Responsive Readings - Mindless? Meaningful?

Carolla

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So - this came up today on fb .... what do you think? I know my church uses a responsive reading format quite a lot; along with unison prayers, responsive psalms etc. I've often found them irritating ... now I see more clearly why they rub me the wrong way sometimes.

Are responsive readings part of your church services? How do feel about being given words to say? Do you just recite, or pause to ponder then say (or possibly decline to say) what's written? Just curious.

For those crafting services - what is it that you see as the purpose of responsive items within the service?

 

Northwind

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I love this. I was thinking about how things have changed over the years. I couldn't remember if we did responsive readings in my most recent church. I think a small amount. @GordW could answer better.
 

Redbaron

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I thought this was hilarious. We usually use a responsive call to worship, and a few sung responses to prayers and offering. I never thought of them as an opportunity to put words in people's mouths... I guess too busy trying to find a way to get thoughts into people's minds, and motivations into people's hearts...
 

Mendalla

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First off, that is likely satirizing UUs as much as it is responsive readings. There's also a joke in UU circles about how UUs read ahead in the hymns to decide which lines to sing.:D

I have been known to use responsive readings but they tend to be either alternating verses (e.g. opening words where the leader reads a verse, congregation reads a verse, and so on) rather than a call-response format or simple responses ("We give thanks" or whatever) to affirmations (see the responsive grace I wrote in another thread).

I agree that the kind that "puts words in people's mouths" is problematic depending on how it is done but that is true of unison readings, too, really.
 

Mendalla

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I think part of the solution, by the way, is not to use "we" type language. A responsive reading like:

Reader: For God so loved the world
Response: That God gave his son to save it.​

Shouldn't be a problem, or less so than when responsive readings have "we" or "you" language.

Reader: In a harsh and broken world
Response: We are harsh and broken people​

Is essentially forcing someone to confess something about themselves that they may, or may not, accept. I can see where that's a problem, though the message might be needed sometimes. Definitely, the reader should not be using "you", which somehow excludes themselves from whatever is being said. Any confession should include all.
 

Jae

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We never used to do responsive readings at my church in Toronto.

At my church in Suwon, it's our practice to do a responsive reading of the passage of Scripture the pastor's going to preach on. I think it's a good way to involve everyone in reading Scripture, help us to remember it, and prime us for the sermon.

I do enjoy listening to a reading though when it's well read by a single reader. Some people I've heard have a great knack for reading, being as dramatic as they need to be, not overdoing it, not giving a flat read.
 

Carolla

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I do enjoy listening to a reading though when it's well read by a single reader. Some people I've heard have a great knack for reading, being as dramatic as they need to be, not overdoing it, not giving a flat read.
I do agree, and the manner of reading makes a big difference to me too. Not hurried, effective tone & inflection, thoughtful pauses etc. for me stimulates thoughtful reflection, rather than someone who sounds like they're just trying to get to the finish line or hurries along to the next before I've had any chance to consider what is being stated. I wish ministers & lay liturgists would take some drama or toastmaster's training if such things don't come naturally to them ... hello M&P committees!
 
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BetteTheRed

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In our congregation, we have a person, an ex officio member of the Worship Team, who 'organizes' the lay readers. Happens to be me, and has been for a long time. When I inherited the role, I was given to understand that the rules are, if you volunteer, we accept you. Means that the 'talent' I have available is extremely uneven. Best I can do, when making up the schedule, is to schedule the worst readers for services with the potential for lowest attendance, i.e. mid-summer...
 

revjohn

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Congregations are funny creatures.

Some really do well with responsive readings, others not so well.

Part of the problem is language and Mendalla points out. The other part is ability (and this is not just a concern for those who struggle with literacy) it is a struggle for those who do not read aloud. There is nothing more grating than listening to a crowd reading the same piece without any hint of emotion or variation in tone. Sure they get the right word at the right time. So much wasted effort. Might as well be reading a recipe for the blandest of all possible foods.
 

BetteTheRed

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And if you're reading from screens, not the bulletin, not some little part is due to the talent of both the slide-preparer and the slide-changer. I had a tricky bit to do Christmas Eve feeding lines via the back projector to monologue-ists (four different ones, different ages, different preparedness, different number of words ahead in the text, etc.)
 

Carolla

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In our congregation, we have a person, an ex officio member of the Worship Team, who 'organizes' the lay readers. Happens to be me, and has been for a long time. When I inherited the role, I was given to understand that the rules are, if you volunteer, we accept you. Means that the 'talent' I have available is extremely uneven. Best I can do, when making up the schedule, is to schedule the worst readers for services with the potential for lowest attendance, i.e. mid-summer...
So true - and yes, I get it it that to be inclusive is important too - so finding a match for 'gifts' and needs is important. I do wonder how many might accept an opportunity for coaching if offered.
 

GordW

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I love this. I was thinking about how things have changed over the years. I couldn't remember if we did responsive readings in my most recent church. I think a small amount. @GordW could answer better.
What counts as a Responsive REading? Most of our liturgy is (Call to Worship, Opening Prayer, Prayer for Grace, Commissioning, Communion Liturgy) in my mind a Responsive Reading
 

Luce NDs

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Congregations are funny creatures.

Some really do well with responsive readings, others not so well.

Part of the problem is language and Mendalla points out. The other part is ability (and this is not just a concern for those who struggle with literacy) it is a struggle for those who do not read aloud. There is nothing more grating than listening to a crowd reading the same piece without any hint of emotion or variation in tone. Sure they get the right word at the right time. So much wasted effort. Might as well be reading a recipe for the blandest of all possible foods.
The pain of halved mine reading? Irresponsible or emotionally irrational if read in conflict to despotic directives?

Adepts thus go astray as disposable members ... thus hang-ups in rigid belief systems ... before the stone wailed ...

May be substituted with a Basalt Bull ... nothing left but the caldron ... GEO logical depression!
 

Mrs.Anteater

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Responsive reading is one reason , I can no longer go back to a regular United church service after having been at the Quakers for two years. For the above reason- it puts words in your mind and mouth that might fit in the overall flow of how the worship is planned but has nothing to do with where the people present are. I went to the longest night service to my old church before Christmas and if it hadn’t been for the time for walking the labyrinth with quiet music playing, the whole service just felt like nobody there could stand a moment of quiet. It was so planned and constructed like a “ show”. I don’t doubt the good intention. It just seems so much in contrast to a quaker worship where people speak from their heart- or not at all.
 

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Sounds like Mrs. Anteater's Quaker service would work well for me. We don't do responsive readings at Hillhurst, but we do have unison prayers and a decided absence of contemplative silence. When there is a time of silent prayer it seems like the minister has a stop watch to end the silence as quickly as possible. Also, Mendalla's comment about UU folks and the lines of hymns resonates with me as I often look ahead at the screen and change the lines I sing to be appropriate to my beliefs.
 

GiancarloZ

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My upbringing, transitioning back and forth RC and Lutheran, was one of responsive readings.
Moving from Rio to Curitiba in July 2017, though, I joined a Lutheran congregation with an Evangelical "zest" - not enough to move away from the Lutheran ethos, but enough to add some energy to the service. There were no responsive readings there except for "Thanks be to God" after Bible readings, the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed. Except for those parts and the hymns, all the service was conducted by the Pastor.
In the beginning, I hated it, as I was used to more traditional settings. After some time, though, I started to appreciate this different setting because it allowed me to think and reflect much more, without being so worried about the readings.
 

Luce NDs

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If one gathers from the whole mess of Masses .. there is some alien stuff to learn that caan benefit peace in the ass we call the human Don Quish is out ... according to real men that can't appreciate delicacies ... virtual taste ease?
 

Mystic

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Carolla, you raise an issue that is rarely discussed and raises the more general question of how pastors structure the order of worship. Most pastors draw their responsive readings and unison prayers from old prayer books. Some of those readings are excellent, but most begin to sound like shopworn clichés and jargon that deaden the spirit. A better choice is the repertoire of responsive readings and unison prayers from the best of modern books on creative liturgy. As a pastor, I drew heavily from these, but more often spent hours weekly composing such liturgical pieces that spoke to the theme of the service, especially my sermon. I also selected hymns and praise choruses with lyrics that fit that theme.

An honest evaluation of such creations is hard to make. A handful of people told me they collected all my liturgical creations for later meditation. I reveled in that affirmation until I realized that the people who benefit less from all this remain politely silent. A couple told me that they had to focus so much attention on the simple act of reading that the meaning went right over their heads. I suspect that these spoke for more than I'd like to admit. I tried to provide fresh language for worship and spiritual insight, but, though such efforts work for some, for others, it is unpleasant to put words in their mouths that they may ultimately embrace, but are not yet comfortable reciting. The ideal situation is to have a representative feedback group to hear a broad spectrum of reactions from various types of people with varying poetic and philosophical sensitivities.

This brings me to the question of alternative orders of worship. I always provide a couple of minutes for silent prayer and meditation. Many people loved this and looked forward to it, but others seemed uncomfortable with silence. I disregarded those naysayers because of the profound gratitude many others expressed for such moments. I even occasionally inserted Quaker meditation techniques into the service. My pianist loved these Quaker-style meditations and left instructions for me to lead such a meditation at her memorial service. She died after I retired, but the new pastor objected to her request, until family protests forced him to comply and I uncomfortably led a meditative process that should have been unifying, but rankled the new pastor's nerves! '


So, Carolla, what is your idea of the best structure for a worship service? In my retirement church hopping, I've noticed that most nonliturgical churches begin with 15-30 minutes of praise choruses and hymns, during which the congregation is expected to stand throughout. That struck me as too taxing for the elderly and began to bore me after the 4th hymn or chorus. I am dogmatic about one point, though: announcements need to come at the start of the service. If announcements are made in the middle, it disrupts the contemplative flow of worship.
 

BetteTheRed

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Most pastors draw their responsive readings and unison prayers from old prayer books.
Yer gonna need some evidence for this one, Mystic. You really need to stop throwing around your limited personal experience with words like "Most".

We have two ministers and a variety of supply for when they're on vacation. I often project the slides, so I usually know where the prayers and readings come from. Hint: they're not "old prayer books". I also visit other congregations, and I'm just not hearing those "old prayer book" prayers.

I wonder if it's the age of your community, or the age of the pastors you know.
 

GiancarloZ

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The United Churches I have attended mixed fresh liturgical texts and some traditional prayers.
 
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