Monday, July 28, 2008

Writing Collects to Clarify the Sermon

image In the current print edition of Christian Century, there is an excerpt by John D. Witvliet from the work "Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." In the middle of that article he describes the preparation of a collect as...

"one of the most clarifying actions a preacher can make.  That simple actions interprets the text with an awareness of God's activity in both past and present and in the context of an eschatological trajectory."

Being from a very "low church" tradition, the whole word "collect" was confusing to me.  (Wikipedia defines collect as "a short general prayer"; the Catholic Encyclopedia says that it arose when a congregation gathered (collected), but the service was to be held elsewhere.  The officiant would offer a short prayer to those "collected" and then they would move to where the service was to be held. [If you are from a liturgical church and have a different understanding of this, please help me understand this in the comments])  We were raised that "heart-felt" and "written" prayers were opposite poles.  I have given up that simplistic differentiation, Furthermore,...most "spontaneous prayers" I hear in worship are fairly shallow and repetitive.

Is there a middle ground where there is structure and balance, and yet freedom for spontaneity?

Witvliet notes that many liturgical manuals & textbooks describe the simple outline of a collect which is composed of:

  • a statement of address to God,
  • a description of God in terms of a specific attribute or action,
  • a petition for divine action,
  • a statement of result, what some sources call "the aspiration," and
  • a statement of mediation, such as "through Jesus Christ our Lord."

To use the above outline both to think through the text that you are studying for the week as well as to prepare a prayer for the service that accompanies the sermon would be very useful. 

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