The Joint Assembly’s worship planning team was asked to come up with “a new and creative thing” for the gathering’s opening eucharist.
They delivered. From beginning to end, it was no ordinary worship service.
The liturgy opened with a series of video clips of congregations and individuals from across Canada, projected onto big screens throughout the plenary hall, offering the customary greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Then, during the opening hymn, a 12-foot-tall inukshuk was taken apart, its various parts reassembled to create an altar on which the eucharist was celebrated, a font used for a remembrance of baptism and an ambo from which the scripture lessons were read.
The worship planning team’s co-chairs said they chose to incorporate an inukshuk, a traditional marker for travellers used in the Arctic, because they were looking for a distinctively Canadian symbol.
“Somehow a big beaver in the room didn’t quite cut it,” said Lutheran worship co-chair Eric Dyck.
Anglican worship co-chair Catherine Ascah said the inukshuk was a good fit because its shape has “a cross-like feel to it,” while also being something highly identifiable and marking off a particular place—in this case, a 35,000 square-foot convention floor she describes as an “airport hanger.”
A scripture passage from Acts recounting the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip was alternately read by a lector in French and shown in pre-recorded video clips projected onto the big screens.
The reading was interspersed with a thanksgiving for baptism and a renewal of baptismal vows, capped by a “waterless asperges.” Worship assistants–trailing long, flowing streams of blue fabric–ran between the tables of delegates, invoking the sprinkling rite that often accompanies of remembrance of baptism.
In her sermon ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson exhorted the delegates to take seriously their baptismal commitment to bear witness to God’s word in the world, and challenged them to begin here at the Joint Assembly.
“As you make new friends and meet old ones, fight the temptation to talk about the weather, or the length of time it takes to get up the escalators, or any other kind of filler conversation,” Bishop Johnson preached. “Instead, take the risk of sharing something about your faith. How have you experienced God’s love for the world? What is the faith story that you can share?”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz presided at communion, intoning a eucharistic prayer that was an original composition for the Joint Assembly and will be used again at the closing service. After the bread and wine were consecrated at the altar they were distributed to the dozens of tables where delegates served each other communion.
The liturgy concluded with a hymn, but no blessing or dismissal, which Ascah said is deliberately intended to frame the entire Joint Assembly in prayer.
“We’re still praying,” she said. “We’re still worshipping and we’re still praying, and the final benediction is going to come at the closing eucharist.