Every week, the music and worship committee at my church meets to plan worship services. We select hymns, but we also brainstorm, dream, and plan. One of my favorite things is when someone makes a suggestion, which leads to a flurry of suggestions and ideas from around the table. A few weeks ago, as we were planning for a Sunday service, someone said, “I would love to invite people to bring a quilt or blanket to church for All Saints. The variety of colors would really warm up the worship space.” The simple suggestion of inviting people to bring a favorite blanket or quilt set into motion plans for a meaningful All Saints Sunday worship service.
For a couple of weeks, we sent out reminders about the upcoming “Bring a Blanket/Quilt to Church” Sunday, and we encouraged people to think about the stories behind their blankets. Who made it? Is the person who made it still living? What memories does the quilt/blanket bring to mind?
We decided to use two candelabras on the communion table, which inspired me to write a candle lighting litany for All Saints Sunday. Our chancel choir had been practicing the song “The Great Cloud” by Joseph M. Martin, which seemed like the perfect conclusion to the All Saints litany. Each candelabra held five candles, so I wrote my litany for the ten candles we would have on the table, but the litany could be easily adjusted to work with a setting with fewer candles.
We positioned one reader at the lectern, one at the pulpit, and we had ten people designated as candlelighters. Because our choir has about twenty people in it, each candlelighter brought another member of the choir up with them as they lit the candle. Little by little, the choir assembled as each candle was lit, creating a visual of the “great cloud of witnesses.”
Below, you will find the All Saints Sunday worship service I wrote. I wrote all of the liturgy, with the exception of the Morning Prayer/Prayers of the People, which was put forth by the World Council of Churches. You are welcome to use any part of this service in your own congregation or for a personal service in your home. Giving credit to me as the author would be appreciated.
Blankets and Quilts for All Saints – An All Saints Sunday Worship Service
CALL TO WORSHIP
Good morning! Welcome to worship on this All Saints Sunday. Please join me in the call to worship based on Psalm 34. The words are in your bulletin and on your screen at home.
Leader: I will bless the Lord at all times;
People: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Leader: My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
People: let the humble hear and be glad.
Leader: O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
People: We sought the Lord, and he answered us. God delivered us from all our fears.
Let us pray: God of the past, present, and future, we praise you. You have given us so many faithful examples of people who have followed you. We thank you for each person who has pointed us to you, especially those who are no longer with us today. Through your Holy Spirit, remind us of their faithful witnesses and encourage us in our walk with you. May our worship this morning be a joyous offering of gratitude to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus–Amen.
Opening Hymn – “Come and Find the Quiet Center” (#2128 in Sing the Faith – this hymn text is sung to the common hymn tune BEACH SPRING)
CALL TO CONFESSION
The hymn we just sang asked God to “Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see.” And we need that. We live in a chaotic and uncertain world, and we need God’s peace. But so often, the troubles in our lives are of our own making. We neglect to prioritize our inner life of faith with God, and we forget to love our neighbors as ourselves. With all this in our hearts and minds, let us pray together the prayer of confession, printed in your bulletin and on your screen at home.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, you call us to follow you, but we choose to follow other paths. We get tangled up in trying to please others, or in trying to put on a good face. You call us to live authentic and honest lives, but we are afraid to admit our limitations. Forgive us, Lord. Give us the courage to say “no” to the places you are not calling us to go so that we might say “yes” to your way of joy and peace. Hear us now as we continue in a time of silent confession. (pause for a minute of silent prayer)
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Even when we stray from God, God does not give up on us. God continues calling out to us. God invites us to turn back to him. God sent his only Son into the world to show us the way back to God’s path of peace. In 2 Thessalonians 3 it says this: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways.” Receive this assurance: God is forgiving and gracious. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven—Thanks be to God!
Song of Response – As the Wind Song (This beautiful hymn invites the congregation to reflect on the gift of the Holy Spirit. This hymn might be new to you, but I invite you to give it a listen. It’s just beautiful. You can hear it sung HERE.)
A LITANY FOR ALL SAINTS SUNDAY
Reader 1: In Hebrews 11, we read the stories of faithful men and women of God whose lives inspired and encouraged others in their faith. Today, we light a candle in gratitude for every person who has planted a seed of faith by the way they lived their lives.
The first candle is lit.
Reader 2: The author of Hebrews calls these beautiful people the “great cloud of witnesses.” On this All Saints Sunday, we pause to remember these important people. Our stories would be missing something without these people in them. Today, we light a candle for the people whose lives made our lives better by their presence.
The second candle is lit.
Reader 1: For the disciples and first followers of Jesus, who risked everything so that the good news of Jesus might eventually make its way to us, we light a candle in thanksgiving.
The third candle is lit.
Reader 2: For those who have experienced profound seasons of suffering and doubt, but continued to point toward God, even with their broken hearts, we light a candle in hope.
The fourth candle is lit.
Reader 1: For Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and ministers from years ago, those who gave of themselves so that we might know how loved we are by God, we light a candle in gratitude.
The fifth candle is lit.
Reader 2: For those closest to us when we were young who shaped us into the people we are, for the people who modeled to us the way of Christ, we light a candle in honor of their faithful witness.
The sixth candle is lit.
Reader 1: For those we’ve had the honor of sharing our lives with, whose love and grace reminded us we were loved by them and by God, we light a candle in remembrance.
The seventh candle is lit.
Reader 2: For those who’ve left empty seats at our tables, and empty spaces in our hearts, we light a candle both because we miss them so much and also because we thank God for the time we’ve had with them.
The eighth candle is lit.
Reader 1: For each beloved person in this congregation we’ve lost in this last year, we light a candle with still grieving hearts.
The ninth candle is lit.
Reader 2: Hebrews 12 begins: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” We light the last candle and give thanks to God for each person who has been in this great cloud for us. Thanks be to God, for each one of these saints.
The tenth candle is lit.
After the last candle is lit, the rest of the choir may take their places to sing the anthem “The Great Cloud”
Choir Anthem or Special Music
TIME WITH THE YOUNGER CHURCH (Children’s Sermon)
Children are invited to come forward for a special lesson. If they brought a blanket or quilt, you could ask who made/gave them the blanket they brought. If they didn’t bring a blanket/quilt, invite children to tell you about a special blanket they have at home. I showed the kids a quilt that was made for me before I was born. My mom’s friend made it and presented it at her baby shower. I talked about how beautiful it is to know that someone cared about me so much before I was born that they placed every one of those stitches in the quilt just for me. Connect this to God’s love and care for each one of the kids. Then, invite kids to hold their special blanket, or place their hand on their heart as they think about their special blanket, and asked them to repeat after you this prayer of blessing. You can either do this just with the children, or invite the whole congregation to participate.
A Blessing for Special Blankets/Quilts
For my special blanket.
For the way it keeps me warm,
For the way
It makes me feel safe.
For the way it wraps
Just like your love
Wraps around me, too.
For the person
Who made this for me.
Bless this blanket
And its special job
Of holding me close.
In Jesus’ name,
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
Hymn – Be Still, My Soul
For the sermon, I focused on God’s faithfulness in the lives of God’s people in the past. God’s faithfulness in the past assures us of God’s faithfulness in the present and future. And, just like those little seeds grew into something abundant, so too will our small acts of faithfulness grow into something that surprises and delights.
MORNING PRAYER/ENDING WITH THE LORD’S PRAYER
I modified the prayer found here. I omitted the sung response, and grouped the prayer into three sections, punctuating each with “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.” I updated the section with specific requests to reflect current situations around the world.
MOMENT OF GRATITUDE
In my congregation, we no longer pass the plates for the offering. While the organist/pianist plays the offertory, the congregation is invited to reflect with gratitude on God’s generosity, and prayerfully consider how they might be called to give. Offering plates are positioned in the front and back of the sanctuary.
Adjouring Hymn – For All the Saints (I personally prefer the setting of this hymn that is to the hymn tune O WALY WALY)
I hope this sample service inspires you as you observe All Saints Day/Sunday, either with your congregation or at home. If you use any of the parts of this service, I’d love to know how it goes.