Some Thoughts on Christian Etiquette, Part 5, by Pr. Mark H. Hein

We ran across this series of articles written for his parish by BJS member Pastor Mark Hein and got his permission to publish them here. He is Pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL. You can access previous parts of this article, as well as his other posts on this site, at https://steadfastlutherans.org/pastorhein.

Part 5 – Final Preparations for Worship

It is amazing how people will be early to… or at least on time for… various ongoing activities in their life (work, school, etc.) as well as for special events (sporting and music events, movies, dinner reservations, etc.) but when it comes to the most important event that they will attend each week… every week… namely, divine worship… well, it can oftentimes be a different story.

In Part 4 of this series, I talked about the importance of preparing ourselves for worship. Please note that such preparation continues right before the actual service is scheduled to begin. We should plan on arriving at church early enough so that we have time to prepare our hearts and minds for all that is to come – for the One who indeed comes to us in this sacred gathering. When we first enter the church proper, we have the joy of greeting and briefly meeting with our dear brothers and sisters in Christ who mean so much to us. Time with our fellow saints is indeed precious. However, at some point we need to get ready for the divine service that is about to begin.

Upon entering the sanctuary of the Lord, a person may bow before being seated in a pew giving honor and due reverence to the Lord. Then, after sitting down, a parishioner may have a prayer asking the Lord to bless what is about to take place, all to the glory of God and to their’s soul’s health. In our hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, one will find such prayers right inside the front cover.

With the hymnal still in hand, the parishioner can look to see what order of service is being used and mark it (along with the hymns to be sung) using the ribbons that are provided. Some congregations print out the whole service for easier transition from the “ordinaries” (those parts of the service that remain the same… i.e. invocation, confession and absolution, the creed, Lord’s Prayer, etc) to the “propers” (those parts of the service that change with the specific day and church season… i.e. the introit, gradual, collect of the day, etc.).

Now you are prepared for the start of the service. That is, unless your church is into contemporary worship or “creative worship” where except for a few remnants from your grandfather’s church (thanks be to God), everything is new and novel. For you dear people, I am sorry to say that you need to come extra early to church to read over the worship bulletin so that you can practice what you are going to say and when… so that you can read over both the confession of sins and confession of faith (if they even happen to “fit into” that particular service). Why you ask? It would be unconscionable to not know and agree beforehand what exactly YOU are going to confess!

And don’t even begin to say “I trust my pastor. Whatever he comes up for me to confess either in terms of my sins or my faith is fine with me.” Is it really? Why then, in regard to our confession of faith, we as Lutherans subscribe to three specific creeds or symbols of our faith? Why is the Apostle’s Creed one of the six chief parts of our faith in which we receive careful instruction so that we know what it says and what we are saying every time we confess it?

Ok then… sorry about going off on a tangent there. Back to the divine service. Here’s a question – what happens if we are unavoidably delayed and need to enter the sanctuary after the service begins? Can we enter anytime that we would like? No, not really. To do so would be rude. One would not think of doing that in reverence to the Lord and out of consideration for fellow worshippers.

At St. Paul’s Lockport, we have shared with our members that it is proper to enter the sanctuary during the prelude through the opening hymn (hymn of invocation). However, after that no one should enter the sanctuary until after the collect of the day has been prayed as the pastor is making his way to the lectern for the reading of God’s Holy Word. To enter the sanctuary during the invocation, confession and absolution, kyrie, etc., would be both irreverent and distracting to the saints in worship. Likewise, it is irreverent and distracting if people leave the sanctuary at certain times during the service. We will talk about this in detail in Part 6 of this series. Stay tuned!

Let us pray: O Lord, in all that we do may we show due reverence and respect to You, especially in divine worship. All this we pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Rev. Mark Hein
Pastor,
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Lockport, IL

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