For many churches, the lectionary (a pre-planned collection of readings to choose from each Sunday) is the guiding force behind worship planning.
Perhaps the two most well-known forms of the lectionary are the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), a 3-year cycle first published in the early 1990s and the Ordo Lectionum Missae (1969) on which the RCL is based, which emerged after the Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council. (source)
The Ordo Lectionum Missae has been revised and updated (and translated into English) since then and is still used in many Catholic Churches (now called the Lectionary for Mass). The RCL, which is likely familiar to many of you, is used across denominations in churches around the world.
But, in the last several years, new lectionaries have emerged, giving churches an opportunity to explore new reading plans and guides for worship.
Last Fall, Mandy Davis of Central Presbyterian Church in Anderson, SC reached out to me for resources and music planning ideas for the relatively new Narrative Lectionary (2010), a 4-year reading plan that follows a more continuous, “narrative” approach, created by Luther Seminary. After exchanging a few emails, I asked if I could touch base with her later in the year to see how it’s going.
Today, I've invited Mandy on the blog to share her experiences (from a church musician's perspective) and talk about her favorite Narrative Lectionary resources. Enjoy!
Using the Narrative Lectionary
By Mandy Davis
Last summer, my pastor returned from a Preaching Conference where he had been introduced to the Narrative Lectionary.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Narrative Lectionary (NL) is a 4-year lectionary which attempts to provide a more “narrative” flow to the readings from September through May of each year. From September to the middle of Advent, the Narrative Lectionary focuses on texts in the Old Testament: Creation through the prophets. In Advent, it picks up the story of Jesus, focusing each year on one of the Gospels. That gospel focus continues through Easter, and then moves into the story of the early church through Pentecost. Each summer has different options for sermon series that focus on the tenants of our faith.
Over my minister’s 30+ year career in preaching, he had (like many preachers) been using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for the bulk of his preaching.
Occasionally he would move away for a sermon series here or there, or preach topically on a subject that was important to the life of the church. But, we predominantly used the RCL. This was wonderful for me as a Music Director, because there are just so many resources out there for the RCL. But, he was so excited about trying this new 4-year plan, and I was excited because it meant that I was being presented a year’s worth of scripture to plan from in one fell-swoop!
But! In addition to planning the music for each Sunday’s service, I also prepare the liturgy for each of our worship services. I suddenly went from having decades worth of material to pull from that covered the RCL to almost nothing for this relatively new lectionary.
I reached out to Ashley, who has created this wonderful website for those of us working in church music. She pointed me towards some helpful things, and I’ve since found some other really great resources to help with weekly planning. Here are my favorites that I come back to again and again:
Recommended Narrative Lectionary Resources
This website is hosted by Luther Seminary, and they are the best source for basic resources. They have a list of the year’s readings as well as basic lectionary resources for each week. Nothing terribly fancy, but a necessity to bookmark if you are using the Narrative Lectionary. Also, the best place to find basic info on what the Narrative Lectionary is and how it came to be.
Spirit and Truth Publishing
This publishing house has created a great Sunday School curriculum that goes along with the Narrative Lectionary for children, youth, and adult classes. Our staff has been using the adult study each week, looking forward to the next Sunday to help prepare ourselves for the coming week.
In addition, there are daily Bible readings that go along with the Narrative Lectionary that cover the gaps in readings from one week to the next. We provide these to our congregation (for those Sunday School classes that aren’t using this curriculum) and many people are reading along each week. Fantastic Bible study curriculum, as well as a great source of music suggestions and some prayers for the coming week.
Narrative Lectionary Facebook Group
This has hands-down been my most valuable resource since starting the Narrative Lectionary last Fall. It is populated predominantly by preachers, but there are a ton of ideas, thoughts, suggestions, sharing of resources, etc. They even crowd-sourced an Advent Devotional to go along with the daily readings to use through Advent. People who are actively creating resources for the Narrative Lectionary are publishing them to this group, so they are easy to find.
The Worship Sourcebook
This is my main liturgy resource. It's published by Faith Alive and includes over 2,500 prayers, litanies, and spoken texts.
I use hymnary.org when I am hunting for hymn suggestions for more obscure scripture passages. (*From Ashley: If you’re searching by specific passage, try Sundays and Seasons, Prelude Music Planner, J.W. Pepper, and Word to Worship for music, hymn, song, and anthem suggestions.)
Spill the Beans
This is a UK-based resource that publishes lectionary resources for the NL.
This site has some wonderful NL resources available, including some original music resources that coordinate with the worship planning materials.
Offering small group and Bible study curriculum materials and a variety of NL- and theme-based worship planning resources.
You may have noticed that the one thing missing from much of my info above is music resources. Well, there just aren’t a lot out there. I’m still searching, and just being creative with the resources I already have on hand. Thankfully I have a 15+ year career working in church music, and 25 more before that singing for a mother who worked in church music. So this year has been great for my creativity!
I absolutely love the Narrative Lectionary. I think it is beautifully structured, but I will admit that it did take a little while to get used to some of it (specifically in Advent, when we didn’t touch on any of the “normal” stories until the Fourth Sunday!).
In the Fall, it was very interesting to stay in the Old Testament, watching the narrative of God’s relationship with his people unfold Sunday after Sunday. Once we moved into the New Testament, we moved into the Gospel of Luke (this year’s Gospel focus). It has been really fascinating to move through one of the Gospels slowly and narratively over the course of the last 3-4 months.
I’d be happy to talk with anyone who is interested in starting the Narrative Lectionary and help however I can. In the meantime, I’m back to work finishing up Holy Week services, as I suspect we all are this time of year!
We’d love to hear: Have you used the Narrative Lectionary in your church? What are your thoughts or reactions to it? What resources have you found to be indispensable?