Just Launched: Designing Liturgy with Rosemarie Logan Duncan

We have just launched Designing Liturgy with Rosemarie Logan Duncan For Individuals and For Groups.

Cathedral serviceThrough the habit of liturgy — the formal, repeated order of worship bearing the same components and shape wherever and whenever it is performed — we internalize the incarnation and resurrection of Christ.  Liturgy plants in us our individual faiths; yet it is a public and communal act as we stand together in worship as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because liturgy is central to Christian worship, it is unsurprising that arguments — often extremely bitter ones — have arisen for many centuries about the correct approach to liturgy. In the United States, debates about liturgy have persisted for years, particularly between “non-liturgical” and “liturgical” churches, with non-liturgical churches believing that formal liturgy is stifling and rote, preventing the fresh outpouring of the Spirit.  Within some Evangelical churches, internal debates have arisen about using some elements of the liturgy in their worship services without committing to a full, formal, liturgical approach.  A pastor at one such church, Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, says:

[F]or many years, the word liturgy was almost a four-letter word…We wanted to cultivate  a free, Spirit-led worship culture, and wrongly assumed that creeds would lead to formalization and dead orthodoxywe still want a “free and Spirit led worship culture,” but now we clearly see the place of responsive readings and creeds as a means of helping us offer our Triune God the worship he deserves and in which he delights.



The place of formal ritual in the church and what kind of ritual we should practice is an ever-evolving element of Christian practice. It is natural that Christians should discuss and challenge one another on points related to liturgy because how we worship God together is important. Worshiping together hones our faith and unites us in a framework of belief. Liturgy matters, so of course, we will debate about how we should be practicing it.

Churches that embrace a formal liturgy must consider the most effective ways to use the liturgy in worship. In designing liturgy, as one writer puts it:

Everything that is visible needs to communicate something of the mystery that we are celebrating: the altar cloth, the vestments, the flowers, the furnishings, the colors of the liturgical seasons…all these need to convey an invitation to worship.

In this course, Rosemarie Logan Duncan, Canon for Worship at The Washington National DuncanCathedral, talks about designing liturgy in such a way that it conveys specific messages during particular seasons and addresses the heart, mind, and body for the purpose of elevating the spirit. She discusses ways to choose prayers, music, and decor, the incorporation of the church seasons, and conveying the thematic importance of certain ideas at certain times through liturgy. The mission of liturgy, she emphasizes, is always proclaiming of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ in the world.

We hope that you will find this class useful as you consider the role of liturgy in worship and the best way to design effective liturgies at your church. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Image 1: Formal procession during a service at The Washington National Cathedral. Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral.
Image 2: Worshipers at Cornerstone Church in Toledo, Ohio. Wikimedia.
Image 3: Altar at The Washington National Cathedral decorated for Christmas. Washington National Cathedral.


Coming in January: Our Free Lenten Curriculum — Luke the Liberator

LukeOn January 21, ChurchNext will launch Luke the Liberator, a 5-course curriculum focusing on the Gospel of Luke that will be free to anyone who wants to take it during the entire Lenten season.

As many of you know, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited Episcopalians and other Christians to read and contemplate the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles as part of the Good Book Club from Feb. 11-May 20. We’ve created Luke the Liberator as part of the Good Book Club’s mission. The curriculum’s title emphasizes Luke’s drive to set captives free through the message of Jesus.

The Luke the Liberator curriculum will include five courses, each of which will consist of four short video lectures, brief introductions, and opportunities for discussion. The curriculum will include the following courses:

John LewisIntroduction to Luke: John Lewis, a teacher and scholar of the gospels from The Seminary of the Southwest, introduces the Gospel of Luke and discusses who its author was, the audience to which its author is writing, and its most important themes.

                              Liberation for Women: The Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman, an award-winning religion Lindsay Hardin Freemanjournalist who has written extensively on women in the Bible, discusses the Gospel of Luke in the context of women. She examines women’s voices in Luke, Luke’s message about women in its historical context, and Luke’s Gospel as it applies to gender and social justice in the 21st century.

R Spann NewLiberation from Wealth: The Rev. Ron Spann, a longtime social justice advocate, examines issues related to wealth in Luke’s Gospel. How does wealth enslave us? How does Christ free us from that enslavement? Ron addresses these questions and others in this class.

                              Liberated to Share: The Rev. Nurya Love Parrish teaches this course. Nurya started the NL Parish NewChristian Food Movement, the mission of which is to create sustainable food production methods and ensure that all people have access to good, healthy food. She talks about Luke’s Gospel in the context of giving — what it means to give; how Christ frees us to give freely.

jay sidebothamLiberated to Preach: The Rev. Jay Sidebotham, founder of Renewalworks, focuses his work on church renewal — on freeing churches to grow in the spirit of Christ. In this class, he discusses Luke’s approach to spreading the good news of Jesus and what that means for 21st century Christians.

We hope that these courses will help enrich your Lenten season as you read and study the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

Image 1: Detail depicting St. Luke from a 15th-century altarpiece. Photograph provided by The Yorck Project. Public Domain. 

Ways to Use ChurchNext During Advent

Advent candlesWe appear to be kind of obsessed with Advent here at ChurchNext. We’ve created four courses about it so far (and someone had a good idea for another one the other day). That’s more courses than we’ve created for any other season of the church year.

That being the case, when it comes to Advent, if you need it, we’ve got it. Do you have parishioners who aren’t sure what Advent involves? Offer them Introduction to Advent with Tim Schenck.  Feel like exploring ways to celebrate Advent with your family and teach your kids about Advent? Try Advent for Families with Heath Howe. Experiencing the familiar frustration of trying to walk the line between the secular Christmas frenzy of December and the self-denial associated with a Christian Advent? Let Bishop Susan Goff advise you in her course Advent: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Do you frequently feel like you miss out on Advent entirely what with all the seasonal excitement of December? Try A 7-Week Advent with Stephen Smith.

You can use these courses in Adult Forum. You can suggest them to small groups — newcomers to The Episcopal Church, for example, might appreciate a chance to take Tim Schenck’s course. Parenting groups might like Advent for Families. Or perhaps you can suggest Bishop Goff’s course to parishioners who are struggling for balance during this season and encourage them to take it on their own.

We hope that these courses help you and your fellow parishioners experience a spiritually rich Advent season. Blessings in the coming weeks as we anticipate the birth of Jesus into a tired world that needs him.




Just Launched: Music and Liturgy with Michael McCarthy

We just launched Music and Liturgy with Michael McCarthy For Individuals and For Groups.

The line often blurs between sacred and secular music. Secular musical styles affect sacred music and vice versa. Where is the line between sacred and secular music? Take the song “John the Revelator” by Son House.

This song is known as one of the most influential blues songs in musical history , but it’s based on the African American church’s old call-and-response gospel tradition. What’s the difference between Son House singing that song in concert with people clapping and singing the response and a soloist singing the same song in church with people singing the response? Could one consider the concert a liturgical event? And is sacred music still considered liturgical when sung in a secular context?

In this course, Michael addresses these questions and many others about liturgical music and its role in contemporary Christianity. Michael examines the role and purpose of church music in the liturgy. He discusses how liturgical music crosses the gamut of styles, genres, and musical traditions. He offers insight into the process by which musical directors utilize music to enhance and reflect other aspects of the liturgy, and he also talks about church music and the liturgical seasons.

In addition to its utility in Christian formation contexts, this course could be used by musical directors, choirs, and music teams to discuss the importance of music in the liturgy. It could also be useful in any kind of focused series on Christian liturgy. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Just Launched: Ministry with Flowers with Linda Roeckelein

We just launched Ministry with Flowers with Linda Roeckelein For Individuals and For Groups.

Church interiors utilize elements from the created world to elevate worship. We pour holy water into fonts, illuminate the altar with flames; filter sunlight through stained glass windows. Our tradition of decorating the altar and other parts of the church with flowers and greenery falls into this pattern. We stimulate our minds into sacred contemplation by meditating on the beauty and artistry of creation; by using flowers and water and fire in symbolic rituals; by using artistry to emulate and celebrate the Creator.

In this course, Linda Roeckelein, who has headed the Washington National Cathedral Flower Guild for decades and has taught many courses on flower arrangement in churches, discusses the ministry of arranging flowers for worship. This is not an instructional course on creating arrangements of church flowers, but rather a discussion of the art of arranging flowers for worship — how the floral arrangers find their materials; why they engage in this art; why and how churches use flowers in liturgy; what tools the artists use; practical details that they must consider.

We hope that Linda’s passion for flowers and love of this ministry inspire those who engage this ministry as much as her wisdom and experience help with practical matters concerning materials and tools.

For a preview of Linda’s course, click here.



Use Technology to Reach Out to Homebound People in Your Parish

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Online technology offers exciting opportunities for churches to reach out to people who cannot attend services or activities due to illness or infirmity. Here are a few suggestions for ways in which technology can help churches reach out to people who are homebound or otherwise unable to manage regular church attendance and include them in the life of your parish.

nice old ladyPlease note that in many of these cases, it helps if people from the parish communicate to both homebound parishioners and their caregivers about these opportunities, since some of these parishioners may need help accessing technological offerings. It can also help for homebound parishioners to enjoy these opportunities in community with others from the parish. Watching and discussing sermons and Christian education opportunities online can offer a rich focus for a pastoral visit — with the added benefit  of being able to pause the activity and return to it later if necessary.

Remember that it won’t do much good to use these resources if homebound parishioners don’t know about them. It’s important to keep reaching out and ensuring that home-bound parishioners and their caregivers are aware of these resources if you want to reach them.

  1. Post a transcript of your sermon on your church webpage or on social media.  You can post a transcript of your sermon in many ways — as a blog post or as a PDF file to which you link on your website or on social media. Home-bound parishioners can read the sermon on their own, with caregivers, or as part of a visit from clergy or parishioners.
  2. Post video or audio recordings of sermons on the church webpage.  People who cannot attend church may have access to some forms of worship — nursing home services, Lay Eucharistic Minister visits, etc. — but it can really mean something to a homebound parishioner to enjoy hearing the clergy from their home parish preach a sermon rather than just reading a transcript. Record your clergy’s sermons and post the audio or video recording to your church’s webpage. Here’s an article showing how to post an audio recording of a sermon online. Here’s one showing how to post a video or an audio recording of a sermon online.
  3. Use online courses to reach out to people who cannot attend parish activities. You can include homebound and infirm parishioners authentically in parish Untitled design (2)activities by making some of the parish’s Christian education opportunities available online. ChurchNext courses are one way to reach out in this way because they are available online, can be taken at each participant’s preferred pace, and include opportunities for online discussion with other parishioners. You might also consider utilizing webcasts for adult forums, lectures, and other educational opportunities, particularly in larger parishes. You can earmark some courses as live and some as live and available via webcast and “market” them accordingly.
  4. Live-stream your church services. This step involves more work and may be more practical mainly for larger parishes, but live webcasts can be an excellent way to make home-bound parishioners feel connected to their home parishes. The clergy can welcome homebound viewers as they do parishioners who are physically present and generally make them feel included. Here’s a page on how to get started webcasting your services.
  5. Teach homebound parishioners how to use online resources.  Some homebound parishioners will know exactly how to use internet technology, and some won’t be able or willing to do so. Others, however, particularly elderly parishioners, may be fully sound of mind and still unclear on how to use many resources on the internet. Appointing someone from the parish to reach out to these parishioners and teach them how to access your church’s online offerings is a good way to include them effectively in the life of your church community.

Does your church use technology to reach out to homebound parishioners? Please comment! We’d like to hear what you do.



Just Launched: The Ministry of Stained Glass with Jackie King

We just launched The Ministry of Stained Glass with Jackie King For Individuals and For Groups.

In the early twelfth century, a German monk who used the name Theophilus (though it may have been a pseudonym) wrote a treatise called On Diverse Arts in which he discusses in useful detail the methods by which medieval artists made stained glass windows.

The steps that he describes include the creation of the glass itself, which was done by melting potash (a combination of sand and wood ash) and adding powders to the molten glass to color it. The artist created a pattern that was traced onto the glass and the pieces were cut and in some cases painted. The pieces were wrapped in lead strips, fitted together, and soldered into place. A cement (made of unknown ingredients, though historians speculate the chalk and linseed oil were involved) was applied to the lead, and the window was installed.

In this course Jackie King, who leads tours and discussions about stained glass at Washington National Cathedral,  explains modern methods of creating stained glass windows. If you compare them to the ways that people made them for Medieval churches, you will find that the stained glass craftsmen of the Middle Ages and the men and women who create windows for churches today utilize many of the same basic techniques. The window patterns have changed in style over the ages, but similar methods and challenges unite the stained glass artists of today with their predecessors of many centuries ago. They take basic elements from the created world, apply fire and strength and craftsmanship, and use these elements to celebrate the glory of God and of God’s creation.

In this course, Jackie discusses the purpose of using stained glass in churches, the symbolic power of stained glass windows, and the styles of stained glass window that have been important through the ages. She discusses methods by which artists create and install windows in churches. She also offers insight on some of the windows in the Washington National Cathedral and the best approaches that visitors in churches can take to appreciating stained glass windows.

For a preview of the course, please click here.

Image 1: Detail from Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière, a thirteenth-century window at Chartres cathedral in France. This part of the window depicts the Marriage at Cana. Public Domain.

Image 2:  Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière, a thirteenth-century window at Chartres cathedral in France. Public Domain.