As we journey through Lent and prepare for the high holy days from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, we here at Sacred Stones Ministries want to help you make the most of a season that can be a “thin place” between the earthly realm and the in-breaking realm of God. So as part of our mission to equip, empower, and encourage the people of God on the path to spiritual flourishing, here are five tips for planning a meaningful Holy Week.
1. Decide where your time and energy are best spent.
Busyness has become almost an addiction or illness for many people, and too often, churches contribute to the problem. Sometimes a legacy of multiple midweek services feels like a requirement to honor tradition; other times churches try adding many new events or programs to try to compete with each other. Recognize that you and the people in your community have limited amounts of time available, and set realistic expectations for how much you and they can reasonably participate in.
If you are a pastor, this may mean eliminating a midweek service that stretches your congregation too thin, or canceling administrative committee meetings that would normally take place in the week before and after Holy Week. Not every church can – or should – pull off a Palm Sunday pageant, choir cantata, Wednesday night Bible study, Maundy Thursday foot-washing and Communion, Good Friday Tenebrae service, Holy Saturday Vigil, Easter egg hunt, sunrise service, pancake breakfast, and multiple Easter Sunday worship services in a variety of musical styles!
If you are a lay person, see if there are ways to simplify your commitments (to church and other areas of life) so that you can be fully present for the moments that mean the most to you, or that offer you an opportunity for spiritual growth. Perhaps you have always wondered about foot-washing, or the Stations of the Cross are the most powerful part of your Good Friday experience. Maybe you have young children and evening services are difficult to get to right now. Do what you can, and say no when you need to in order to practice your spirituality with integrity.
Diversity comes in many forms: race/ethnicity, family/marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity, education, and socioeconomic level, but also personality, learning style, energy levels, spiritual types, and more.
If your worship services tend to be very wordy and oral/aural (as many Protestant churches tend to be), look for ways to incorporate more visual elements in worship that enhance the theme, message, and mood of the day – for example, altar arrangements with symbols of Jesus’ final days, fabric draped artistically in the sanctuary, images projected on the screen. Check out our boards on Pinterest for some ideas for prayer stations, which can be a creative way to involve people in embodied prayer and to engage multiple senses.
If your creative energies are tapped, or you’re looking for a resource to help enliven the familiar story of Palm/Passion Sunday (or other services during Holy Week), check out “Things We Thought We Knew,” a dramatic reading for five voices that you can use in place of a sermon.
3. Provide resources for people to practice their faith at home, at work or school, and in the community.
The United Methodist Church declares that its mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” At Sacred Stones Ministries, we believe that means that people need to be equipped and empowered to live out their faith 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Churches that focus exclusively on why people need to “come to church,” even in the high holidays when we have extra emphasis on remembering our sacred stories as a community, risk missing an opportunity to help people grow as disciples in their lives outside the church building.
So offer family devotional booklets or simple prayers and songs to use in worship at home. Invite people to gather in small groups to tell stories about what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean to them, or what hope they have for new life in the coming year. Encourage people to post photos on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest) that express what faith means to them. Of course, this tip applies not only to Holy Week, but every week of the year.
4. Invite, welcome, and affirm your guests.
Pastors sometimes feel frustrated that so many people show up for worship on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday who never darken the door of the church any other time of year. But remember, these folks are showing up on these important holidays for a reason, and whether it’s family, cultural, or personal, they are worthy of the same welcome as guests who show up any other Sunday. Remember Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Prepare for guests ahead of time in the following ways:
a. Coordinate volunteers to welcome people as they enter, making sure they are trained to know how to direct families to nursery, cry room, or children’s church/Sunday school rooms, as well as restrooms.
b. Tour the building with newcomer’s eyes, looking for signage to help guests find their way around: from the parking lot to the main entrance, accessible entrance or elevator, restrooms, nursery/Sunday school rooms, etc.
c. Review your bulletin and inserts as well as your projected announcements for insider language (“narthex,” “sanctuary,” acronyms, contact people listed by first name only) and make sure families can get the information they need about children’s programs that take place that day;
d. Prepare a brief spoken welcome that sets a friendly tone and helps people know what to expect in worship, from the use of hymnals/bulletins/projected information to whether it’s okay to bring coffee into worship to how Communion is celebrated and who is invited to the table.
e. Communicate with regular participants ahead of time to remind them of the importance of a friendly welcome to those who are new, and encourage people to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know as a spiritual practice (harder for the introverts than the extroverts, but advance warning will help!).
Plan a community service project for a week or two after Easter, announce a sermon series on finding God in the movies, or invite families to take part in a study on faith and the challenges of modern parenting. Sure, most of the people who show up that Sunday are going to stick to their plan of only coming for Christmas and Easter, but there may be more than you expect who are interested in being part of a faith community if what they experience on Easter Sunday resonates with their highest hopes and deepest needs. Make sure your regular folks know about these opportunities in advance, too, so they can also invite people directly when they greet one another before, during, or after worship.
Join the conversation:
- Which of these tips resonates most with you, or seems most needed in your context?
- What would you add to help others experience Holy Week in a more meaningful way?