When we were preparing to resume in-person worship after many months of being apart during the pandemic, our church staff faced a dilemma. What would worship look like? We had numerous questions about health and safety. We were unsure who and how many people would be returning to in-person worship and who would continue worshiping primarily online. As a result, we questioned what shape worship should take.
Prior to the pandemic, our worship schedule included three Sunday services: an early informal service led by a small group of singers and instrumentalists; a service later in the morning led by choirs and organ and piano; and a contemplative service at 5:30 incorporating long periods of silence and meditative music on piano. It seemed like A LOT to try to return to this type of schedule, especially not knowing what to expect, and who would return.
I had attended the Lutheran Summer Music Conference at Lutheridge that summer. At the conference, David Sims and Nathan Proctor led several sessions introducing All Creation Sings. I was especially impressed with the flexibility offered within Setting 12. Setting 12 includes language suitable for both morning and evening use. I brought this resource to our pastors, and we all agreed that it would be good to teach Setting 12 to our whole congregation, finding it could be incorporated at all three services. Teaching everyone the same new thing as we were returning to in person worship was a good way to bring us all back together. Learning Setting 12 offered everyone a common, shared experience.
When worship returned in person, our health and safety protocols didn’t include assembly singing. In those first days of in-person worship, I recruited a single person to sing on behalf of everyone at services. The lone singer learned and sang all the liturgy and hymns. We didn’t incorporate any wind instruments for fear of aerosol spread.
Fortunately, Setting 12 came complete with a set of instrumental parts in the Ensemble Setting of Holy Communion. While we weren’t singing, we could ring handbells. While we couldn’t use a flute player, we could use a violinist. At this point, people were looking for involvement. They were looking for togetherness, and they were looking for ways to make music in the safest ways possible. And so, until we started singing together again, we bowed, and we rang, and one person sang. And it was glorious.
In planning our order of worship, it just felt so right to use the Lenten gospel acclamation “Nothing in All Creation” in place of the Alleluia verse. “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.” This is what a weary people needed to hear. So, even though it wasn’t Lent, we used the Lenten acclamation. Learning that tune also helped us learn the Sanctus with its similar melody.
Setting 12 offered a chance for our whole congregation to learn something new as we came back together after many months apart. The resources available in the ensemble setting gave us a reason to recruit string players and handbell ringers. The text of the gospel acclamation reminded us that even though many were joining us online and not worshiping in person, that nothing could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Our practice is to change liturgy settings seasonally, and so we’re no longer using Setting 12 for our morning services. However, Setting 12 continues to be the basis at our 5:30 evening service. I’m grateful this resource was available as it was so useful in integrating our people back together in a meaningful way.