Worship Planning Theme: Water

There are some themes and symbols that appear over and over again in scripture: creation, light, bread, water. And every few weeks, I seem to find myself planning around a certain theme and searching for worship planning inspiration:

“hymns about light”
“songs about water”
“music for communion”

You, too? Okay, good. 

Based on my own planning for a service later this spring, I’m sharing my favorite stories, music, and worship planning ideas for services about water.

Water symbolizes baptism and rebirth, healing and renewal, creation and order from chaos. It ebbs and flows, waves and ripples: a living, moving thing. It sustains us and life on earth. It cleanses us and makes us new.

We hear about water in the beginning and how God created order from the chaos. We read about Noah’s ark and the waters that covered the earth and Moses and the Israelites crossing through the Red Sea on their way to the Promised Land. In the New Testament, we remember Jesus’ baptism, the blind man regaining his sight, and the Samaritan woman at the well. We hear about Jesus walking on water and calming the storm with his hand and the night he washed his disciples’ feet.

These stories remind us that God offers us living water, that he is our source of life. We are reborn through baptism, healed and renewed through the cleansing flood of his grace, and recreated from the inside out as he brings order from chaos.

As we plan worship around these stories throughout the year, we have an opportunity to invite people to experience God’s living water, some, perhaps, for the first time. Through word, deed, and song, we can help people remember their baptism and experience the healing and renewal God offers.

Here are a few ideas:

Baptism / Rebirth

“Baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which grace we become partakers of his righteousness and heirs of life eternal.” - The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 103

Baptism symbolizes cleansing, rebirth, and new life. Whether your service includes baptism or not, incorporating water and baptism themes can be a meaningful way for congregation members to remember their own baptisms and the covenants that were made at that time. 

Remember your baptism. One idea is to invite the congregation to come forward (during the singing of a well-known hymn) and dip their hand into a bowl of water. The pastor and lay leaders may also be available to pray a prayer of blessing over each person and mark the sign of the cross on their heads as a way of remembering.

Here are a few hymns, songs, and anthems to consider:

Take Me to the Water (African-American Spiritual) (baptism)
Child of Blessing, Child of Promise (baptism)
Down To the River to Pray (Traditional) (baptism)
Who Am I (Casting Crowns) (baptism)
Blessed Assurance (baptism)
Down By the Jordan (LOBE DEN HERREN - in Worship & Song) (Jesus’ baptism)
Baptized in Water (BUNESSAN) (baptism)
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (rebirth)
Nothing But the Blood of Jesus (cleansing)

For more hymns and psalms related to baptism, see this article.

Healing / Renewal

“The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” - James 5:15-16a

In many of the stories we read, water symbolizes renewal and healing. The woman at the well. The blind man who regains his sight. In a more abstract sense, the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana was an act of renewal - transforming water (God’s first covenant with creation) into the blood of the new covenant, a foreshadowing of what was to come. (source)

On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, an act of submission, humility, and grace, and are invited to experience our own form of healing and renewal through loving and serving others.

Prayer. Lead the congregation in a prayer of confession, using water and clear vessels to illustrate God’s healing and renewal. Use this pouring confession as liturgy. Or, use this prayer of intercession with congregational responses and water imagery throughout.

Here are a few songs, hymns, and anthems work well with this theme. Consider using some of these as congregational songs, hymns, or responses; instrumental pieces; choral anthems or responses; etc.

It Is Well (peace)
Like a River Glorious (peace)
Living Waters (Keith & Kristyn Getty) (woman at the well)
Come Just As You Are (arr. Harlan) (woman at the well)
Come to the Water (arr. Hasseler) (woman at the well)
I Am (Mark Schultz) - from God’s perspective
Wade in the Water (African-American Spiritual) (healing the blind man)
Amazing Grace (healing the blind man)
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) (Chris Tomlin) (healing the blind man)
Rain Down (Jaime Cortez) (renewal)
Shall We Gather at the River (renewal)
Roll Down, Justice! (Mark A. Miller) (peace, renewal, justice)

Creation / Chaos & Order

"Then God said, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear'; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” - Genesis 1:9-10

The story of Creation is a story about chaos and order (source). This is work God continues to do in our world and in our lives today - restoring, remaking, rebuilding, refining. We remember the stories throughout scripture of God commanding the seas to obey him: Noah’s ark, Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Jesus walking on water and calming the storm with his hand.

Here are a few songs, hymns, and anthems that work well with the theme of creation:

God of Wonders (Third Day) (creation)
Crashing Waters at Creation (RESTORATION) (creation)
O Worship the King (creation)
The Church’s One Foundation (creation)
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (crossing the Red Sea)
O God, Our Help in Ages Past (Jesus Calms the Storm)
Give to the Winds Thy Fears (Jesus Calms the Storm)
My Hope is Built (Jesus Calms the Storm, walking on water)
Oceans (Hillsong) (walking on water)
O Jesus I Have Promised (walking on water)

Visuals. In any water-themed service, think about ways to incorporate visuals - ribbon banners, altar decor, media, etc. to depict water and catch people’s attention when they walk in the door. Use lightweight blue fabric and water jugs on the altar like this, set up clear vessels with water, or create a “river” during the scripture reading by running a long piece of blue fabric down the aisle and have someone stand at each end and gently wave it up and down.

Missions. You might also consider taking up a special offering to benefit a charity or nonprofit organization working to provide clean water to third-world countries. Something like Living Water International, Lifewater, Clean Water Delivery Ministry, The Water Project, or Water@Work, to name a few.

Whatever services you have coming up, I hope this post inspires you to delve into the richness of water as a worship planning theme.

Questions? Ideas? I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below!

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