Presenting Visual Symbols at Celebration of New Ministries

Presenting Visual Symbols at Celebration of New Ministries

Both the Celebration of New Ministry in the Book of Common Prayer and the Renewal of Ministry with the Welcoming of a New Rector in Enriching Our Worship 4 include the presentation of symbols of ministry. The two rites approach the presentation of symbols somewhat differently but both the commonalities and the differences illuminate the purposes of symbol presentation in these rites.

Why do we present symbols?

The liturgical tradition of the Episcopal Church makes ample use of symbols and in many ways they evoke our theology. Symbols offer people an opportunity to access deeper meaning without explicit explanation but rather through experience. Often they are commonplace objects that take on deeper significance through their use and meaning. In the case of these rites, the presentation of symbols provides an opportunity to speak about the ministry of a parish community. The Celebration of New Ministry emphasizes the ministry a new rector has been called to exercise in a community while the Renewal of Ministry speaks more of the ministry shared by the entire community.

What are symbols?

Symbols are more than just gifts. They should speak to a reality beyond their actual physical self. Symbols such as bread and wine; water; a Bible or book of lectionary readings are known by the community as conveying a deeper meaning. Additional symbols are suggested in both rites, including keys, Constitutions and Canons, healing oil, etc. and both rites allow for symbols appropriate to the unique ministry of the local community to be added. Symbols that speak to the ministry the parish shares in the local community and in the life of the diocese might also be considered. Care should be taken in selection so that the symbols chosen have the capacity to convey that deeper meaning without too much explanation. Their meaning should not be hidden, or an insiders secret. Some discretion should be exercised in the number of symbols as well; in general, less is more.

Who presents the symbols?

Those who present the symbols should be people who have a natural link to the symbol being presented. For example, Eucharistic ministers might present bread and wine, healing ministers might present healing oil, readers might present a Bible or lectionary book. It is also an opportunity to reveal the breadth of the community; people of differing ages, races, time in the community, etc. might be asked to present the symbols.

How (When and Where) are the symbols presented?

Again, the symbols are meant to speak to the entire parish community so it is important that the gathered community can participate in the presentation of symbols by being able to see and hear as much as possible.

Seeing the symbols: Consider having the symbols at the entrance to the church where people can see them as they enter for the service. They might also be carried in the opening procession which both allows them to be seen and incorporates them into the gathering rite. For the actual presentations, stage the action in a location that allows the best visibility for the entire assembly. The image of being in the midst of the assembly might be trumped by a place with some height such as the altar platform.

Hearing the presentations: Will amplification be needed? Think ahead of time of how that will happen. Perhaps there will be a standing microphone at the place where the presentations  take place. In addition, the symbol presenters should rehearse ahead of time so that they can speak their words with confidence and understand how to use any sound equipment they might need.

Printing in the bulletin both what the symbol is (i.e. water; a Bible) and the words spoken by the presenters will serve as a back up  for that which is not easily seen or heard, but it should not replace efforts to make the presentations accessible.

Basic choreography: Consider where the symbol presenters will sit, how they will get the symbols, how will they know it is time to present the symbol. If the symbols were at the entrance to the church, you might consider a simple procession to the front which would again give people a chance to see the symbols. For the actual presentation rehearse where people will stand to maximize visibility and audibility. Try to avoid anyone having their back to the assembly. Again, rehearsal is essential in enabling people to do their part well and with confidence.

The Celebration of New Ministry calls for all the symbols being presented at one time. If multiple symbols are being presented, figure out what happens to each symbol after the presentation. Who will take it? Where will it go?  The Renewal of Ministry incorporates the presentation of symbols at the point at which they will be used in the liturgy, with the opportunity for additional symbols to be presented at the offertory.

Words: Both rites call for the presentation of symbol to take the form of a dialogue between presenters and recipient that illuminates the purpose of the symbol for the ministry of the community. It is notable that in the Renewal of Ministry the presenters “instruct” the recipient on how that symbol is used in the community and invites the recipient to join in that ministry.

As with the entire liturgy, thoughtful and careful preparation for the presentation of symbols will result in a rite that is done by people comfortable with and confident in their roles and in a way that invites the participation of the entire gathered assembly.