Worship Aids for Pulpit VacancyMen at work


When a congregation is without a pastor, planning worship can become a challenge. The pastor often serves as the technical expert in the congregation. Unless there is a long tradition of liturgical study among a congregation's laity, both small and big matters can occasion confusion.

This page is not an exhaustive "manual" for liturgical practice. This page is nothing but a crib sheet. It's intended to help congregations with things like appropriate seasonal changes while providing tips that may make life a little easier.

As you use this page and navigate worship planning, you can help us improve this guide by sending any questions you might have. If you have a question, chances are someone else has the same question. Email your questions to Bishop Riegel.

Interim Pastor

When a congregation has a pastor under letter of call, that pastor is responsible for worship oversight in conjunction with the Congregation Council. When a congregation does not have a pastor under call, that oversight falls to the interim pastor, the interim pastor being appointed by the bishop with the consent of the congregation. In some cases, there is no interim to be had (or a mutually acceptable interim cannot be secured. In such cases, the Bishop has oversight as the interim pastor. The interim has the same authority as a the regularly call pastor.

Any questions should go to the interim (or Bishop when no other interim is assigned).

Filling the Pulpit

Contact information for supply preachers/pastors as well as related policies and guidelines are found on our Supply Preaching & Presiding page.

New opportunities for lay preaching are coming on line under our Synodical Lay Worship Leadership program. In fact, applications are being accepted for certification in the first tier of licensure, the Licensed Reader. A Licensed Reader leads worship but does not write his/her own sermon, reading an approved sermon instead. Learn more at our Licensed Reader page.

There may be days when you can't find a supply preacher (or a last minute problem has prevented the scheduled supply preacher from showing up). The Licensed Readers' Sermon Library may be utilized, but consultation with the interim pastor prior to doing so should be attempted if at all possible.

Planning the Liturgy

Liturgy can be broken down into those elements that we call "the propers" and those that we call "the ordinary." In short, the ordinary of the mass includes those things that we pretty much do (with a little wiggle room) every time we have service. The propers include those things specific to the day (or season), e.g., the lessons. Admittedly, this has gotten more than a little mushy over the years largely because of untempered creativity, a degree of historical-liturgical ignorance, sloppiness, indolence, and the diversity of traditions that fed into the ELCA. For congregations in pulpit vacancy, we recommend that the standard form of the liturgy be used as there may be a good number of different people stepping into the pulpit. This can also serve as a liturgical reset prior to calling a new pastor.

When planning a worship service, pay close attention to the rubrics (the instructions in red print in the LBW). The rubrics provide instructions on the execution of the liturgy and how to handle particular elements. The general rubrics should also be consulted. The general rubrics are found in the early pages of the "Altar Book" (Lutheran Book of Worship: Ministers Edition), s.v., "Notes on the Liturgy," pp.13-39. They can also be found in the Lutheran Book of Worship: Ministers Desk Edition. In the unlikely case that you do not have an "Altar Book," the Synod Office can loan you a "desk edition" for study. An excellent resource for learning more about the liturgy is the Manual on the Liturgy–Lutheran Book of Worship by Pfatteicher & Messerli. The Synod Office has several copies that may be borrowed for study.

The following matrices list the elements of the liturgy in their proper sequence for each of the days/seasons for the near future. This page will change over time in advance of any festal or seasonal changes. Further down this page, you will find some notes on liturgical appointments.

Yes, there are more options than indicated in each matrix (e.g., seasonal antiphons, verses, offertories, responsories, etc.). The intent of this page is to assist inexpert worship planners who often contend with limited resources. If resources are present, and there is a desire to go further, consult the interim pastor. The Bishop is also happy to do workshops on liturgics; feel free to contact him to arrange a workshop.

While a congregation with copyright permission (or a copyright license) may print out the entire worship service in its Sunday bulletin (to the extent permitted in the permission or license), it may find it easier to print a bulletin with only the order of service and page numbers. This, of course, means that the worshipers will have to use the hymnal/worship book. The question is one of staffing. Who is preparing your bulletin? Do do you have adequate staff? Are there enough hours in the day? How easy a task is it going to be? Each matrix provides the elements and page numbers as found in the LBW.

If your congregation is using ELW, you will need the direct assistance of your interim pastor to properly assemble the liturgy. To be frank, the ELW is not well-designed for use as a stand-alone worship book. It is designed to be used as a resource in constructing a fully-printed worship bulletin, and certain elements are only available through the electronic resource. It is possible, with care, to translate what you find here for use with the ELW. You do have the option of pulling your old LBWs out of storage during your time of pulpit vacancy.

Types of Worship Services

For Sundays without Holy Communion

For Sunday mornings when there is no Lord's Supper, three options for liturgy present themselves...

  • Matins: a service of morning prayer found in the LBW, pp.131-141. This is an appropriate service to use when no preacher is available. Congregations should not cancel worship for lack of a preacher. Gathering for prayer, the recitation of the psalms, and the reading of Holy Scriptures has long sustained the church in desperate situations.
  • Service of the Word: a less complicated service than Matins found in the LBW, pp.126-130.
  • Ante-communion: essentially, the Service for Holy Communion without Holy Communion. This was the liturgy commonly used on non-communion Sundays.

These non-eucharistic services not be used when a presbyter (pastor) is present to lead the worship service. With the shortage of presbyters, one cannot be sure when the next communion service might be held. In other words, if you can have hold a communion service, do so because it might be a long time before you will have another chance. Furthermore, the employment of a presbyter for a non-eucharistic service is poor human resource allocation. Every time a congregation has a supply pastor lead a non-eucharistic service, there may be a congregation that is deprived the Sacrament of the Altar.

For Sundays with Holy Communion

The full service of Holy Communion may only be used when a presbyter (pastor) or bishop presides.

Orders of Service for Ordinary Time following Pentecost

Four different orders for Sunday worship during the season following Pentecost (ordinary time) are online. Click here to access.

Worship Appointments (candles, colors, etc.)

And the true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the Sacraments, ardent prayer, and the like. Candles, golden vessels, tapers, altar-cloths, images, and similar adornments are becoming, but they are not the adornment that properly belongs to the Church. — Apology XXIV:51
We further believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and every time has the right, authority, and power, to change, to reduce, or to increase ceremonies according to its circumstances, as long as it does so without frivolity and offense, but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time it may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the edification of the Church. — Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, X:9

We like our things, and we like our worship spaces to be adorned. While these things are neither the true adornment of the church nor necessary to salvation, we should attempt to maintain decorum, and that is facilitated by following the rubrics and customs long-established in the church.

Appointments for Ordinary Time following Pentecost

For matters related to colors, canldes, etc. during the summer months, click here.

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West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ℅ St. Paul Lutheran Church, 309 Baldwin Street, Morgantown, WV 26505
304-363-4030  +  Porter@WV-WMD.org

Last update: 28 June 2022