An Emphasis on the Word

This Sunday, you will see a bit of a change in how our Holy Communion service is done. During the first half of the service, commonly called the Liturgy of the Word, the clergy will lead from the prayer desk in the chancel. After the sermon and offertory, the clergy will move into the sanctuary to celebrate the second half of the service, commonly called the Liturgy of the Table (or Altar). None of the liturgy will be changed, of course. It will just be where the clergy are positioned.

Why do this? There are two primary reasons: 1) A re-emphasis on the Word, and 2) an improvement in proximity to the congregation.

A Re-Emphasis on the Word

In reading what I write for the church, you have seen a lot about what the definition of a church is, according to Article 19 of our Articles of Religion (the Anglican confession of faith). A church exists where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are duly administered. Word and Sacrament are what make a church a church.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer was put together under the assumption that the vast majority of churches would have Morning Prayer, a service of the Word and prayers, as their primary service. Holy Communion was typically celebrated once per month. So, three Sundays out of the month, the Word would be the emphasis and the clergy would commemorate one Sunday of the month as special by celebrating in front of the Holy Table. This was a good balance of Word and Sacrament.

In the 1970s, when Holy Communion was mandated as the principal service on Sundays, this balance was thrown off as far as our prayer book goes. The emphasis in both the service and where the clergy was positioned in the service became the Table, overwhelmingly. This movement from the chancel to the sanctuary during our Holy Communion service will, hopefully, re-introduce that important balance between God’s Holy Word and His Holy Table.

Proximity to the Congregation

As we seek to grow and thrive after Hurricane Harvey, it became apparent to me that the clergy were too far removed from the congregation during our worship. I would like for the clergy to be much closer to the congregation in proximity for at least the first half of the service. We have a powerfully transcendent service and that definitely reflects a profound characteristic of God. Another characteristic of His, though, is immanence, or nearness. This nearness is a very comforting characteristic to ponder as one considers one’s relationship to God. This move in proximity reflects that nearness, I believe, and adds a warmth to our great service that will be helpful to all.

— David Browder