All sacraments are covenants with God. The congregational blessing is no exception. We come to God anticipating a great blessing, yet we know that ultimately we are blessed to be a blessing to others. This is the covenant. We enter the rite recognizing that the blessing is not just words uttered, but inspired affirmation of the counsel to be lived out beyond the event. We expect to be transformed. We commit to being a blessing to others. One suggestion for symbolizing that commitment is to have a ritual signing of the blessing by all members as their way of covenanting (similar to the priesthood signing a covenant in preparation).
The day finally arrives. The congregation comes with great anticipation. The children are restless, but excited. The awareness is strong that something significant is about to happen. The congregational blessing takes place within the context of a worship service. All elements of the service are planned carefully because we know we are offering God the best we have and are honored to participate.
Order of Worship
The leadership team will take the lead in planning the blessing service. As with all orders of worship in which a sacrament is performed, the congregational blessing should be the liturgy’s focal point, or climax. The welcome, call to worship, invocation, scripture readings, hymns, and sermon should thematically complement the purpose of the worship service. Each element should move the worshiper in a meaningful way toward participation in the blessing. Therefore, the blessing should not be given early in the service. In opening remarks, the presider—perhaps a pastor, apostle, or evangelist—should explain to guests and new members the nature and importance of the day’s service. [See sample service outline in Appendix 7.]
The service needs to be practiced enough to leave no questions about logistics, providing space for the Spirit to breathe, rather than allowing feelings of confusion or discomfort to prevail.
A minor detail, but of extreme importance, is the need to check and recheck the recording equipment. Backups are suggested in case one recorder malfunctions. The congregation will need a remembrance of the blessing in written form to keep the blessing fresh and meaningful. Ensure that the congregational historian is involved to provide written and digital copies of the blessing for the congregation’s archives. Also be sure that a copy of the blessing is forwarded to the Presiding Evangelist’s Office for filing in the central archive.
Purposefully positioning the congregation and the evangelist offering the blessing can strengthen the event’s symbolism.
Placement of hands also may be considered. For example, if your congregation blesses the children, it might be effective to have them gather at the front of the sanctuary as the prayer is given. The evangelists might wish to have the children cluster around them during the prayer or to join hands with the kids. Also, priesthood may want to join hands when receiving a blessing to symbolize their ministerial unity. Be sure that all members of the worshiping community are able to hear the blessing. Use handheld microphones or lapel microphones for volume and recording purposes. Deliberate consideration of these logistics can strengthen the blessing experience.
Prayer of Blessing
This is vital! The blessing prayer should be carefully planned and Spirit-led. Some evangelists are comfortable offering an extemporaneous prayer, assured by their preparation and the Spirit’s inspiration. Others prepare outlines or written drafts and draw from these ideas while giving a blessing. Still others prayerfully prepare a written prayer of blessing to read to the congregation. Any of these choices is suitable. Examples:
- Have one evangelist come prepared to offer the prayer of blessing, while the other evangelists prepare by holding up that evangelist in prayer.
- Ask all the evangelists to prepare the prayer that is on their heart. Sharing these thoughts with other evangelists can bring a common assurance that God’s prayer of blessing will be evident.
- Together read over each other’s prayer, highlighting the significant message and avoiding duplication.
- Edit and prepare the result for one evangelist to read, leaving an opening for addition of spiritual insight.
- Let God’s Spirit lead you in your own ideas for working together to bring blessing to the people. (Size and circumstances may call for other approaches. Be inspired!)
This is God’s blessing, not ours to give. Planning the content of the prayer needs to be under the direction of the Holy Spirit. That being said, the blessing is a result of many weeks of dialogue, home-visitation, and priesthood and leadership meetings focused on particular congregational needs and opportunities. The blessing will address those needs and opportunities and be appropriate to the age group receiving it. The following represents a basic outline for a prayer of blessing but should in no way be considered a rigid formula:
Salutation: The salutation addresses God. It expresses praise and thanksgiving, and it serves as an invocation. God always is present and need not be summoned. An invocation serves to invite the evangelist and the congregation to be fully present to God’s Spirit.
The Purpose: The blessing’s central purpose should be stated early in the prayer (for example, strength to fulfill the congregation’s mission, reconciliation and healing, and missionary witness).
The Petition: A petition for God’s blessing that is mindful of the age groups and families represented.
Congregation’s Covenant: An expression of the congregation’s commitment to work toward the desired focus (missional goals, reconciliation, healing, expansion, etc.).
God’s Covenant or Promise: An expression of the Spirit’s covenant to bless the congregation’s efforts, including specific words of counsel and guidance. In essence, this is the central body of the prayer, an expression of God’s wish to strengthen the congregation as a Community of Christ.
Conclusion: The prayer’s “amen” prefaced by praise and thanksgiving for God’s blessing and sustaining grace.
In broad terms, the blessing’s content might include:
- Thanksgiving for past contributions (those who birthed and sustained the congregation)
- Appreciation for God’s faithfulness through challenging circumstances
- Affirmations of worth
- Expressions of God’s love
- Assurance that gospel principles are being expressed in the life of the congregation
- Guidance in making adjustments
- Opportunity for repentance and to experience forgiveness
- Insight into giftedness
- Suggestions for continued spiritual growth
- Counsel for the congregation’s journey
- Encouragement in the midst of challenges