When we started offering an Ash Wednesday service at Community of Hope a few years ago, I had never observed the occasion or attended a service. Over the last few years, it has become one of my favorite services to put together.
I love what I do and highly value consistency, but sometimes I weary of the contemporary church liturgy. What is that? Well, spanning across denominational and theological lines, it looks something like this:
Midtempo/Slower Song(s) – bring it down & build back up just before the message
Reflective Song(s) building back up to send people out on a high
While there are some variations to this pattern, it is the contemporary church liturgy. Do not break the pattern lest ye receive the wrath of the “that’s not how we do it” grumbles.
I do try to inject some freshness into the pattern from time to time, but Ash Wednesday naturally lends itself to being very “other-ly” and reflective. Something that I think many churches really miss out on.
With the attendance being smaller than a normal Sunday morning, we have the flexibility of rearranging the space. We placed our large wooden cross in the middle of the room. The chairs are arranged in the round (squared-off) with the cross at the center. The musicians were placed within the seating area toward the back corner of the room. (Yes, where we place things in space matters. Symbolically as well as in how people interpret what is important.) All of the images on the screen were very simple and grayscale. Lots of candles and a bit of haze from the fog machine coupled with very dim lighting on everything except for the cross in the middle of the room set the stage for a really beautiful service.
Musically, we used Kellie and I on vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, and mandolin. We used four songs:
It really was a beautiful and meaningful service! If I had to change something, I would’ve made sure that we provided time afterward for more quiet reflection and prayer. But overall I was really pleased with how it all came together.
Do you observe Ash Wednesday? Lent? How does it look in your world?