May 26, 2016

Intentional Processional: A Very Good Way to Start

Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start.

What happens at the very beginning of your worship service? Is it a “good” way to start? How intentional are you about the opening moments? While I think there are many appropriate ways to begin a worship event, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of a processional as a very good way to start.

Unfortunately, the word “processional” is rather formal and conjures up images of heavy robes, incense, and perhaps a pompous tone. For those reasons, many churches have avoided processing into worship, forgetting that the act of processing itself isn’t the problem. A processional can be done in a way that engages the congregation in celebration and education. In fact, many churches have other processionals in their worship services:

  1. The Offering. In churches where the offering is collected during the worship service, it is fairly common for those gathering the gifts to gather at the back of the sanctuary in a small formation and walk together to the front for a prayer of blessing. Although most churches wouldn’t name this as a processional, it is certainly a visible liturgical event that signifies God’s people humbly offering themselves to their God through their gifts.    
  2. Children’s Worship. In many churches, children carry a small flag and walk through the congregation gathering their friends for worship. The other children process behind them to the front of the sanctuary where they exchange a blessing or song with the older members of the congregation before heading downstairs for age-appropriate lesson.

I’m in favour of incorporating an opening processional into worship because it helps us celebrate and remember some of the grand truths of our story:

We are a people!

A church might intentionally include a variety of members to visually represent the diversity of its congregation. But even when the processional includes just worship leaders, they are the representatives of the people. When they enter the sanctuary and walk through the congregation, everyone is gathered together as one family of God.

Worship is Important!  

Taking time to carefully plan the beginning of worship, and drawing attention to the start helps everyone understand that something big is about to happen. Imagine a wedding in which a bride simply enters from a side door and the Pastor says, “Okay, everyone’s here. Let’s get started.” Not likely! Just as the wedding processional serves to heighten the value of what is about to happen, a worship processional awakens everyone to anticipate the amazing time of being gathered together in the presence of God.

God is With Us!  

This truth is particularly evident when the processional includes visible signs that remind us of specific aspects of God’s presence:

  • A candle symbolizes the light of Christ and the fire of the Spirit
  • A loaf and cup signify salvation, nourishment, hospitality
  • A pitcher of water represents our baptism. For full effect, pour it—with loud splashing noises—into the baptismal font.
  • A Bible reminds of God’s self-revelation to his people.
  • A cross carried forward and upward prompts thoughts of the resurrected, ascended Christ.  

Use common sense. Using too many objects will confuse rather than inspire. Decide what themes your congregation needs to celebrate and remember and use appropriate visual aids.

If you are inspired to start or adjust an opening processional, be sure to adapt the practice to the tone of your congregation. Don’t be trapped by old images. Make it new. Walk with a spring in your step. Smile. Dance to the music of your congregation. Wipe away the cobwebs and negative stereotypes by starting at the very beginning of your worship service with a joyous processional.

Rev. Joy Engelsman is a multivocational pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. She preaches frequently in Denver-area congregations, provides ministry coaching throughout North America, and serves as a missionary with Youth for Christ/Africa developing staff and leaders.