Celebrating Ordinary Time with Not-So-Ordinary Summer Worship

Happy summer, friends! I'm sharing a guest post today on how to celebrate Ordinary Time during the summer months, written by Sarah Bereza. Sarah is a church musician in Ohio and writes her own blog at musicandthechurch.com, where she shares research on Christianity and music. Enjoy! - Ashley


Summer can often feel like an ordinary, even dull, part of the church year. Choirs are usually on break, and there may be a dip in church attendance.

In fact, the time between Pentecost and Advent, as well as the time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, is known as “Ordinary Time” in some Christian denominations to distinguish the “ordinary” parts of the year from seasons of celebration (like Christmas) and penitence (like Lent).

But Ordinary Time doesn’t have to mean ordinary worship. Fortunately, there are many creative, musical ways to make the “everyday” season of the year special and meaningful in its own way.

Celebrating Ordinary Time During the Summer Months

Would you like the congregation to learn new songs?

Have a Hymn of the Month Club and learn a few new songs over the summer. Here are a few suggestions to help your congregation learn new hymns before and during services.

Are choral singers or instrumentalists in town?

If choral singers are in town, do easy anthems on a few Sundays (or all the Sundays, if that’s an option) with just a rehearsal before the service. You might even catch folks who would love to sing during the rest of the year but can’t make it to weekly rehearsals. If singing anthems isn’t feasible, the vocalists might enjoy strengthening the congregational singing by singing parts or a descant.

Summer is also a great time to invite instrumentalists in your congregation to share their gifts and to bring in guest musicians from your local community. You may be able to form an ensemble on a given Sunday, but solo instrumentalists can be both enjoyable for the congregation and easier to schedule in the summer.

Related Post: 12 Easy Anthems for Your Summer Choir

Can you assemble a vocal ensemble for one Sunday?

If your church’s liturgy allows, hold a hymn sing during a service by increasing the number of hymns and having the ensemble sing an anthem that invites congregational participation. R. Vaughan William’s “All People That on Earth Do Dwell,” Raney’s “God of Grace and God of Glory,” and Haugen’s “Shepherd Me, O God,” are all successful with only piano/organ and choir. (Learning an anthem like one of these could also jump-start the choir’s return in the fall by providing a piece they could sing again, especially if other instrumental forces would be available.)

Do you have young musicians?

Have a Youth Sunday where youth and older children provide service music and leadership. Or, if their schedules don’t line up, schedule them on a few Sundays throughout the summer and make a note of this event in the bulletin.

Do you have a small congregation?

Program everyone’s hymn favorites through the summer. Besides in-person communications, you can ask church members to submit their favorite hymns via a slip of paper in the offering plate or a message with the church office. If your church uses a bulletin, make a note of which hymns are favorites. And be sure to let people know when you’re programming their favorite hymn so they make plans to be there that Sunday!

Does your church hold annual summer events?

Program music that coordinates with the events’ themes. For example, if your church participates in a community festival, choose hymns on Christian unity and neighborliness such as “In Christ There is No East or West,” “We Are One in the Spirit,” “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” and “The Church of Christ Cannot Be Bound.”

If you have a choir, Molly Ijames’ cheerful setting of the recently-written congregational hymn “Oh, How Good It Is” could provide a foundation for the congregation to learn a new hymn.

Does your church observe civic holidays?

Depending on your church’s denomination, it may be appropriate for the service music to reflect holidays like Independence Day and Labor Day. You might also consider doing one of these services outdoors on the church grounds. Invite the congregation to bring their friends and family (and some lawn chairs!) and stay afterward for a church-wide picnic with live music by some local community groups - bluegrass, jazz, a vocal trio, etc.

Are YOU the only musician for the entire summer?

Pick a composer and play his/her music for all the instrumental music over the course of several Sundays. Give those Sundays a name! For example, a “Bach in the Summer” series. Make a note of upcoming Sundays in the series so the congregation can look forward to the music you’ve chosen.

Trying New Things

The summer can be a good time to refresh both musicians and congregation by experiencing different musical styles. If your liturgy allows, it can also be an opportunity to engage with other art forms like poetry and visual art, especially if these are mediums of worship that your congregation is less familiar with.

Celebrating into the Fall

When vacation-season quiets down and choir is back in session, you will likely find more church events that mark the time. For instance, October or November is a perfect time for a month-long emphasis on hymns from your denomination’s history, especially if the Protestant Reformation will be observed in your church.

Then, it’s Thanksgiving and Advent, and the church year starts afresh!

How do you celebrate Ordinary time during the summer months?


About the Author

Sarah Bereza, PhD, writes about Christianity and music at musicandthechurch.com and ministers as a church musician in Cincinnati, Ohio.