Reading Scriptures in Church

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Download: Reading Scripture in Church 2014

Bible Readings in Church

Almost anyone could do the readings. Almost anyone could do them badly and/or carelessly. But, with a little effort, most people could do them well. A little thought and a little planning can make all the difference.

Morning Prayer is part of the Church’s daily cycle of prayer: an ongoing engagement with God’s Word in Scripture and Prayer, whereas the Mass is not just worship solely led by the Priest. It is comprised of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. In a Mass, both are equally important, as we cannot feed properly from the Blessed Sacrament unless we have been first fed by God’s word. The word is God is also incomplete until we have partaken in God’s Holy Sacraments; so through reading in Church you are undertaking a vital role in the life and worship of this Church.

If you haven’t worked at it, don’t expect, miraculously, to do it well. God provides miracles when a problem is beyond human solution. This is not one of those.

First Things First

Clearly, you can’t just roll up on Sunday morning, stride to the front and begin reading. So to prepare: You get out your Bible, turn up the first passage and begin reading. Wrong! The first thing you should do is pray. At this stage, pray that you will understand the passages. You cannot read anything well if you do not understand it


When you have prayed, read the other passages, including the Gospel. The three year Common Worship Lectionary chooses readings that are thematically linked to the season and ensure that the Liturgy of the Word is based on a common theme. An RCL lectionary can be obtained from any Christian bookshop, and the readings for each day can be downloaded from the internet into your Computer (see . The readings are distributed to you at least a few weeks in advance before the service. Understanding how your reading fits into the whole will guide you as to how to play this reading.


No one expects an Oscar-winning performance from you, but the most thrilling and momentous passages will seem deadly dull if they are read in a flat monotone. Pray about this, too. Look for any direct speech and work out how it might be said. Is it a question? a command? Should it be said in an angry tone? or a comforting one? Is there a point at which a slight pause would be appropriate, perhaps to let some great truth sink in? If there is no speech you can try to convey the general mood of the passage. Does it record a happy event? or a sad one? Read through again, putting in these effects in your head. Try any difficult words out loud, to make sure you can get your tongue round them. More on this later

Sunday Morning

By now the passages should seem like old friends. Read them through again, either at home or, having arrived at church sufficiently early, sitting quietly in a pew. (Of course, there is a greater danger that you will be interrupted, if you choose the latter.) This reading should also be accompanied by prayer. Pray that you will recall all the mental notes you have made and give thanks that you don’t have to do any of this in your own strength. God will calm your nerves too. I once had a friend, a gifted speaker, who told me that she was always very nervous before she began. ‘If I stopped being nervous I should stop accepting invitations to speak,’ she said, ‘because then, I would know that I was doing it in my own strength and not depending on God.


Except for when you are actually reading, you should be as unobtrusive as possible. Sit at the end of a pew so that you don’t have to disturb other people, and in a place where you don’t have to walk across the front of the church to get out to the lectern. Unless you have been told otherwise, the readings will be from the Jerusalem Bible, and are printed on the weekly service sheet.

Anticipate. Don’t sit in your place until there is a long silence. By the time the priest has finished the Collect you should be standing at the lectern, ready to begin, and by the end of each reading, the next person should be ready to take over almost without a pause. Being ready and in position will give you time for one last ‘arrow’ prayer for support. Don’t worry about the microphone. You don’t have to do anything to it. That is not your responsibility. If there is a problem, someone will step in to assist you or make adjustments with the controller or mixing desk. All you need to do is speak clearly and loudly, as the microphone is there to support your voice, not replace it. You don’t need to lean towards the microphone or touch it. At the front of Church people will be listening primarily to you and not the speakers. You need to speak loudly enough to be clearly heard over half the Church.

This is It

The service sheet indicates how the reading should be introduced in italics at the top. It usually takes the form “A reading from the Book of X” or “A reading from the letter of Paul to Y”. You should not read out the reference which sounds disjointed: the reading is in front of everyone so there is no scrabbling for it in a pew bible.

There should be a slight pause before beginning the text. Give expression to your reading and make use of full stops, commas and speech marks to make the reading varied and interesting. Although there is no place for silly voices in a Scriptural Reading, one should be able to differentiate in texture between the narrative of the text and the spoken word. Remember that sometimes a dramatic pause can make all the difference to a reading, particularly after a key phrase.

At the end of the reading, again make a slight pause and say, ‘This is the word of the Lord’. The congregation will respond, ‘Thanks be to God’.

Responsorial Psalms when read in the Mass should introduce the response: “The response to the Psalm is…” followed by a short pause and then repeat the response itself, where the congregation will join in with you. You need to boldly repeat the response during the Responsorial Psalm so that the congregation knows to follow with you. Sometimes they do not have the words in front of them so they are relying on you to lead them, and it might not sink in first time. Say the Psalm versicles in the same manner as a normal poetic reading, and repeat again boldly with the congregation the response to the Psalm.

If you are leading the Psalm in morning prayer, you announce the Psalm with either the traditional “The Psalm appointed for today: Psalm X” or more informally “Psalm X”. The separate sheet with the Psalm on it will be laid out for congregational reading. The Odd-numbered lines are your lines, the even-numbered lines are in bold and are for the congregation to respond. You will note that there is a diamond or an asterisk half way through the line. You should pause at that point for a moment (perhaps a count of 2) before the rest of the line. Even if the congregation ploughs on with their responses, we must gradually and gently teach the congregation to say the Psalm slowly and reflectively together, listening to each other. You will be able to model that for the Congregation. If the congregation is slow or reluctant t say their lines, lead them in saying the even-numbered verses as well. At the end of the Psalm for morning prayer we all say together the “Glory Be”.

At the end of each reading or Psalm there should be a momentary pause if you are continuing. If someone else is taking over from you, step away as the congregation makes their last response enabling the next reader to pick up with only a momentary pause. There should be a distinct gap between readings but not a long embarrassed silence. When you are back in your place don’t forget to thank God for His help. Now you can relax and enjoy the rest of the service.

Those Awful Hebrew Names

Most people don’t have a problem with New Testament names. It’s the unusual ones in the Old Testament which are difficult. Here are one or two pointers which may help. Since the Hebrew alphabet is totally different from ours, the letters are already transliterated so that the consonants can be treated just like English. These are not exactly right, but near enough. The problem with the vowels (a,e,i,o,u.) is that, in English, we make one letter represent a number of different sounds. The letter ‘a’ for example, can be interpreted in eight different ways. This doesn’t happen in other languages. Few of them have so many vocals and, in any case, the use of accents, or diacritics makes the pronunciation clear. Hebrew has very few vowel sounds. As a rule of thumb, except for familiar anglicised names, if you always pronounce a as in ‘pat’, e as in ‘egg’, i as in ‘chick’, o as in ‘note’ u as in ‘rule’ you’ll be about right. Double a as in ‘Baal’ is said as a long ‘a’ sound – ‘Baaaaal’. If you encounter a word which leaves you totally stuck, check with one of the Clergy or Readers.

The most important advice with difficult names or words is to do something and to do it with confidence. Even if the word is wrong to the ears of Hebrew scholars, we won’t notice unless you draw attention to it. So, when confronted with a difficult word, say it how you have worked it out and don’t look back. Never stop and apologise. God doesn’t mind and nor should we.


To help you remember all of this, here are five ‘P’s;

  • Pray First and last
  • Prepare Thoughtfully
  • Practice Thoroughly
  • Position In good time
  • Pronounce Clearly

I hope you will enjoy reading the Holy Scriptures in Church. Your contribution is appreciated and valued.




Fr. Simon Rundell SCP

Leading Intercessions in Church

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Download: Leading Intercessions in Church 2014

Leading Intercessions in Church

Why ask lay people to lead intercessions?

Worship is something in which we are all engaged and involved. Lay people, taking a vocal, leadership role in services send out very positive messages to the rest of the congregation about the importance of every church member playing their part. Using a variety of people will hopefully bring a variety of approaches and insights to this part of our worship.


You can’t just arrive at the service, stand up and lead intercessions. You need to have an idea of the theme of the worship, so you need to have read the passages of Holy Scripture beforehand to link your prayers to the shape of the worship. You also need to be aware of events that are happening or breaking both locally, nationally and internationally, but use them to shape the theme of your prayers, not to be a re-reading of the News at Ten!

Most importantly, you need to PRAY. Pray that you understand the theme and that God will guide you to lead prayers effectively.

Be aware that leading prayer is not at all like praying privately or silently: it should not weave in and around themes, return to things previously mentioned, change tack abruptly as you think of something new. When we pray alone, this is the Spirit prompting us in new and exciting directions, but when we do this out loud, it just descends into an uncoordinated mess, as others will have difficulty following your stream of consciousness. For this reason, your intercessions should be:

  • Planned
  • Succinct
  • Short
  • Relevant


You do need to be aware of what is happening in the world, and sometimes it is appropriate to build these into your intercessions—a good example would be the death of a member of the Royal Family, a Tsunami or Earthquake.

The prayer is collective and should always be “We pray…” When you lead intercessions in the first person “Lord, I Pray…“, it is very exclusive. You are leading us all in prayer, not parading your piety before the congregation (see Matthew 6:1)

The bidding prayer at the beginning gives you an opportunity to set the tone of the prayers as well as being a signal for those who wish to sit or kneel for prayer. In the Mass, usually the priest will open with this bidding prayer, or you may use it. One of the classic bidding prayers indicates the manner in which we pray:

“In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ Jesus, let us pray to the Father…”

Intercessions should always address the Father primarily. Phrases at the beginning of each petition can be: Heavenly Father, Lord God, Loving Father and so on

Once you have chosen one form of address for God, stick with it.

Who/What should I pray for?

Traditionally, we pray for:

  • The Church
  • The World
  • The Community
  • The Sick
  • The Dying
  • Uniting our prayers with the company of heaven and asking the intercession of Mary
  • Allowing space for our own prayers

However, you can pray in any form you want to. Other prayer ideas might include Spoken Intercessions, Visual Intercessions (Playing music, showing pictures), a Prayer Tree, using Stones or Pebbles, Clay, Prayer Strings with Knots, Bubbles blown into the air, Ribbons or flowers or shells placed on something or Candles placed in sand: Be creative!

If we pray for the Church, we MUST pray for our Bishops: Robert and Nick. If we pray for any of the other churches, then we must pray for them all. A form of words which is appropriate is:

“We pray for Justin, Our Archbishop, Francis, Bishop of Rome, Bartholomew the Ecumenical Patriarch and the leaders of the Reformed Churches”

As your Vicar, I also greatly appreciate being prayed for at every opportunity.

Intercessions need not be a litany of the news, but should be directed more towards common themes of the week. When praying for something, DO NOT be tempted to ramble on about it: bring it before the people and let them pray about it in their own way:

“We pray for the situation in Iraq and pray for the hand of peace to calm tensions there at present”

Everyone can then have their own private focus and God can sort it out how He wills. I recommend no more than 4 or 5 petitions, rounded off with a response. If you are introducing a new or slightly different response, begin your prayers with:

“The response to ‘Let us pray to the Lord’ is ‘Lord have mercy’

And then say the response so that the congregation can repeat it back to you.

Be aware of the names of the people on our notice sheet who have requested prayers, but ALWAYS RESPECT CONFIDENTIALITY

You may know of people who are sick, dying, having a ‘hard time’. Some people will tell you their problems, but do not expect the whole of Plymouth to hear about them during the intercessions.

Rather than saying ‘We pray for N as she faces a hard time at the moment’ better say ‘We pray for all facing their own trials at this time’ unless they have asked to be on the sheet by name.

Use of the Hail Mary or the prayers for the faithful departed:

“+Rest Eternal Grant unto them, O Lord
And let light perpetual shine upon them
May they rest in peace
and rise in glory

are strongly encouraged.

At the end, please close with a bidding to which the unequivocal response is “Amen”

“Heavenly Father, trusting in your love and mercy,
we lay these prayers before you, which we ask in the name of Jesus,
the Lord. Amen.”

Don’t forget that many newcomers to church don’t know classical Anglican prayer endings and for reasons of space they can’t fit on the Mass card, so please avoid them.


Except for when you are leading the intercessions, you should be as unobtrusive as possible. Sit at the end of the pew so you don’t have to disturb other people. Anticipate. By the time we have finished the Creed, you should be ready to begin. I advise setting off at the line “we believe in the Holy Spirit”, for it is she who is sending you to lead prayers anyway! Being in position will give you plenty of time for one last ‘arrow prayer’ for support.

Don’t worry about the microphone, or switching it on, or moving the lectern after you have finished. As you return to your seat, give thanks to God privately that you have done His work in leading the people of God in prayer.


There are many printed resources on the bookshelves, and if you want to use them as a guide, please do. In the black legillium book there are four or five stock Intercessions for when inspiration really does not strike; it also contains a number of useful openings and closing prayers and a broad outline; also, we are happy to help you. The internet is a resource, but be careful as there are some sites with strange ideas! The one resource we cannot do without is the Holy Spirit. As we keep re-iterating, the best and only way to intercede is to pray yourself first for the Holy Spirit to give you inspiration, and it will come.

If you make a mistake during your intercessions, do not worry: keep going. If you do not draw attention to yourself, no-one will notice. Never stop and apologise.


To help you remember all of this, here are five ‘P’s;

  • Pray First and last
  • Prepare Thoughtfully
  • Practice Thoroughly
  • Position In good time
  • Pronounce Clearly

I hope you will enjoy leading prayer in Church. Your contribution is appreciated and valued.




Fr. Simon Rundell SCP