Planning Worship Guidelines for Worship Teams

It is recommended that congregations or parishes choose a small worship team to work through the following guidelines when planning The Season of Creation. These teams have an opportunity to create a worship setting that both reflects the local context of the worshipping community and fits the orientation of the worshipping tradition.

In planning the liturgies and related activities, the worship team is urged to keep in mind that The Season of Creation is designed to be a rich celebration with creation and with Christ at the centre of creation. The key components of the liturgy are summarised in the Charter for The Season of Creation.

Seasonal Colour

Churches that are used to having liturgical colours associated with particular seasons of the church year may wish to identify The Season of Creation with a particular colour. The recommended liturgical colour for The Season of Creation is Aqua, the green-blue colour of planet Earth.

Visuals and Symbols

As the names for the various Sundays suggest, The Season of Creation provides an opportunity to introduce colourful and tangible symbols that reflect the specific focus of a given Sunday. Worship teams are encouraged to supplement the written text of the liturgy with visuals from their own sources or the collection provided on this website.

These visuals and symbols may be general, or they may reflect the specific local context of the worshipping community. Worship teams are urged to invite members of their worshipping community to contribute, where appropriate, paintings, photographs or power-point images that reflect the theme of the day.

Free Online

The Season of Creation logo and the online materials are provided free of charge for use in study, worship and celebration. They are provided by the sponsoring churches as part of their mission to serve Christ through healing creation.

Where a company or congregation wishes to print, publish and distribute one of the texts or the liturgy, they need to obtain permission from the copyright holders listed on the website.

The Creation Setting

In The Season of Creation the setting for worship should reflect an orientation to worship in God’s creation, and especially on Earth as a sacred planet. Ideally, of course, we could find a location that reflected the theme of the Sunday and worship in a forest or beside a river. Such an option is rarely practical. Instead, we need to find a way to create a sense of the presence of creation in our place of worship and thereby increase our consciousness of God’s presence among the trees, deep in the desert or beside a stream.

The task of the worship team is to re-create the domain of creation in the sacred place of worship. The team is encouraged to use its creative skills in designing just such a living domain, whether it be a forest, a waterfall or a wilderness. The worshipper ought to have a sense of celebrating in a living world of God’s creation and, hopefully, a sense of God’s living presence in that world.

Where trees, plants, rocks, waters or other parts of creation are used in the sanctuary or nave of the church, they ought to be arranged so that they are true to life and aesthetically pleasing. Some teams have effectively integrated these elements of creation with the symbol system of the church. In one congregation, for example, a stream of water flowed down the aisle on River Sunday as if it originated from the baptismal font.

The steps involved in preparing the setting for Forest Sunday, for example, could include the team:

  • visiting or imagining a living forest
  • selecting key features to represent a forest
  • designing these features as a rich worship setting
  • inviting members to participate in preparing this setting

The Invitation and Procession

The Invitation or Call to Worship provides an opportunity to reflect the shift in orientation from thanking God for creation to worshipping with creation, as the psalm writers clearly did. The text for the Invitation/Call to Worship in the liturgies provided for The Season of Creation reflects both an invitation for specific components and creatures of Earth and sky to join us in worship and also a readiness to join those parts of creation in their worship.

The components and creatures of Earth named in the invitation are deliberately quite specific and tend to reflect the diversity of life in a given region of the planet. Worship teams may wish to modify the invitation to include birds, animals or parts of creation that are specific to their location or tradition. In each case the creatures invited to join in praising God should reflect the theme of a given Sunday.

Some congregations have the facility for providing the sounds of living creatures from the forest or the field as background to certain parts of the liturgy. During the Invitation/Call to Worship these sounds may become voices joining the worshipping community to enhance our sense of worshipping with creation.

A procession provides an opportunity to involve the children or youth. They enter the church while the congregation sings a song of celebration. In the procession they may, for example, carry plants, trees, small animals, rocks and similar objects that can be placed at an appropriate point in the ‘creation-filled’ sanctuary. Banners with images of the ‘creatures’ for the day may also be used in the procession. A rainbow may form an arch above the sanctuary as a symbol of the season as a whole.

The steps involved in preparing the Invitation and procession for River Sunday, for example, could include the team:

  • visiting or imagining a river or stream setting
  • identifying those creatures invited for worship
  • modifying the Invitation/Call to Worship to fit the local scene
  • working with the children to select/create objects for the procession

The Confession and Absolution

Prior to our confession of sins, we remember our personal connection with that part of creation which is the focus for the Sunday. Worshippers are given a sprig of rosemary or some other appropriate symbol at the door as they enter. The symbol is an aid to remembering. The act of remembering not only celebrates our past connection with Earth as our planet home but also makes us conscious that in the modern world we have become separated and often alienated from our home.

In most traditional Christian worship the focus lies on a confession of personal sins. We confess the things we have done or failed to do as individuals who stand before God as sinners in need of forgiveness.

In The Season of Creation we shift the emphasis from a focus on personal sins to include acknowledging our environmental sins. How have we as a community polluted or desecrated this sanctuary called Earth? How have we, individually or collectively, contributed to endangering life on our planet?

To emphasise these sins, it is recommended that we use more than words in our confession. A symbolic action that makes these wrongs clear and visible is worth considering for each Sunday of the season. For example, on River Sunday, representatives of the congregation may approach the waters in the sanctuary with symbols of pollution. These waters may include large bowls of clear water visible to the worshippers. Into these may be poured a dye that represents the toxins we have allowed to flow into the rivers. These bowls can then be held aloft. Similar objects may represent other forms of pollution. Teams should explore the best way to visualise the sins against the environment appropriate for a given Sunday.

The Absolution from Christ needs to correspond to the confession and make it clear that we are forgiven for our crimes against creation, whether they are sins of pollution, deeds of destruction or greedy acts of exploitation. Forgiveness may be followed by an affirmation of Earth as our home.

The steps involved in preparing the Confession for Land Sunday, for example, would include the team:

  • imagining the beauty of the land before invasion
  • considering ways that we have degraded the land
  • selecting specific environmental sins to confess
  • choosing symbolic ways to make these sins visible in worship

The Readings and Message

The worship team will want to become familiar with the word of God found in the readings for a given Sunday. It is helpful to read the guidelines provided with the Bible study materials. These guidelines are an aid to exploring these readings and discerning the story of Earth in the text. They also help us to discern whether Earth or members of the Earth community have any implied voices in the face of our contemporary environmental crisis.

It is often helpful to have a discussion with the person designated to give the sermon or the address for a given Sunday to clarify as a team the specific focus of the message from God’s word and the relevance of that message for the faith of the worshippers. The Bible study materials provide a useful basis for discerning possible themes for such a discussion or sermon topic.

A similar process is recommended in planning the message and activity of the children in the liturgy. In some cases it is effective if a group of children re-enact one of the readings that tell a part of the Earth story in the Scriptures, a story that extends from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation.

One of the effective ways to give a children’s message is to take a component of creation and give it a human voice, perhaps in the form of a puppet. On River Sunday, for example, a puppet called ‘Drip’ is a suitable vehicle to teach the secret of how God recycles ‘drips’ of water to create life. And that recycling means that over the centuries the same fragments of water-tiny drips-have lived in many different bodies, including the body of Jesus.

The steps involved in preparing the Messages for River Sunday, for example, would include the team:

  • exploring the Earth story in the readings
  • focusing on the role and voice of the river or the water
  • deciding on a version of this message for the children
  • involving families in the presentation of this message

Litanies and Prayers

Litanies of praise and celebration with creation can be found in several books containing worship resources. Seven Songs of Creation by Norman Habel and Sparks of the Cosmos by Margie Abbott are two such resources.

Less common, however, are prayers for the suffering creation, and even less common are prayers where worshippers consciously pray with a groaning creation. In planning the prayers for a given Sunday in The Season of Creation, it is important to try and empathise with living elements in that domain of creation which is the focus for that Sunday. We need to hear the voices crying from creation and to find words that reflect a communal lament-humans and non-human members of the Earth community groaning together.

It is sometimes helpful for the worship team to visit a polluted, desecrated or endangered location, listen to the non-human voices of creation in that location and then formulate the prayers for the day in tune with a groaning creation. It is important, however, to balance prayers of empathy with prayers of praise with creation.

The steps involved in preparing the Prayers for Forest Sunday, for example, would include the team:

  • visiting an area cleared of old-forest timber
  • listening to the cries of the fallen forest
  • formulating prayers that express the pain
  • remembering the hope for a renewal of creation

Gospel and Affirmation of Faith

The message of the Gospel as good news for all creation needs to ring loudly throughout the preaching, teaching and worship for The Season of Creation. The work and presence of the cosmic Christ deserve to be celebrated with great thanks and praise. The sermon might well be used to explain some of the key lines in the Affirmation of Faith, especially the explicit reference to God becoming ‘incarnate in a piece of Earth’ like Adam and to ‘the cosmic Christ at the centre of creation.’

Some may wish to select a more traditional creed in the liturgy, but the vital gospel messages encapsulated in the Affirmation of Faith should not be lost. For that reason some of the same mysteries are reflected in the the Great Thanksgiving for the Eucharist.

It is also worth exploring how the children may wish to capture and depict images of Christ at the core of creation, embracing creation, healing creation and renewing creation. The image is not one of a ‘superman’ figure but a compassionate healer, working with all the broken and bruised parts of our planet to heal, revive and renew a world loved by the Creator.

The steps involved in celebrating the cosmic Christ in Outback or Wilderness Sunday, for example, would include the team:

  • discussing the role of the cosmic Christ
  • exploring ways children may depict the cosmic Christ
  • discerning the presence of Christ healing creation
  • including examples of renewed creation in the chancel

The Breaking of Bread and the Communion

The mystery of the Eucharist is extended in The Season of Creation as we become aware of the cosmic Christ in our midst and in creation communing with us as we gather round Christ’s table and break bread together. The worship team may wish to explore ways to highlight the presence of creation as we commune. The sacred meal need not be separated and celebrated in a special place but can be enjoyed in the midst of the living expressions of creation for a given Sunday.

It would only seem appropriate, then, that, where possible, this meal be celebrated with the table at the centre and with the symbolism of the space reflecting the wider community, our local creation, our sanctuary called Earth and the entire cosmos. As the Israelites gathered in Zion as the navel of Earth, we too are gathered together by Christ at the centre of our sanctuary, the centre of the cosmos, where Christ is present.

Another symbolic action that helps raise our appreciation of the living Earth surrounding us as we celebrate involves remembering species who have become extinct. As we leave the table, where we have communed with all in Christ, our cosmic host, we may wish to light a candle and place it silently in a suitable bowl, remembering not only relatives who have died but also those species who have become extinct and were once part of the communion we share with all life on Earth.

The steps involved in preparing the Eucharist for River Sunday, for example, would include the team:

  • exploring a sense of communion with Christ and creation
  • locating the Lord’s table beside/behind a water context
  • enabling worshippers to encircle the table as a centre
  • providing a bowl with candles to remember extinct species

The Sending and the Blessing

Having raised our consciousness about the crimes against creation and the ecological needs of our planet, as well as the gospel message of renewal for all of creation, we are ready to consider our commitment to serving Earth as disciples of Christ.

Our mission is to minister to Earth, to care for creation and to serve our kin in creation. This role implies that we cooperate with nature, learning the needs of the creatures around us and finding ways to meet those needs. By using the expression ‘loving Earth’ we in no way suggest that Earth is a deity that is being worshipped. To serve is to treat with respect, to take care of and to minister to another as Christ has ministered to us.

It is recommended that for parish Earth care or Earth ministry there be an Earth care team that develops practical activities such as those outlined under Earth Care on this website. The worship team may wish to discuss with the Earth care team practical projects being planned and include these in the closing commission. So, for example, the commitment at the end of the commission may be amended with a specific line such as, ‘We will serve Christ by planting trees in our community’.

The Sending Out in the liturgy for The Season of Creation is designed to motivate us to become involved in this mission and be partners of Christ is the task of healing creation. The Blessing is God’s word empowering us to undertake this role as disciples of Christ to serve Earth as an integral part of our discipleship.

The steps involved in preparing the Commission for Forest Sunday, for example, could include the team:

  • visiting a program of re-forestation or local tree planting
  • discussing renewal plans with the congregational Earth care team
  • emphasising this commitment in the liturgy or after worship
  • celebrating this blessing in the recessional
the season of Creation