Who and What is the Liturgy Writing Team at NPUMC?
by Karen Seyfert
Liturgy means the work of the people.
I want to tell you about one of my favorite jobs at New Paltz UMC: I am on a team of liturgy writers. Every week, working alone or with a partner, we create a brand-new liturgy, or set of prayers, for our Sunday service. It is completely unlike the liturgy in the church where I grew up. There our pastor never varied the words. Not only did he never change the words, he never changed his intonation of them. His voice always rose or fell on exactly the same syllable, like a song without music. That liturgy was far from the work of the people. Limina Grace is a rare pastor to allow members of the congregation to do this work. She feels, and I agree, that when friends in the congregation are writing about who we are and how we choose to be in the world, the rest of us listen and respond differently. It is not just familiar, nice sounding words that wash over us and are soon forgotten.
It is amazing to be trusted to write prayers for our church. We understand the influence we have on how others think. We take the job very seriously. One of the benefits is the study of the scripture that happens just before we write. We do our best to understand who was speaking, for whom was the message intended, and what are the several ways it might speak to us today. We want to fully understand before we write a thing. I guess we are a bunch of Bible geeks since this is usually a pleasurable activity; it can be lively especially when we are working with a partner. We enrich each other’s understanding. Limina Grace has given us a hint of where she is going with the sermon, and that informs our thinking.
At last, we begin to write. It is only 5 prayers: opening prayer, prayer of confession, words of assurance, unison prayer after the sermon, and sending forth. We use our own words and sometimes include the quotation of an appropriate scripture. We give the prayers a common thread and relate them to the scripture and sermon topic. For me it is a completely absorbing task. I don’t watch the clock. When the writing is done, I always read it all aloud. If my tongue gets tangled, a little rewrite happens immediately. Every word must be spoken during the service. No tongue twisters are tolerated.
When possible we send the liturgy to Margaret early in the week, so that she can put it in the bulletin. Mary Rappelyea looks at it and chooses the artwork to go on the front of the bulletin. Limina Grace speaks it on Sunday.
Our writing team includes Ann Craig, Marisa Villareal, Linda Loomis, Bethany Goldpaugh, Kate Hymes, and me, Karen Seyfert. If you would like to join us, you are invited. Let your inner worship leader out. Whatever you have been reading and thinking can end up in the next liturgy you write.