I went to a great seminar called "Welcoming Worship," facilitated by the Rev. Michael Tino, when I was at the Large Congregation Conference. Michael emphasized several great ways to make our worship services enjoyable for more people, especially more young people. He made the point that at every service, three to four voices ought to be heard, not just one because just one voice, no matter how wonderful, will not provide enough variety for the congregation. Tino recommends that a few Worship Associates speak in addition to the minister. According to Michael Tino, large congregations need to have lay members visible (in the pulpit). Worship Associates are folks with good public speaking skills who are chosen by the minister to assist with the announcements, readings, the chalice lighting or the benediction. I was proud to raise my hand when Michael asked how many of us have Worship Associates at our congregations. And I kept my hand up when Michael asked how many of us have WAs who are under 30(thanks, Abby!).
My church began the program just last fall, I think. I love it! Having confident, relaxed people in the pulpit helps the whole atmosphere at a worship service. A few years ago, the person finding lay members to do the announcements wanted to get a different member in the pulpit every time: someone who had never done it before. The idea was that seeing all these different people would help us get to know each other better. Well, it just didn't work. Almost every week, a nervous, anxious member flubbed up the announcements because s/he wasn't able to project warmth and welcome to everyone and would mess up pronunciation or speak in a monotone or ad-lib inappropriately. For a year at least, no one doing the announcements knew how to do it. I thought it made us look like a very large group of amateurs!
But, I couldn't really complain, because the people recruiting announcers had the attitude that the announcements did not need to be done smoothly; in fact, they thought it was kind of sweet when anyone fumbled and bumpled (makes us seem more human, they said).
Gee, I couldn't disagree more! I want a seamless, reverential delivery by someone who is relaxed, not self-conscious -- someone who is able to warmly and joyously welcome us all into sacred space. Because at every worship service, some folks are there for the first time and some folks are hurting and looking for solace or compassion.
There was a time that I was in the pulpit for what (to me) was an extended period: ten minutes. I admitted that I was nervous, so the minister helping reassured me immediately by saying that every UU comes to services wanting to engage with us -- no one is here because they have to come! Plus, he told me that our pulpit is shaped like a hug and would hug me while I spoke. My nervousness disappeared immediately!
Though I love Worship Associates, I prefer that the opening words be delivered by a minister -- because a minister will invariably use the proper cadence, emphasis and reverence. That great preaching style ministers learn that brings us into worship, into the sacred! I am disappointed when someone says the opening words in an everyday voice.