As part of our Call to Worship, we practice a Responsive Reading, where the Lay Leader and Congregation alternate reading a short paragraph. A selection typically parallels a portion of scripture or thought that fits with the overall theme of the morning. Sometimes we use song lyrics because of their cadence and rhyme to help stick in our minds and connect with the morning’s message.
Speaking together has a unifying effect that helps us to form our community identity. As we speak with one voice, we share that moment as an expression of our faith. Similar to group singing, this moves us outside of our individual orientation so that we see ourselves as part of a unified whole. This differs from our group singing however, because the responsive reading focuses our attention primarily on the words, rather than the musical arrangement.
Just as letters form sounds, which form words which form form sentences, the individual pieces of our community join together to establish a meaning that is beyond the sum of its component parts.
Due to this unity among diversity, a responsive reading can give us the words to say that we wouldn’t think to say ourselves. Whenever I have the opportunity to write a responsive reading, I try to consider how we can speak just a little broader than our current formulations by incorporating language that is more contemporary and inclusive. As a part of our liturgy, it reminds us that our intellect is part of our worship and God’s spirit is able to use our imagination within these short, spoken words, to develop a more dynamic response of faith.
Experiment: Take time to read the bulletin copy carefully. Spend time on each segment of the responsive reading to think about what the statements can mean by themselves. Then read only the Leader’s words. Then only the Congregation’s words. Then read the entire piece as one whole. How do these different approaches provide a different emphasis for you?