Repent, Remember, Rejoice: Worship at AC 2017
May 12, 2017 / By Rev. Rachel Ann Morse, Chair, Annual Conference Worship Team
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
When Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb introduced the theme scripture for the quadrennium, our Annual Conference Worship Team discerned a need for a shift in our approach to worshipping together. Bishop Webb’s theme is Together in Prayer: Trusting that God is Enough. We are trusting that God is enough.
God is enough. So we are paring way back from the complex liturgy and music that so many large gatherings have been using. We are using simple, scriptural liturgy, gentler music, and greyscale art design. Over the quadrennium, as we continue to be Together in Prayer, the textures and colors of worship will build and grow. But for now, God is enough.
Opening Worship: Repent
We repent for the ways we have turned against our siblings in Christ.
This year, Annual Conference will open with worship and Communion in the morning. We will be offered ashes as a sign of repentance during the service. Look for visual cues of ashes, an almost empty stage, and prayerful hands. Listen for scriptural themes from Ecclesiastes that will root during opening worship and grow to tie together this year’s services. Bishop Webb will share a message during this service to help us focus on trusting that God is enough.
Memorial Service: Remember
We remember that we are only human, and that our work means nothing without God’s love.
We will honor traditional worship practices in the Memorial Service with a robed procession of the Cabinet while we sing more traditional hymns. We will celebrate Communion again together, with a more formal liturgy. Rev. Natalie Hanson will share a message titled “Does it Last?”
Listen for scriptural themes from Isaiah: “a turban instead of ashes, the festive oil instead of mourning.” Look for visual cues of oil being exchanged for ashes. Our gift to families of deceased clergy will be anointing oil, to remember their anointed service.
Blessing and Anointing: Rejoice
We rejoice, trusting that God’s love is enough.
Perhaps the biggest shift in worship is our Friday evening service. Formerly the “Celebration of Ministry,” we introduce a service of Blessing and Anointing. This service is intentionally worshipful, while creating space to recognize retiring clergy, those to be ordained and commissioned, and a liturgy to set appointments.
Retiring clergy will still be making videos to share with the Conference, but they will not be aired during the service. Instead, they will be shared through the Annual Conference website, so that they will be accessible to a broader audience. Each retiring clergy person and their spouse will be recognized. Bishop Webb will ask the Historic Questions of those to be ordained. Together, we will celebrate the Setting of Appointments for the year.
Retirees and ordinands will be offering a blessing and anointing to all who wish to receive it for the season that they are entering into. This service is designed to be a blessing for each person in the Annual Conference.
Listen for scriptural themes from Ecclesiastes and special musical and Native American blessings. Look for visual cues rising from the ashes. Expect to be deeply blessed by God’s love.
A note about Communion
We will share Communion together twice during Annual Conference. Both times, our bread will come fresh from a local gluten-free bakery. It is both gluten-free and nut-free. Servers will be instructed to wash their hands before serving. We will ask the congregation to pay attention to the mobility needs of others around them as we share the responsibility of making space at the table for everyone.
A note about Ashes and Anointing
You will be invited to receive ashes as part of the Opening Worship Communion celebration. These can be received on the back of your hand or on your forehead. You may also choose to receive Communion without receiving ashes. The ashes are finely ground palm ash mixed with a small bit of plain unscented olive oil. They will take the form of a small mark of a cross.
At the Blessing and Anointing service, a few drops of plain unscented olive oil will be used for anointing. You may also choose to receive a word of blessing without receiving oil.