Sunday rolls around again: How do I plan music for Sunday morning?
What’s for dinner? When inviting guests for a meal, the host needs to ask many questions: Who is coming? What will I serve? What ingredients are needed? Are they in season? How much time do I have to prepare? The list could go on.
A similar process can guide planning for the Christian Sunday meal, Holy Communion. Although the pattern of worship—gathering, word, meal, sending— remains the same, elements of this pattern will change weekly and seasonally. Let us consider five questions (there are more!) that might guide our worship planning on Sunday and for other times when the church gathers for worship.
What are the scripture texts?
The scripture proclaimed in worship shapes other elements of the service. In addition to the sermon, the images and themes of the lectionary texts influence hymn/song selection and the prayers of intercession. Church musicians will find it advantageous to look at the lessons many weeks or months in advance. Consider setting aside some time in the summer to familiarize yourself with the next six months or the full year of lectionary texts.
What is the season of the church year?
Is it Christmas? Lent? Easter? Each season of the church year has its own character. We can experience these seasons more completely through intentional planning. Consider choosing liturgical settings seasonally and teaching your choirs one new hymn each season. In addition to musical choices, the season will shape the art and environment of your worship space.
What is going on in the life of the assembly?
We share the above two questions with other Lutherans and Christians that celebrate the church year and follow the Revised Common Lectionary. The next three questions are more local, more contextual. First, what is going on in your church and community? Is your church celebrating an anniversary year? Are you embarking on a new community outreach? Are your people recovering from a natural disaster? Have there been many births or deaths in your congregation recently? As you plan, consider how the scripture texts interact with such events, not only for preaching, but for music planning as well.
Who are the people?
This is a demographic question, but it affects choices you make in worship each week. Who is worshipping in your place? What is the range of ages? Where do your people work each week? What are the education levels? Are many of them new to Lutheran worship or have many of the families worshipped in the same place for generations? Just like planning a meal, it helps to know who’s coming to dinner.
What gifts (and limitations) do leaders bring to the table?
This question is related to the previous, but directed more at those responsible for leading worship. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” we read in First Corinthians (12:4). If you have a very gifted pianist who struggles at the organ, it may be wise to choose a liturgical setting that works best on piano. If you don’t have a choir but have a gifted singer who could serve as cantor, find ways to use his or her abilities to the fullest. If you’d like to explore more global music, find ways to do so that honors both the musical style and the abilities of the leaders. Helpful tips can be found in the Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
Worship planning that is informed by such question means that worship in your place will not be identical to the church across town. To bring back the meal metaphor: sometimes a simple salad is as filling as a four-course meal. Strawberries and sweet corn are best served in summer. What remains constant is the thought and care we give to worship in all seasons.