Prayer book blues (or, help using the space), part two

Now that you’ve outlined your service’s rubrics, we’ll resume.

You’ll notice that, provided you use a denominational or traditional service, you’re going to get about the same thing. In English-speaking Protestant churches, many of the usages flow through, or are influenced by, Cramner’s reforms in the Church of England. He in turn was drawing from a tradition that comprehended the Universal Church as far back as late antiquity. You are participating in something very old. (Don’t sneer that ‘that’s Catholic‘ unless you mean “universal” and don’t like universal customs.) You can apply this very old thing in a number of different, even seemingly contradictory, ways. But our focus is on the very small church, and will apply limitations. (Of course, so would having a very large church.)

What resources do a tiny church have? Don’t have?

What they don’t have press harder than what they do have. Often no minister, or no regular one. Perhaps no building, or (just as bad) one meant for a congregations many, many times larger. Perhaps no instrumentalist, or few singers in any rate. Patience may be running short, too.

But a tiny church may have a strong will to persevere, customs that can be applied without apology, and a mutual sense of care that makes worship ring with sincerity. Customs, including space use, apply to the church’s ceremonial, and that where the least has been written for worship organizers. I suppose it is assumed to be oral folklore.

That said, worship needs to meet the situation, and the space needs to meet the worship. Unless the worship service is in the dining room of a private home, there’s no use for a table in a service of morning or evening prayer. Indeed, a minimalist service (outdoors?) requires no furniture: the people stand and hold the service literature. But rain, or cold, or heat prompt us to worship inside. That calls for appropriate space use.

If the congregation size is stable, put the highest usual number in your mind. Add at least three (or how many people you hope join your congregation in the medium-term) and multiply by 1.25. That’s how many seats you need to feel “right.” Have pews instead of seats? Have a practice “seating” with people keeping their coats and bags (or not, as is the custom) and locally appropriate distance, and take measurements. Multiply appropriately. If you have fixed pews, cordon off the extras. If that means the pulpit or reading desk towers over the seating, find a portable lectern or (in a pinch) music stand. Sometimes a chancel choir, if accessible, makes more sense than seating in a nave. Keep in mind proximity to a musical instrument, if someone is playing. I can think of churches where an organ would have to be abandoned because its context is a large nave.

Chairs are better because they can be added in a pinch, so keep some ready to set up. “Chairs in a circle” speak of lowest formality, and that may be the appropriate response. But anyone who’s been in a support group knows how artless adding more chairs are. Consider facing parallel rows, with a central aisle; indeed, like a chancel choir. If space allows, a whole new row can be added, or a single one tacked to the end of a row.

Now, is the lighting appropriate? If there are a plurality of worship leaders, can they see from where they sit, or is there an assumption that they will speak from a common lectern? What are the acoustics like? And, especially if the space is in a large, empty building, is there signage to help people find worship? Are the passages well-lit and welcoming?

Take time to assess your surroundings, and we’ll return with part three.

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