What’s an Annotated Order of Service?

What’s an Annotated Order of Service?

Wanda shared with me a worship bulletin from Idlewild Presbyterian church in Memphis, Tennessee. A larger, more formal congregation than Old First, its bulletin is more traditional and bigger — 8 full-size pages.

But what is interesting — why Wanda showed it to me — is that their order of service is “annotated.” In the left hand margin of the bulletin, explanatory notes provide comments and context for what they do in worship.

What? Explanations of the service? But everyone understands what happens in worship!

Actually, many people don’t. Over 90% of North American 18 year olds have never been in a worship service. And many families are now 2 or 3 generations away from active participation in a worshiping community.

First-time visitors to a worshiping community can feel as if they stumbled into some strange, foreign land where they don’t know the customs or quite understand the language. One person told me, “It was sort of like landing on Mars.” People regularly ask, “How do I learn to pray?” Or “Am I missing something; everyone else seems connected in ways I’m not sure I feel.”

Those of us with years of church experience may find worship self-evident. But visitors, newcomers — the folks we want to reach out to who aren’t looking to the church with much hopeful expectation — are not so sure. I have wanted for most of my time at Old First to find some way to begin to help “teach people who don’t yet know how we worship.”

Could annotations help people, particularly folks without a lot of experience with church or in worship, better understand and participate in our worship? Begin to get a sense of its movements or even the movement of the Spirit among us…

This Sunday, we’ll have our first annotated Order of Service. It’s just a first try. And probably not right on target. But we’re going to keep at it for awhile. We’ll need to tweak it. Improve it. And keep it changing a bit from week to week as we figure out how to help people become more reflective about what we do in worship.

Please let me, Wanda or other members of the Worship SLG know what you think. And if you have any suggestions for the notes, please share those too.

After we have tried it for awhile (and before we make any permanent decisions), the Worship SLG will organize a community-wide conversation to hear what folks think.

Maybe it will be one more of our innovations to make it easier for people to find their way into the church and into faith and closer to God…