From morning prayer, what can change?

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the difference between historic services of morning prayer and the lived experiences of Sunday morning worship. In particular, I wondered aloud where the sermon, announcements, offering and hymns would be placed. This is not a Unitarian or Universalist problem, but just found in any tradition that has used morning prayer as the principal morning service, either now or in the past.

The solution is finding the suitable position for additional elements.

  • For the sermon, the older solution was to place it after the morning prayer is complete or before the last two prayers. A newer option is to place it after the last reading. (I’ve also seen this in the 1917 Universalist Hymns of the Church, with one reading late in the service.)
  • Placing announcements is a perennial problem; no option is great. At the very beginning, after the creed “place” and after the sermon are three more-common options.
  • Same problem for the offering.
  • Unitarians seemed to use this sequence commonly at the end of a service from what I’ve read
    • Prayers
    • Sometimes a doxology
    • Offertory
    • Announcements
    • Hymn
    • Sermon
    • Sometimes a prayer
    • Hymn
    • A closing sequence, say a benedicton and postlude
  • I’ve seen Universalists use these sequences
    • Hymn
    • Announcements
    • Sermon
    • Prayer
    • Offerings
    • Hymn
    • Benediction
  • or,
    • Prayer
    • Hymn
    • Sermon
    • Announcements
    • Offerings
    • Doxology or hymn
    • Benediction
  • It’s hard to think one sequence is normative.
  • Hymns can frame the sermon, and also come before the sentences (or even replace them) and replace the canticles or psalms.
  • Psalms may be chanted (Universalists and Unitarians did), read as unison or responsively or substituted by an appropriate hymn or (more properly) a paraphrase.
  • Unitarians weren’t bashful about composing responsive psalms, often tightly re-edited for worship, and better euphony in English.
  • Likewise, Unitarians weren’t afraid to remove some of the prayer dialogues, moving seamlessly from praise to prayer. But readings seem to be uniformly announced.
  • Various modern Anglican (Episcopalian) prayer books encourage a seasonal or weekly (for daily prayer) or both cycle for the traditionally fixed options.
  • In appealing to even older traditions, antiphons frame the psalm. I’ve not seen this in Unitarian or Universalist use, probably because they’re a recent (post-1960s) reclamation by Protestants.
  • Another option for ending psalms, in lieu of the Gloria Patri (which Universalists used or left as an option) or the “Now unto the King eternal” is psalm prayers. One for each psalm may be found in the formidable Presbyterian (1993) Book of Common Worshipavailable here as a large PDF; worth getting — from page 611 onwards.
  • Unitarians and Universalists often drop the Apostles Creed, though not always. Another affirmation or symbol of faith, or a standard of faith like the Beatitudes can take the place.

Until next timeā€¦

This is blog post #3,600

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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