Lord's Supper is and that you want glass cups all the time later. The rest of the set-up should be pretty easy, with one other exception, the thing you'll really want to add if they don't have it is a credence table. You should not try that prior to installation. Adding furniture in the Sanctuary is huge. This is usually pretty easy. It is practical and they get that. But do not do it prior to installation. You're going to need to ask permission for that. The main thing with the altar guild is to get them to set out an reasonable amount of bread and wine with some contingency plan for adding more or removing some as needed. It is common for altar guilds to simply fill the Flagon and the Ciborium with no thought at all as to how much is actually needed. They don't want to run out. You'll want to fix that so that you have the right amount for the Supper and aren't consecrating hundreds more than you need. Again, if you explain this to them, they will get it.

The other thing you will have to face immediately is assistance at distribution. You will probably inherit an elder helping. He should know what he has done in the past. He might or might not be willing to modify it. Here is my first warning: ff he normally distributes the host and the pastor distributes the Chalice - leave it alone. I know. It is not historic. It is not ideal. I don't care. Because the elder is nervous about handling the Blood of Christ and should be. It is harder to distribute the Chalice than it is the Body. You don't know anybody anyway. But when you do you can actually fence the altar from the Chalice. It is not as though we are serving in Cathedrals with thousands in attendance. You also might be able to get it changed in the future. Anyway, if that is what they've been doing, accept it for the time being. That one is going to take work. The other thing is self-communion. I think you should go for it. You have to tell him though. Tell him that it is really, really terrible for the pastor to receive last. Because it implies that he is the host, waiting to make sure everyone else is served first. The pastor is not the host. He receives the Supper as a lamb, a guest, like everyone else. If you make a big ceremony of the pastor's reception, by having him commune the elder and then the elder commune him, so that it is utterly distinct from how everyone else receives you blow it. You make the pastor special. So you want to do it the way Luther and LSB say to do it: first, during the Agnus Dei, from the pastor's hand, with the same words as everyone else. He will probably go for it. If not, then at least make it so that the pastor and the elder receive first - even if it is from each other, before they distribute to the others. And, obviously, don't bring your wife up there to commune by your side. Puke.

The rest at consecration you should just do. You should both elevate and genuflect. You might even chant the Verba. But I'll have more on that later. If they don't like what you did they will tell you. Then you can decide if you should back off or not. So also I think you can genuflect when you approach the altar at the Introit (or at the Preface or Prayers at installation) and after the Benediction without any trouble or permission. Our people are used to seeing the pastor give at least a bow at those points. and it really doesn't effect them. The sign of the cross and bowing at various points is also no problem at all. Holding your hands in the traditional prayer position might annoy them. You can do it. I think you should. But beware that you will spend some chips for it. Even if you don't, they will sense in you a seriousness and reverence, a deliberateness, in worship they are not used to. You will do this with body language and facial expressions. It is subtle and they will probably not be able to put their finger on it, but they will know. It is because you don't cross your legs, smile at them all the time, etc. You can choose to lessen this slightly, and make it harder for them to figure out what they don't like, by interlacing your fingers, but I doubt it will do much good. But be warned. If you hold your hands in the traditional way they will focus on it and tell you that is what you hate. You might then have to back off it. You have to make your own decisions, of course, and live with the consequences. If you choose to interlace your fingers, you will probably have to do that the rest of your time there.

That is about it for your installation. Later you can add some other things easily. The easiest ceremony to add is standing for doxological stanzas. People love that. I don't know why. It seems to me that is more of a change, since it requires them to do something, but they love it. They will latch right onto it. I know it is sort of counter intuitive, but I actually wish LSB didn't mark the stanzas. I think it was more "fun" for our people when they had to pay attention and figure it out.

A procession is also easy to add. I've never known of any ripples or complaints when this was added at Christmas and Easter, etc, to a congregation that had never seen it before. Gospel processions at high feasts are always pretty easy also, but will probably require some teaching and explanation. So also, while processions will probably not be resisted, the people will have to be taught to follow the cross with their bodies. That won't come naturally.

The sign of the cross is pretty easy. Not everyone will do it. Some people will simply never be comfortable with it. But I'd be very surprised if teaching about it, and the pastor doing it, along with his family, was fussed about. A few people will do it and love it.

It is a little harder to add the pastor genuflecting during the Creed. But bowing there, also by some in the congregation, is not hard. I don't think the pastor genuflecting is a huge deal here but some people are annoyed by it. Why? I don't know. Some of these things are had to explain. Somehow it is okay at the beginning and the end but they don't want too much of it. There is a certain fear that you're getting "showy."

As you may have already noticed, the easiest way and time to add new ceremonies is at "special services." The people want Easter, Reformation, Christmas, etc, to be fancy. You should take full advantage of that.

The hardest thing to add is chanting. I don't know why. It is easier now with 20+ years of LW and with LSB, but it is still hard. Here is my advice: don't try to add it unless you can do it well (that is, match pitch and stay in tune) and have the support of the organist. If you have those things start with the Verba. Chant only that. Then you don't even need a pitch. It makes sense to start with the Verba because it is the central thing. It is the best place to "dress" things up. Chant the Verba then speak the Pax and let them sing the response. If they don't hate it, work your way out from there. Add the Pax next, then the Proper Preface. I would actually add the Introit and Gradual then, not first. The problem with the Introit is that the tones are boring and its responsive character forces the people to participate with you. The advantage of the Verba and the Preface is that they are more melodic. Next the concluding liturgy and Benediction. The last thing I would add are the two Collects, again, because it is very un-musical. What about the Gospel? That is very, very last, probably never. I would only add it if you're a real musician and you've pulled off everything else. Again, do this, add these things, at special services.