Welcome to The First Universalist Church
A warm, traditional congregation of believers in the heart of historic Downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Whether you are visiting the area, looking for a church home, or simply interested in what we do, we invite you to join us for Sunday worship (weekly at 10:30 a.m.) and our special seasonal services throughout the year.
When the feet next to you don’t touch the floor…
A PARENTS-WITH-CHILDREN WORSHIP GUIDE
Welcome to Sunday worship! We’re happy you and your family are here together to worship God with us. This brief Guide is to help parents teach their children about the service and to learn ways in which the whole of God’s people can participate with us at levels appropriate to their ages and aptitudes.
We want what we do as a church upstairs to be part of what the church school children do downstairs. That’s why the Bible lessons for adult readings, hymns, and sermon are the same each week (and when there’s seasonal Wednesday evening Bible study). They all come from the ecumenical Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle of Scripture passages for the full Church year used by most Catholic and Protestant congregations across the continent.
It is also our belief that the Church’s worship should include children wherever possible. Given the overriding vocation we share to Baptize and bring up our children in the Christian faith, so that when reaching maturity they will be part of the Body of Christ and its Communion, we are concerned that the Church’s bedrock activity, Sunday worship in its Sanctuary, not be foreign to the young. We’re trying to help the little children come unto us, and grow and form the habits of worship and church which will be a comfort and joy over their lifetimes.
ON ALL SUNDAYS, children should sit with their families with the congregation in the first dozen pews to either side of the central red carpet; children will go to class during the music (“The Benedictus”) sung at the Lessons’ conclusion. (There’s also a super secret stairway by the Organ.) You may want to come early to walk around and get them acquainted with the Sanctuary.
When we come into the church, we’re visiting God’s house, so we’re respectful and happy and still. We come on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, when Jesus (God’s Son) appeared to his friends, “the disciples” on the first Easter. So we come here to see our friends in God’s house to sing and learn about God and Jesus.
We come in and find a place to sit. Sometimes it’s the same place every time, sometimes it’s different. We might look through the Bulletin—the paper given us by the person who said “good morning” to welcome us when we came inside. It has the order of what will happen in church, and news about what’s happening at church during the rest of the week. We might say a personal prayer to God, or just listen to the organ music or look at the beautiful stained glass windows up front.
The leader of the service is the Pastor (the one with the black robe and white collar), and he sits up front in what’s called the chancel.
We light the candles on the Altar as a symbol of God’s Spirit being present when we gather together. The ushers may ask if you’d like to go up with them and help. We even use a special brass candle lighter-&-snuffer!
When the organ music is finished, the Pastor reads some verses from the big Bible up front (on the “Lectern”) and calls the people to worship God in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (that’s how we were all baptized into the Church).
Next, we all sing a hymn (the opening one’s often a Psalm—
a Biblical song about God—put to a tune).
Take the red book (“hymnal”) and look up the number that’s on the Bulletin you got when you came in. The number’s also on the signboard up front. The organist plays the tune through once before everybody sings all the verses. Can you tell by listening to the organ and looking at the music which notes are high ones and which are low ones? Maybe you can hum the tune on the last verses after hearing us sing it first. We stand up on the last line on the organ’s first play through. Can you tell when that is? (Hint: watch the Pastor!) You can stand, too, and, if you’re old enough, read and sing the words.
The very last word of a hymn is one we can all sing together: “Amen.” It means “yes!” or “so be it!” Then we all sit down, put our red (or black) books back in the rack, and pick up those little black books, called prayer books. On page 32 (can you find it?), we go through the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses, and the Great Commandment which Jesus told his followers. Some ages will be able to learn the responses—they’re the same, said ten times in all. We do this on Communion Sundays to remind ourselves of how God told us we ought to try to live. Notice that these are also on the wall on either side of the Altar.
Then the Pastor says a prayer. You can tell because he says “Let us pray”. Prayer is a way of talking to God and asking for His help and feeling He is with us and loves us. When we pray, we fold our hands, bow our heads, and close our eyes—and listen.
All of us can say together the response that ends the prayer—right aloud: “Amen!” This reminds us that we’re part of the prayer being said, too. Then we look up and get ready for the Lessons of the day from the Bible.
That means that someone, usually the Pastor, will read from the Old and New parts of the Bible. Some of the words are old-fashioned, and are quite beautiful, and serve to remind us of how God’s people have been listening to the Bible for a very long time.
The grown-ups will hear the Pastor talk about what those lessons mean and what they tell us about God and Jesus and ourselves. This is called a “sermon”, which is different from a usual talk (like a speech by the President or one given at school by a teacher) because it’s in church and based on the Bible lessons. We will in some tim
es of the year have gathered the previous Wednesday night for a brief evening service (“Vespers”) and to study these Lessons together.
These lessons are important for us, too, because while the adults stay and hear the sermon (and have the Lord’s Supper—the meal that Jesus told his friends to have with him), we’ll talk about those lessons, too, downstairs. When the class is over, we go to the dining room, where the adults will be, for snacks. We can tell them what we learned about and did—and ask them what they learned and sang about. We are all together the people of God learning about Jesus Christ, his Church, and about what life is meant to be and about who we are.
On the Sundays after the first one in each month, our church service is called “Morning Prayer”, and centers around psalms, the Lessons, and prayers. The service starts the same way. The first hymn chosen is often one that’s specifically a version of one of the 150 psalms, or based on a Lesson.
Then we keep standing and we say together the Profession of Faith. The Pastor will first say “Let us profess the Faith of the Church:”, and we say out loud together the words in the bulletin. A “profession” is a statement people say to show what they believe as a particular group of Christians. This one is the Profession of the Universalist Church—that’s the church group this church is. Our Profession is a statement of some basic things that Christians of most kinds believe, and is the basis for who we are as God’s people. We also say the “Apostles’ Creed” (which is common to all Churches in the West): it’s in the back cover of the Prayer book; we also use the worldwide, ecumenical Nicean Creed, which dates from A.D. 325.
Then everybody sits down and the Pastor says, “Let us pray:” He then says two prayers. Do you remember what we do during prayer and what prayer is?
The second prayer is a special one—so special that we all say it together with the Pastor. It’s called the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus, God’s Son whom we call “Lord”, taught it to his disciples. Christians all over the world have been saying this Prayer for 2,000 years! Maybe you can learn to say it, too. The words are in the little black prayer books on pages 2 & 3. See if you can find it. And, whether you know all the words or not (maybe you can say some of them, like “Our Father, who art in Heaven”), at the end, remember that we all say “Amen” together.
The next part of the service is the psalm part. They’re the special songs or poems in the middle of the Bible. This part begins when the Pastor says “O Lord open thou our lips”—which is from Psalm 51, verse 15. The choir (and us) sing back the rest of the verse:”And our mouths shall show forth Thy praise.” Then the Pastor announces that we are going to praise the Lord together, and we sing back that yes we will! Not just the choir may sing. We join in, too. When they sing these words, see if you can learn the tune and sing, too, especially the last one. Then we sing together a special Psalm (number 95 and some of 96), used particularly for Morning Prayer for centuries, and called the Venite because that’s Latin for the first two words, “O come”. Then we listen as the choir sings a piece of special music they’ve learned, called an anthem, usually another psalm or song based on parts of the Bible, set to music.
That ends the praise (Psalm) part of the service, and the Pastor puts away his book (as we do, too), and reads the Lessons from the Bible, just like every week. In between we say a psalm, sometimes all together, sometimes responsively by verse. (A “Responsive Reading” is a psalm we say back and forth). This is from when people didn’t all have books, and the psalm leader called the “precentor” in early New England) would sing a line, and people would sing it back. The Pilgrims on the Mayflower used to do this, and around Thanksgiving we sing psalms just like they did from their same book. The psalms are in the black Bibles found at the end of the pews. All these Bibles have been given by people in memory of someone who has died. Can you find their name inside the front cover?
The Lessons are followed by singing another kind of song from the Bible, called a “Canticle” (that is, it’s not one of the psalms), one which comes from John the Baptist’s father. (John and Jesus were cousins.) Then we go up front, to the left, and down by the organ through the super secret passageway or by the pulpit-side door (notice the carving of Jesus, the Good Shepherd) to our classroom to learn about the lessons. The grown-ups will pray and sing some more, hear a sermon by the Pastor on those lessons, and we’ll see them downstairs afterwards.
Copyright © 2012 The First Universalist Church in Providence
250 Washington St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903-3615 Telephone (401) 751-1821