A Service of the Word

A Service of the Word is the result of careful thinking about a new approach to Sunday worship.

Sunday is the weekly festival of the Resurrection of Christ. It is the day when the people of God meet to celebrate the presence of the Risen Jesus who promised to be "where two or three are gathered together" in his Name.

It has become widely recognized that there are occasions when the prescribed services of Morning and Evening Prayer or Holy Communion may not meet the needs of a particular congregation. There have been experiments with less formal orders of service variously called "family" or "all-age" services and in some places "evangelistic" services to which members of congregations invite friends who may have little Christian commitment.

This booklet contains:

  1. A basic structure for all such services.
  2. Four examples of working out that structure which may be used on their own, entitled Forms A, B, C and D. These may be reproduced for congregational use as they stand by photocopying or other methods.
  3. A selection of Resource material which may be used to work out other forms based on the Structure.

THE STRUCTURE has four sections:

  1. THE PREPARATION: A Greeting, an Invitation to worship, a hymn of praise to God, an Act of penitence (but this may on occasion be more appropriate in the section called the Response) and an Acclamation.
    The Collect of the Day is the climax of the Preparation and leads in to the Ministry of the Word.
  2. THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD: The Reading and exposition of Holy Scripture is the central part of the service. The use of the Psalms whether sung in metrical versions, or chanted or recited in "prayer book" versions, enables the congregation to interact with the Readings. Periods of silence also help this interaction. The use of Scripture Songs ("canticles") is recommended.
  3. THE RESPONSE: Normally an Affirmation of Faith is followed by prayers for the Church and for the World. Sometimes penitence is also appropriate if not used in the Preparation. After a General Collect the climax of this section comes as the congregation says together the Lord's Prayer. In this section the Offering may come before or after the Prayers.
  4. The service ends with THE DISMISSAL. Either a Dismissal Prayer or a Blessing can be followed by a final salutation.

It will be seen that A Service of the Word represents a different approach to Sunday worship from Morning or Evening Prayer. There are similarities to those services in that the Reading of Scripture and its exposition are central. A Service of the Word is designed for worship when a wide spectrum of ages is expected to be represented in the congregation. However, it is not a "children's" service. Even the simplest working of the structure must allow and encourage adults to worship. The pattern of Form C is perhaps the most "child-friendly" while the pattern of Form B can easily be led by a Reader or by a Deacon. Form D is a further alternative for evening worship on a Sunday or at a conference.

With the permission of the Ordinary the Preparation and the Ministry of the Word (provided a Gospel Reading is included) with suitable intercessions might also be used to take the place of all that precedes the Peace in the Alternative Prayer Book Order for Holy Communion.


  1. It is important to have a firm beginning to the service. It is not recommended that a service based on this Structure begin with a processional hymn but rather that the congregation, ministers and the choir should come to their places and then the service begin with a GREETING / INTRODUCTION. There may be occasions when a hymn may be a suitable Introduction. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the choice of hymns in this section is critical.
  2. PENITENCE will normally be expressed in the Preparation. Several approaches to penitence are included. Among these are the Morning Prayer confession from Alternative Prayer Book, an American responsive confession, and a newly-composed prayer, which is believed to be realistically child-friendly.
  3. The ACCLAMATION is more significant than the "O Lord, open our lips...." of Morning and Evening Prayer. In Form A it is a development of the notes of God's majesty and love that derives from the GREETING and INTRODUCTION. In Form B it is a way of receiving the assurance of forgiveness. It is a section where traditional elements like the Sursum Corda and Sanctus, as well as Canticles such as Gloria in Excelsis might be included.
  4. The COLLECT OF THE DAY is given a special position, similar to its use in the Communion Service: the climax of the Preparation. It is the "link" with all the other worship of the Church on the day. It should be introduced with a "one-line" bidding, deriving from the central thrust of the prayer. For example: the Minister says, "As we prepare to use the Collect of this Sunday, let us in silence pray for God's guidance." (or for spiritual strength or whatever is the central point of the particular collect.) After twenty seconds or so of silent prayer the Collect is then recited. The full ending (see Resources) may be added. Additional dignity may be given to the Collect if it is sung or intoned.
  5. PSALMS and what are entitled SCRIPTURE SONGS are vital components of the Service. Metrical versions of some Psalms are to be found in Irish Church Praise and in Church Hymnal. Other sources of psalmody and different ways of using it can be explored. A version of Psalm 98 (Cantate Domino) has been included in Form D.
  6. In most workings out of the Structure there should be at least two READINGS from the Bible. Normally the Sunday lectionary will determine the selection. On occasion it is recognized that there may be only one READING and that it might be presented in dramatised form. The book "A Dramatised Bible", published by the Bible Society, suggests possible ways in which this may be done. A variety of ways of ending readings and suggestions of what should immediately follow are given in the four Forms and in the Resources. These include the use of silence, singing or a BIBLICAL RESPONSORY. There is a note below about the way in which Biblical Responsories can be constructed, as well as an indication of where examples can be found.
  7. The use of the terminology, "THE SERMON", the legally recognized word in the Church of Ireland, does not rule out a variety of ways of proclaiming the message of the Gospel; these may include drama, interviews and other techniques. Apart from the legal consideration it was not considered that to describe this section as "an address" or "a talk" was more satisfactory.
  8. When appropriate the SERMON may be followed by a hymn. An AFFIRMATION OF FAITH is regarded as essential. As well as the recognized creeds several other Affirmations of Faith have been provided, including two examples of the use of scriptural "credal" passages. On some occasions it might be deemed suitable for an act of penitence to precede the AFFIRMATION OF FAITH in the Response.
  9. Some alternative approaches to our giving of money are suggested in the OFFERING section of the Response. Collections are almost always taken up. Dialogues for use before the collection begins and several prayers for use at the dedication of the gifts are provided. It is recommended that the prayer, "Lord, yours is the greatness ..." should be restricted to use at the Eucharist.
  10. A number of approaches to the PRAYERS of intercession and thanksgiving is possible. The note, J.2, in "Resources" highlights this. Often it may be appropriate for the congregation to stand for the Intercessions and Thanksgivings.
  11. The section containing the PRAYERS should conclude with a GENERAL COLLECT. It is hoped that these prayers may become familiar and form part of people's personal praying.
  12. The climax of the PRAYERS, indeed of the whole Response, is the LORD'S PRAYER, with an appropriate introduction. The congregation should be encouraged to stand for this. It should not be followed by the Grace.
  13. Just as it was necessary to have a firm beginning to the service there has to be a clear ending or Dismissal. In the Forms different ways of achieving this are suggested. In Form A there is a congregational "leave taking" prayer and the Blessing (note the response to each petition of the Blessing). In Form B there is an ascription, followed by a commendation and a final salutation. There is also a Celtic dismissal based on St. Patrick's Breastplate in Form C. The service should end with the Dismissal. If a Recessional Hymn is customary it is better for this to precede the Blessing and final salutation.
  14. In working out other forms of A Service of the Word in addition to those provided here care should be taken to see that a responsive confession and a litany of intercession/thanksgiving are not used in the same Form.
  15. Periods of silence are important. Some indications of where these are most suitable have been given. Care and instruction are needed so that worshippers can learn how to use silence in worship.


Construction is by one of two methods:

  1. A verse of scripture is read by the Minister.
    This is repeated by the congregation.

    The Minister says some complementary words of scripture.
    The congregation repeats the first verse again.

    There is a trinitarian ascription
    Finally the congregation repeats the scripture verse a third time.

  2. A verse of scripture is read by the Minister.
    A different but complementary verse is spoken by the Congregation. Another verse is spoken by the Minister.
    The congregation repeats its response.

    The Gloria is spoken by the Minister.
    The congregation again repeats its response.

Similar responsories will be found in the Canadian "Book of Alternative Services" (1985), in the New Zealand Prayer Book (1988), in "Promise of his Glory" (1990) and in "Celebrating Common Prayer" (1992).