WORSHIP AT ST. JOHN'S
For all our modern technologies – find us each week on Facebook Live and YouTube! – to worship at St. John’s is to take one’s place in a tradition spanning nearly 200 years.
It starts before the service begins, as the high walls, vaulted ceiling, and plain wooden pews of our small nave create a wonderfully intimate and sacred space to pray. It also starts early in the morning - our eight a.m. service on Sunday serves early-risers who enjoy a simpler service, without procession or many hymns.
The more popular 10:30 service begins with a procession to the altar, and the ringing of the tower bell. The space fills with music from our choir in the loft at the back of the church, and the great modern pipe organ installed there. The crucifer carries the beautiful brass cross to the front of the church, and installs it under a towering likeness of John the Evangelist in stained glass.
Our lectors come from all age groups within the parish, and sit in the congregation until it’s time to step to the pulpit microphone.
A few words on liturgy: Our worship generally follows the modern-language Rite II in the Book of Common Prayer. The more-traditional Rite I is often used during Lent and Advent, and St. John’s has been open to experimenting with even newer liturgies as well, including Enriching our Worship and A New Zealand Prayer Book. In 2019-2020, a parish task force drew on several venerable traditions to produce an entire Liturgy of the Word in timeless, but inclusive and expansive, language - including a newly composed, “new old-style” Gloria. We haven’t used this liturgy in full, but have submitted it to the diocese for use in their own similar task-force work.
At communion, during non-pandemic times, parishioners come forward and form an unbroken circle around the altar (including those kneeling at the rails). St. John’s members find this community circle especially important and meaningful during the Eucharist, and face their friends with delight, reverence, and some surreptitious grins. Our bread is a home-made loaf, baked by a parishioner, broken and distributed by the priest. Gluten-free wafers are available as well. Two robed Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) follow behind to offer the chalice and the intinction cup.
The entire Sunday service is printed in a church bulletin, available each week for distribution by the assigned greeters at the front entrance, as well as the handicap-accessible Whitlock Hall entrance. A growing number of parishioners eschew the hard copies, and pull up the bulletin on their phones and tablets. We find that name tags are especially helpful during these masked-up times, and make them available to all who enter.
A few words on physical books and such: Traditionally, we have continued the practice of keeping the BCP in the pews, along with The Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing, and Wonder, Love, and Praise. In the months before the pandemic, we had moved toward visitor-friendliness by printing the entire liturgy in reusable, large-format “shell” bulletins, along with an insert produced weekly that contained the week’s hymns, readings, announcements, and worship leaders. Our diocese is on a trajectory of leaving its “book-juggling” ways in the past, but this remains a point of some disagreement within the congregation.
What is sorely missing from our services now, besides the hugs and hand-shaking at the passing of the peace, are our children. In prior days they often raised their voices in song under the direction of our organist/choir director, who rehearsed them several weeks in advance during Sunday School. They performed a delightful Christmas pageant. Other times, they marched through the aisles singing and playing percussion instruments, or sat on the organ bench during the postlude (the organist, she’s a patient one!). The kids enjoyed the early Christmas Eve stable service, held in the barn of one of our parish couples, with animals joining the folk guitarist accompanying the hymns. Many non-members from the community also attended.
Adult Education is the area of our ministry that most reflects our diversity of spiritual and intellectual interests, as our committee recruits leaders from all segments of the congregation, and their external networks as well.
In any given year, you’ll find deep dives into various parts of the Bible, following a published curriculum or “freestyle”; devotional exercises and spiritual inventories; units and sessions led by professors of various Humanities disciplines, on their own fields or others; and occasional forays into the theologies of other Christian denominations and even other belief systems altogether.
Outside of the Sunday school hour, the academic year 2021-22 is our eighth straight with an active Education for Ministry (EfM) cohort – in fact, we have an all-time high of eight students!
Though our Children’s Education is in an ongoing period of discernment, we incorporate our youth into the worship service in other ways – you’ll often see them as part of the altar party, including the lector rotation. The youngest kids and their families join in each week in Advent for a wreath lighting ceremony.
Other religious days are celebrated in the sanctuary or our parish hall, including ecumenical study groups and co-worship services during Lent. Our weekly centering prayer and Bible study sessions have provided solace to a small group of faithful attendees for years. From time to time we’ve offered specific healing services, and Taizé by candlelight. We work with the local Animal Welfare League to perform an annual Blessing of the Animals. And our two-person teams of lay eucharistic visitors take the elements to homebound parishioners and those living in senior communities.
St. John’s funerals are especially well known for being celebratory and uplifting in song and remembrance. For these events, overflow seating is often required, as our capacity of 130 just isn’t enough. Many parishioners also purchase columbarium niches, located in the south transept right beside the altar, so they can rest alongside their friends through eternity.