By Linda Witte Henke

Our calendars may still say "summer," but musicians and worship planners are likely already formulating plans for a new liturgical year. How will the new liturgical cycle unfold in your congregation?

While we may receive with grateful hearts the liturgical form that has been passed down to us over the centuries, sometimes our appreciation of the movements, words, actions, and meaning of the liturgy can become dulled by rushed preparation, mindless repetition, lagging creativity, dwindling enthusiasm, and persistent exhaustion. Sometimes it helps to pause, reflect on the liturgical order, and allow for the possibility of falling in love all over again!


We begin by reminding ourselves that the liturgy (from the Greek word leitourgia, which means "the work of the people") is the defining activity of God's people, the Church. While the particularities of each community's gathering may differ, these gatherings nonetheless reflect threads of common connections:

▪ with believers within our faith community and around the globe,

▪ with the saints who have gone before us and will come after us,

▪ with the needs of the broken world that surround us,

▪ and with a sense of the unlimited possibility of God's ongoing work in forming, reforming, and transforming the Church for holy purpose.

In the Holy Communion liturgy, the principal service of Christian worship, the Holy Spirit gathers people around the means of grace—the Word of God and the sacraments.

The basic pattern of this service—gathering, word, meal, sending—is a structure that allows for freedom and flexibility in how we worship while at the same time focusing on what the church holds in common across its diversity: the whole people of God are joined by the same gifts of grace, for the sake of the same mission of the gospel, and drawn into the very life of the Triune God.


The Gathering is the first movement of the liturgy:

▪ "Gathering" describes not only what we do but who (and whose) we are. It's a word about God and God's faithful action through the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the Church.

▪ We are not just a collection of individuals who come together in a shared physical space. We--wildly diverse in personality, attitude, and need--are gathered and formed by that same Spirit into the one body of Christ.

▪ Different people … different times … different places … different circumstances – but one people of God!

The Gathering begins with a GREETING. The precise words may vary, but the Greeting announces that we gather together in the strong name of the Holy Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A GATHERING RITE usually marks the Gathering:

▪ The Rite of Confession and Forgiveness brings us into the presence of God with an honest recognition of the reality of our human sin and brokenness. Together we are reminded of God's promise. Together, we hear a clear declaration of God's forgiveness.

▪ The Rite of Thanksgiving for Baptism draws us back to our place of entry into Christian community. It prompts us to affirm our baptismal vows and receive assurance of the grace of God's enduring claim on us.

Whether we gather for Confession and Forgiveness or in Thanksgiving for Baptism, we celebrate God's loving kindness and gracious mercy – for us, in this time, and in this place.


The second movement of the liturgy is the Word.

When Christians gather to worship, we read from the word of God entrusted to us in the holy scriptures.

▪ The public reading and proclamation of scripture is an important task that deserves careful preparation and effective delivery.

▪ In some traditions, the Revised Common Lectionary serves the unity of the Church, allows for the hearing of the breadth of the Scriptures, and awakens in us the evangelical intention of the church year.

▪ In some traditions, lay persons read or lead the scriptures from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the Epistles. The preacher usually reads the Holy Gospel.

The SERMON seeks to break open God's Word in ways that enable the assembly to understand it more fully and receive encouragement for faith, life, and ministry from it.

The Sermon is usually followed (or sometimes preceded) by the HYMN OF THE DAY. This hymn selection is specifically intended to anchor the Word in the hearts of the assembly and to prompt a response of vocal proclamation in one voice.

The assembly's profession of faith in the words of the CREED usually follows the Hymn of the Day. A creed is a statement of the faith of the whole church. The ecumenical creeds used in worship confess the church's faithfulness throughout the ages and around the world.

The assembly's unity in the faith also finds expression in the PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION. While the Prayers may follow a prescribed pattern, they are intended to be prepared locally and to reflect the wideness of God's mercy, including:

▪ the church universal, its ministry, and the mission of the gospel,

▪ the well-being of creation,

▪ peace and justice in the world, in the nations and among those in authority, and within the community,

▪ those who are poor, oppressed, sick, bereaved, or lonely,

▪ all who suffer in body, mind, or Spirit,

▪ the congregation in its life and ministry,

▪ particular concerns of the assembly,

▪ and prayers of thanksgiving for the faithful departed.

When the Prayers have concluded, the worship leader exchanges a greeting of PEACE with the assembly, typically something like, "The peace of Christ be with you always."

When the worship leader declares these words, the very peace with which Jesus greeted his disciples following the resurrection is conveyed to the assembly–the peace that casts out fear and assures us that our reconciliation with God has been secured.

When the assembly, in turn, declares "Peace be with you" to one another, we are committing ourselves to live in the unity of Christ's peace with all people.


The third movement of the liturgy, the Meal, begins with the OFFERING:

▪ This collection of bread, wine, money, and other gifts for the church's mission is a tangible expression of the commitment of our whole selves in grateful response to the blessing of our God, who is the source of all gifts. During the Offering, a lay assisting minister usually sets the table for the Meal on behalf of the whole assembly.

▪ As the assembly prepares to participate in the Feast, we are reminded that God's mission includes setting places of welcome at the table for those who are poor, hungry, or excluded.

▪ An ordained minister usually presides over the service of Holy Communion as a reminder that this celebration is not the possession of a particular community of faith but a sacrament of God's whole Church. This is God's table, and God desires all people to feast on the Body and Blood of God's Son present in the wine and the bread.

▪ The feast begins with the GREAT THANKSGIVING, during which the Presiding Minister enters into a dialog of engagement followed by the singing of a canticle sometimes referred to as the Sanctus, which means "Holy, holy, holy."

▪ The feast continues with the Presiding Minister leading a EUCHARISTIC PRAYER that recalls God's actions on behalf of God's people, includes the Words of Institution, and concludes with the assembly joining together in praying the Lord's Prayer.

▪ Sometimes the Presiding Minister then speaks a word of INVITATION for the assembly to come forward and participate in the meal.

In offering the bread and wine of the HOLY COMMUNION to the assembly, the communion minister speaks these or similarly powerful words: The body of Christ, given for you, and The blood of Christ, shed for you. We may respond joyfully, saying: "Amen!" or "Thanks be to God!"

When all have communed, the Presiding Minister sometimes offers a POST-COMMUNION PRAYER asking God to empower us to become what we have received–the body and blood of Christ, broken and poured out for the sake of the world.


The fourth movement of the Liturgy is the Sending, which includes the Presiding Minister's BLESSING of the assembly and a SENDING HYMN intended to inspire, encourage, and propel the assembly out into the world.

The liturgy usually concludes with the lay Assisting Minister announcing the DISMISSAL, an imperative word directing the assembly to leave worship bearing the presence of Christ and prepared to engage in God's ministry in the world. It might sound like this: "Go in peace to love God, serve your neighbor, and care for the creation," to which the assembly enthusiastically responds: "Thanks be to God! Alleluia!"

What in this review of the liturgical order sparks renewed appreciation - fresh insight - creative inspiration?

In our next issue, we'll explore ideas for enriching and deepening worship in Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. 

Linda Witte Henke creates art that explores spiritual themes, social issues, and personal experiences. Her commissioned work resides in more than 80 corporate and private collections. Henke is a former ELCA parish pastor, a published author, and a frequent presenter at conferences and symposia on worship, spirituality, and the arts. She hosts the Center for Church Music's Visual Proclamation of the Word series of video interviews with liturgical artists.

Learn more about Henke's ministry at


Come, O Come, Our Voices Raise

Composed by Peter Niedmann


The Cross of St. Peter is "a cross with the crossbeam placed near the foot, that is associated with Saint Peter because of the tradition that he was crucified head down."

— Wikipedia


The first 22 years of Worship, Music & Ministry in print.

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