All Saints Day

October 22nd, 2012

Martha eagerly looked forward to her DISCIPLE Bible Study group. She found the personal and spiritual dialogue to be the high point of each week. She especially enjoyed being with Jayne, a woman several years younger. Jayne had a way of stating things that always seemed to clarify concepts that were hard for Martha to grasp. Though Jayne was not the group leader, Martha looked to her as a teacher and mentor.

As All Saints Day (November 1) approached, Martha looked forward to thanking God for Jayne, a new saint in her life. In worship, Martha’s church remembered the members who had died during the previous year. But they also celebrated the lives and influences of living saints; those teachers, pastors, friends, musicians, and others who, through their daily life, had shown others the Christian walk and faith.

The next January, Jayne shared with the DISCIPLE group that she had an aggressive and inoperable brain tumor. As her body became weak, her faith became stronger. The Bible study group met at Jayne’s home many times so that she could participate. A few days after the group’s final Communion service was celebrated around her bedside, Jayne joined the Church Triumphant.

Another All Saints Day approached, and this year, Martha grieved that she could no longer count Jayne as one of her living saints. But finding a strength beyond her grief, she asked if she could serve as a worship leader during the All Saints service during which Jayne and others would be remembered. The altar table was filled with unlit candles of all shapes and sizes. As the names of the deceased were read, Martha and another member of the DISCIPLE class lit a candle for each name read. As Jayne’s name was read, Martha lit a candle close to her side of the table. As the wick grew brighter, Martha felt the Holy Spirit offer comfort and peace. This was not an empty liturgical activity for Martha or the other worshipers; it was personal and allowed them the holy space to grieve and to proclaim the resurrection.

A Day to Remember

Many churches celebrate All Saints Day with services of remembrance of saints. It is seldom that Protestants are gathered on November 1, so many churches observe All Saints Sunday each year on the Sunday following November 1. It is a day to remember the saints, "saints" by the New Testament meaning of "all Christian people of every time and place." It is a day to celebrate the communion of saints as we remember those who have died, both in our local congregationsand throughout the Church universal.

For United Methodists, there are many denominational helps for celebrating All Saints Day:
• The United Methodist Hymnal (p. 938)
• The United Methodist Book of Worship (#413–15),
• The Faith We Sing (Worship Planner Edition) (p. 157)
• Zion Still Sings (See “Eternal Life” on page 227 of the Pew Edition)
• 2012-2013 United Methodist Music and Worship Planner (See suggestions for the day)
• The Abingdon Worship Annual 2012 (See suggestions for the day)

Other denominations offer similar resources, and the Internet can offer a wealth of suggestions. (See Ministry Matters' This Sunday bin for All Saints Sunday.)

Gathering the prayers, hymns, liturgies, and other resources is the first step in creating an All Saints remembrance that moves beyond empty ritual and becomes a moment of worship. Look at the resources and select the ones that would seem to work best in your congregation. Then use the creativity of your worship planning team to refine the resource into a golden moment for your congregation.

A Few Ideas

  • While the names of the deceased are read, candles are lit to signify each person remembered, as in the story above.
  • While the names are read, handbells are rung. One bell might be rung following the reading of each name. Or a number of bells may be used, some high, some low. One bells is rung after each name, but the pitches and tones are different for each, just like the lives being remembered. These same bells might also be used to accompany a sung response following the reading of the names.
  • In the weeks prior to All Saints, and even on that day, a clean white tablecloth is made available to the congregation. All are invited to write the names of their saints on the cloth using fabric / permanent markers. The cloth is then used as a parament or on the Communion table.

The 2005 National Convocation of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts was very special in many ways. It was held in San Francisco, California, and celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the group that has become The Fellowship. The opening worship service was intended to remember the founders of the organization and to include the remembrance of deceased members.

The service included some elements of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) services that are found in many Hispanic traditions. A mariachi band greeted worshipers in the outside plaza. Participants were encouraged to use a “craft table” to prepare a remembrance of a saint from their own lives. Following the opening prayer, worshipers brought forth these remembrances and placed them on a table near the altar. Photographs of deceased members were also placed on the table. Marigolds, the traditional flower of Dia de los Muertos, graced the chancel area as well. This took place in a festive atmosphere as the mariachi band played.

On the spot, a tangible and visible reminder of the saints was formed by the members of the congregation. Through the creative gifts of the Holy Spirit, a service that usually remembers persons that few in attendance knew personally had become personal for all.

As you plan your own observance of All Saints Day, may the worship acts you create become personal and holy for your gathered community.

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