How a Grace service is made
Each service is built around a theme or big idea which guides everything that happens. It might be an issue we care about, something in the news, something we've read about or seen, an experiment with a liturgy, the time of year, the next saint's day, a chunk of the Bible. It may be something that evolves through several services, or it may be a one-off of immediate topicality. We often take inspiration from the traditional seasons of the church calendar, such as Lent or Epiphany. We work out themes for the coming year on our annual planning weekend in the summer, so that we know where we're going and have something to work with when it's time to make each service.
The curator and team
For each service someone volunteers to act as 'curator'. The curator leads a team of volunteers to make the service happen. See the curation guidelines for more about the curator's role. The curator is responsible for organising the service, but they don't have to have all the ideas or energy. They may not lead the service on the night - on one occasion they were not even there!
We make services this way so that we don't all have to be involved in the worship planning, all of the time. However, the curator and team may ask for additional help for particular tasks or to make it all happen on the day.
Planning the service
Several weeks beforehand the curator and team get together to start planning the service. It usually takes at least two meetings - the first one is about brainstorming around the theme, the second one is about tying our ideas down to actual presentable pieces in the right order. It helps to have at least a week between the meetings so that everyone has time to think about it, and then at least a week between the second meeting and the service to make whatever has to be made.
So the process can take a month or even longer, which is why the services are monthly. Occasionally we have to have two curators and teams running at once, when we are doing a special event such as Greenbelt which has to be planned alongside our normal run of services.
In deciding the themes at the annual planning meeting we have done some thinking about them already, so the curator and team aren't starting from nothing. In the first meeting our discussions are usually about the ideas themselves rather than how to present them.
However, the team are looking for a structure or order to the ideas that can be the basis of a service - digestible chunks that people can interact with. We want to enable the congregation to explore for themselves in the service just as the team have done in the planning.
Finding a narrative or storyline is key - we have to take the congregation on a journey from A to B. We may use a traditional liturgy as a framework, to ensure that we have included the elements of the expected spiritual journey. However themes often create their own structure, out of their own internal logic and narrative, which may bear little or no resemblance to any standard church service. The ideas determine what happens - whatever it takes to communicate or explore, as long as it makes sense in context. We've often found that the 'crazy' thing has the biggest spiritual impact.
Sometimes good ideas have to be set aside because they don't work in the storyline that has emerged. One advantage of an ideas-based approach is that it isn't necessary to cover all the ground in one service. We can do a 'part 2', we can do something another time if it didn't fit in naturally this time.
The focus of the second meeting is on working out the final shape of the service and agreeing who will do what. By the end of the meeting there needs to be an 'order of service' - a list of the elements of the service, in sequence, with somebody responsible for each part. There should be a satisfying shape, a beginning and an end and a legible journey in between. Then it's up to each member of the team to make their part.
It isn't necessary to know all the detail of what will happen - we trust one another to produce appropriate material, and the service comes together on the night without rehearsal. This looseness and trust allows people to bring their contributions in the spirit of a gift. Even the curator and team don't know exactly what will happen, apart from the general shape.
On the night
The team arrive two hours before the service to set up - this gives them enough time to move furniture, set up installations, ensure that technology is working, and prepare food for the cafe. There will be decisions about how the space is arranged, where the congregation will sit and where screens and installations will be, and how people will move around during the service. Some of this can't be understood until we see what team members are actually doing for their sections. This may also lead to last-minute adjustments or rearrangements of the liturgy so that everything flows.