We print a 2-3 line prayer at the top of our service sheet each Sunday, below the date and service title, and above the “Welcome” and opening song/hymn. It’s chosen or written by the preacher ahead of each service. Since I’ve not seen this done in other churches I visit, and it’s a bit different from just printing the “verse for the day”, I recently thought I should put down the thinking behind doing this. I guess this could be as effective if you have visuals/song words/liturgy on a screen, as well as, or instead of, a printed service sheet:
- I picked up the idea from a sabbatical visit to Redeemer Manhattan (the church of which Tim Keller is senior pastor) in 2015. They appeared to have, as a usual feature, an extensive prayer, poem or words of a hymn at the head of the service sheet before the “Welcome”. (They also had the musical melody lines for the songs and hymns printed, which may be intimidating for some of our congregations but raises the bar (no pun intended) for more musically-literate ones.)
- The purpose is to give those who arrive on time a moment to pray and reflect on the theme of the service that follows: a gospel moment, instead of just sitting staring into space. They also get to take the prayer home to use later.
- The reflections should therefore ideally be in the form of a prayer, not a theological statement or declaration. It’s not really the idea just to quote a key verse from the text. Put an “Amen” at the end.
- It may be appropriate to use a prayer from the Bible (one in the Bible text for the service, or from the Psalms or elsewhere) but if not, the preacher might use one from another source such as the BCP/CW, The Valley of Vision (short edits perhaps as many of these prayers are multiple lines), or any books of classic prayers and poems (Donne and Herbert can be very good here), or write one based on the text.
- If this is working well, the gold standard is that we should find that the reflection ends up being suitable for the preacher to use at the end of their sermon, or the congregation to say together at that point. This may not always be appropriate, but the link of reflection to sermon response is why we ask the preacher to provide the reflection.
Of course there are other ways to maximise the edificatory and gospel purpose of a printed service sheet or overhead screen (use of images, printing sermon outlines or key texts, etc). If you’ve got novel ones too, I’d like to hear from you.