Tails wagging dogs?

“I always preach to the lectionary” a preacher told me recently. She added that if she did not want to preach to two of the lectionary passages then she ‘may as well’ preach to the third. I said nothing! However, as the service proceeded I wondered if we were hearing what she felt called to say or what she may as well’ say!

 

This reinforced my reservations about us following a lectionary. To many who preach it becomes an instruction and a self-imposed straightjacket rather than a suggestion. We nonconformists are not committed to a liturgy. We commit the leadership of worship to the preacher. He/she has been called to preach and is guided by God in constructing an act of worship. It is surely for the preacher to choose what Scripture we hear and not for a lectionary to  determine to what theme a service should adhere!

 

Many churches, including our own at Christ Church, have ‘pew bibles’. That implies that all Scripture should be read from just one version. Surely it is for the preacher to choose whatever version he/she believes most perfectly expresses what is right for any service! Many churches, again including our own, appoint members of the congregation to read. But even the most gifted of public readers can lay the emphasis in a completely different place from what the preacher would wish. What would be wrong in a preacher deciding to read him/herself?

 

I have had robust conversations with friends of mine who are organists in their churches. They expect to choose the hymns. I have asked them how they can choose them without knowing what the preacher’s mind is for the act of worship. They claim they can ‘tell’ from the lectionary! Even the tune for a hymn can be part of the mood music of a service and should be chosen by the preacher. Nick reminded us that he is asked why he chooses the hymns that he does. He chooses hymns that ‘belong’ with that act of worship. I once was caught by a minister looking through the hymns before a service. He said he knew I was trying to work out the likely content of his sermon. “You won’t”, he said, “I just chose the hymns I like or ones I’ve been asked for”! I said nothing but I thought plenty!!!!

 

To my mind, a service should have a unity. Every breath should be woven into a seamless fabric and should be uttered with total commitment. A preacher who ‘may as well’ follow the lectionary is more than likely to deliver something that is lacking in unity and devoid of passion. To those who preach I say it’s YOUR service. YOU have been called to the pulpit.  Can we imagine that Soper, Sangster, Weatherhead, Griffiths, Morris et al felt they should be governed by a lectionary or told what version of Scripture to use or what hymns to include? Then why should you? You are the dog, not the tail!

Howard Cooper

This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Nov 2015