No Rota at St Mark’s!

St Mark’s Church in the Parish of Badshot Lea and Hale has grown by over 40% in the last year and the new people are mainly families with Primary School aged children. The ethos of St Mark’s is that every member is equal – in particular the children are fully included in the service and all the activities of the church are open to all on an equal footing.

Until recently there had been a rota for all the jobs – sidesperson, server, intercessions, reader, coffee making and so on. However, it tended to be only the more established members of the congregation who could commit to the rota – families preferred to remain flexible, and in particular most of the jobs were inappropriate to give to children.

So the congregation of St Mark’s are trying something new. They have made lots of cards with various jobs on them, for example ‘Light the Candles’, ‘Take the Collection’, ‘Tidy up after the Service’, ‘Server’, ‘Reader’, ‘Intercessor’, ‘Make the Coffees’, many of the jobs can be done by children. Then each Sunday there is ‘Host’ who is one of the established members (who can commit to a Sunday) and they bring the biscuits, open the church and put out the box with the jobs in. As people come in they help themselves to a card, if they wish to.

The Revd Lesley Crawley, who is a priest in the Parish said, “Getting rid of the rota has been brilliant – it has made the church even more inclusive and even zanier. I never know who is going to step up to do the reading or help me by serving at the altar. It definitely wouldn’t suit a place where the vicar needs to be in control! But it works for a church like St Mark’s where people invite their friends by saying, ‘Seriously, I bet our church is nothing like any other church you’ve been to!’ I would encourage every church to try it for their All-age services.”

79 thoughts on “No Rota at St Mark’s!”

  1. Interesting. We’d not survive without Rota’s at the moment, but we’re also growing, although not as fast as St Mark’s, so this is an initiative to put into our war chest for the future.

  2. Inspired. Thank you Lesley. I think we will be nicking this shamelessly here in Widnes (near Liverpool).

  3. Speaking as an ordinand with an interest in liturgy…
    Does this work in terms of competency, confidence and preparation?

    What I mean is, for example, for an altar server, I would hope they would know what is needed and when, otherwise they might become a hindrance to prayerful presidency rather than an aide.

    Alternatively, for intercessions, I would usually assume someone has spent a little bit of time thinking about and writing/finding prayers. Or for reading lessons, someone who has read through the text in advance, and has some gifts in projection and public speaking.

    I am all in favour of encouraging people to take part in worship, but I guess my question would be as to how well it works in making the ‘performance’ as good as possible?

    1. You are absolutely right – smooth, beautiful, competent worship is not what happens at St Mark’s at all. Instead there is banter, backchat, fun, laughter and community. This approach would horrify people who are used to ‘normal’ church.

      In fairness people tend to pick jobs they have been trained for or that they can do well, but in actual fact doing it well is far less important than everyone being able to join in. To give an example of the type of church we are, our current favourite song is ‘All God’s creatures have a place in the choir.’

      1. Sounds to me like you are emphasising doing it well! Just in this particular gathering of the people of God, ‘well’ is determined in a different way to a different context!

        It sounds like a context I would struggle to call home, but to extend the metaphor of the favourite song, some of us have a place quietly supporting the choir. Not everyone is called to be anything like a contemplative!

      2. How many in your congregation please and do you find you have a load of jobs not picked and then need to fill the spaces?

      3. 25 in the congregation – a third are under 16. No – so far the jobs have been picked up, but there are 3 or 4 faithful people who have been loving this church back to life and they used to do all the jobs anyway – I should think they just divvy up the remaining jobs between them. I never know though – it is a little scary for the president – but there again it is a zany, non-judgmental congregation where no one is afraid of being themselves and when things go wrong (every week) everyone loves it!

      4. I agree – whilst I think prayerful preparation is important, I also think that everyone benefits from having the opportunity to do a different job and seeing if they are called to it or not. This is especially true for children and young people. I also think visitors would find comfort in a service that isn’t perfect.

      1. Yes. But not in the sense an actor in a theatre puts on a performance.

        Surely, to preside over the people in prayer, a liturgical president has to be able to perform their role? That is, first and foremost, to pray. If the environment is such that the president is not able to pray then, they cannot lead the people in prayer. (And this applies equally to a bishop ordaining in a packed cathedral, a priest at the Eucharist and a lay person leading a small prayer group at home, and everything in between).

        Clearly, what constitutes a distraction, or a hindrance, in this regard is cultural. In a context where the bustle that sounds normative in this case is not normal, the sensitivity to it will be different. That’s not wrong, surely – there must be a place in Christ’s Church for the contemplative as well as the more boisterous.

        And equally, in the environment described here, I would suggest someone too used to the calm, contemplative approach could be a hindrance because one of the necessaries in this context might become a level of noisy responsiveness.

        My original point was that people need to be able to carry out their part (as president, as readers, as the leader of the intercessions, as praying members of a congregation) in the liturgical assembly well if the worship that we are to offer to God in those assemblies is to be the best it can be. And I assume no one would genuinely suggest we should be aiming to offer God less than the best we can? (Though, of course, measuring ‘best’ is non-trivial!!)

        Performing the liturgy well is not simply an exercise in perfect repetition of the words and precise following of the rubrics (though the Church offers those as guides developed over a couple of thousand years of experience), but equally it is not a triviality – we cannot consider it unimportant.

  4. I’ve preached using a similar idea – putting post-it notes under every seat in church: each has a job on it. If you don’t like yours, you have to swap with someone else.
    Never been brave enough to do it in practice!

      1. As a teenager I used to imagine what I would offer if the preacher didn’t turn up. Also I knew some members of Brethren assemblies who would be working on messages to share with the church. They would carry them with them and share them at the next appropriate space in a service. Do please have a spot in the service where you ask people what they would like to offer. eg Thanks to God for this that or the other, A story of where God appeared to make a difference in someone’s life, A thought or a reading or a dream or vision or something. There’s no need to analyse the offerings (although we should affirm the person and thank them for sharing). Let the offerings stand on their own and see how various different people respond to them. To let people grow and develop gifts they need to use them.

      2. We occasionally do discussions instead of sermons and also we sometimes have prayer stations to wander around instead of sermons. On Sunday we will have a time of sharing because it is our Patronal Festival…

      3. A Brethren church I knew in N Ireland did have ‘sermon’ in the box and every week someone was ready with a ‘off the cuff’ sermon (that they had prepared beforehand) – usually it was the same person week to week. Things got difficult once because they also allowed people to choose the hymns as the service went along – it came unstuck when someone got dementia and kept asking for the same hymn because they forget it had already been sung

  5. We all had to do the sermon last week when Alan (the other half of the Crawley clergy contingent) had lost his voice and couldn’t preach. So we discussed the Gospel reading and it seemed to work.

    From the point of view of someone in the congregation it is working well as there is a sense of ownership. The intercessions are prepared in advance so people are not faced with impromptu prayer. I like the spontaneity of the service and the fact that we can join in as we feel able, and there isn’t any pressure to do jobs as there are always enough of the regulars to step in where necessary. It wouldn’t suit everyone but it feels right for St Mark’s and there are other places where we can go if we fancy something more ordered.

  6. We’ve been doing this at our weekly contemporary eucharist for the last 8 months. It’s a great success, and not difficult for any church to introduce. I got the idea from Nadia Bolz-Weber from House for Alll Saints and Sinners in Denver. As you say, Lesley, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. Go for it, people.

  7. Next step may be for folk to be encouraged to take a job card home with them for the following week… To prepare and commit?

  8. Do you have a largely punctual congregation? only about a third of our, similarly sized, congregation arrive before the start. Does it encourage people to arrive early enough to be sure of a task. What’s to stop the usual suspects always taking the cards? I like the idea of not wrestling to create a rota in advance. We put up a blank grid and ask people to sign up but even that doesn’t quite work.

    1. Hi Sarah, no we don’t… or we didn’t. We used to start with 5 people and then the rest of the people would wander in over the next 15 minutes…. The weird thing is that isn’t happening so much – I wonder whether the kids want to get there and sort their job out… no real idea! We nicked the idea off Nadia Bolz-Weber – the American Lutheran Pastor. She says that if you do get a situation where someone takes the same job every week and you want to spread it around a bit then simply remove the card from the pile and give it to someone who you would to do it when they arrive…

  9. Sorry that was all phrased in quite an abrupt way! It wasn’t meant to be. Really interested in whether something like it might work at our church

    1. I realise that no one needs to do it, but if they don’t how will they feel then?
      upset, cut of by what they consider their inadequacies
      difficult situation that needs careful thought and a watchful eye

      1. I don’t think so – there are 25 in the congregation and maybe 10 jobs, people regularly don’t do anything and all is well as far as I can see. Most people are happy just taking the mickey out of the Vicar as their main job!

  10. Love it! Not for the faint-hearted, but I have no doubt you will build strong disciples with this attitude of equality and unity where strong-holds are broken down and everyone is skilled up.

    I have found that the good thing about doing lots of different jobs in church is you are more analytical, than critical when you see someone else doing it less than perfect.

    It would also dispel some of the mystery of these jobs which often prevents people from stepping forward.

    May God bless your church in all you do and your congregation grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

  11. The post has created an interesting discussion on FB Spiritual Child Group… how do people with special needs such as autism cope and manage with the system?
    And what is a “hoofer doofer” please ?

  12. I love the spontaneity but as a disabled person I’d struggle to do any of these roles without time being spent on adapting them to my capabilities – I can do a reading but would need to have had time to prepare/learn it as my cognitive processing isn’t good under pressure. But I love doing it and have been trained to read well. But as my disability is unpredictable, I’d feel less guilt for being too sick to get to church if I wasn’t on a rota, and more empowered to serve as and when I was able to.
    However, an untrained or new welcomer might ask me intrusive questions, make me feel less welcome and themselves feel disempowered, someone making refreshments wouldn’t know that I can’t pour from a jug or hold a squashy plastic cup, etc (I need a half-filled, pre-poured mug of squash, which is hard to say when swamped with biscuit-hungry kids) – without a steady team I’d have to disclose a lot of personal info to people I didn’t know yet, and to do this on every interaction during the morning, every time I attend, which becomes exhausting.

    I guess you just try it, and review in a while to see what works well or not so well in this system – I’d expect that people who hadn’t served before would get an appetite for training so that they can excel in their new or most-preferred serving roles – and certainly being able to try everything without signing your life away is appealing. If people who can discern and encourage others are present, you’ll easily identify and nurture individual gifting and vocation, and from a young age.

    I started in the church band on my recorder when I was five – being treated as “someone who leads us in worship” at that age was very powerful, and the responsibility made me want to get better at it. You’re laying good foundations for these children by modelling this “perichoretic, kenotic ecclesiology” (everyone coming together, and joyfully dancing around each other while they give everything they can) – much admiration!

  13. Using everyone’s spiritual gifts st Sale Salvation Army Church has greatly enriched and enlarged the ministry of the church. The children are also an integral part of the community and bring much joy and laughter to our times of worship.

    1. Actually, counting up, we have at least 14 rotas going for our Sunday mornings: Vestry deacon, Vestibule deacon, welcomers, stewards, prayers during the service, prayer after the service, flowers, coffee, 0-3s, 3-5s, 5-8s, 8-11s, 11-14s and 14-18s. (we’re a baptist church, hence the term Deacon being used).

  14. I love this – church shouldn’t be a polished performance, but a gathering of family who all pitch in. We wouldn’t ask our blood family to say, ahead of our next family lunch, who will help take people’s coats as everyone arrives, or who will clear the table, or who’ll do the washing up – we all just pitch in. So want church to be more like this. As they say, Nature (and the Holy Spirit?!) abhors a vacuum…

  15. Introducing fresh ideas is often very helpful and can help the congregation ‘buy into ‘ Sunday mornings rather than attend them. But sometimes these things are over worked and to clever, also some of the responses on here are to ‘wordy and lofty’. What’s a Sunday for? To put aside ourselves , focus on Jesus, worship him, take in his word, and love one another. It needs not to be any more complicated or clever ,

  16. Thank you! I appreciate your church’s ability to step out in faith. I also really appreciate the lively discussion here. I look forward to trying this as we continue to work toward full inclusivity.

    I am wondering if “helpers” ever step forward to work with someone not fully prepared for a certain job?

    1. Everyone is very sensible really – the congregation work it out – people do new jobs with someone who hasn’t done it before until they get it – parents help kids – hosts describe jobs and help train – this doesn’t need micromanaging when people are permitted to use their common sense which they all have oodles of… And if something goes wrong we all just laugh and shrug our shoulders and move on.

  17. One thing that I’m not totally clear about: initially I thought that the deck of jobs was placed face-down, and each participant took the top card, sight-unseen. But some comments suggest that you may be able to look through the deck and pick whichever job you prefer. Which is correct?

  18. @Tom’s comments about being prepared struck a chord with me…

    One of my joys is spending a quiet Saturday in bible study and preparation for being a lector in the morning. I’m an engineer, so my analytical bent initially asserts itself with web searches, reading various commentaries and sermons and, yes, sometimes picking and choosing a bit from among the various translations as I craft an introduction to my assigned reading. Along the way, the Holy Spirit usually manages to push aside that initial control rush, and I find myself meditating on the deeper meanings and truths that always seem to be there waiting to be discovered yet again.

    In our large parish in California, we’re blessed with a small group of regular Lectors with, yes, a formal ROTA – and the group competes for new blood with dozens of other groups yearly at the ministry faire; not surprisingly, such recruitment is difficult and slow. Worse, when the ROTA conflicts with life’s other schedules, finding a “replacement” becomes a chore and a burden.

    In contrast, several of us started an informal Shakespeare reading-with-pot-luck-dinner group as a way to promote fellowship, public reading skills and, of course, the Bard. People are eager to try new/larger/different roles and we quickly get “into the moment” where nobody really knows what all those olde wordes really mean, and there is no stigma or shame in stumbling, losing one’s place or reading from a different folio. In my mind, this is the same “ask, and you will receive” empowerment that @Lesley blogged about – the Holy Spirit moves people to serve as Christ served; many times all that is missing is an invitation – or even just an excuse.

    I see the difference between a ROTA and a “job jar” as one of subtle exclusivity and inclusivity. Consider the communion and relationships that build as people step out of their comfort zones and vie for roles that they would like to try out even when they are not ready to make a big commitment… Strangers become “one of us” as we open both our hearts and our responsibilities to them.

    As for balancing prep time and training -vs- impromptu, there’s certainly room for both; mentoring and apprenticing works in the church just like it does in the corporate world, and it would be easy to sign up for “next week’s Epistle” at the end of this week’s service…

    I can’t wait to see how we can try this in our community! God bless your ministry!

  19. I love this idea especially for mixing things up a bit, our older members don’t think our younger members (even me at 45) are capable of taking on any of their roles, how fab would it be if some of the teenagers could show just what they can do. Imagine no doilies on the hospitality table and mugs instead of china cups and saucers – radical.

  20. SO taking this to Strategy Committee meeting tonight! I feel very “spiritually gifted” at the moment, because of nicking this idea. Thank you, Lesley. (Actually, several of us saw your article on FB a few days ago, and excitedly “Shared” it amongst ourselves – our worship leader on Sunday even mentioned it in his sermon. There were several astonished faces. Now that they have had time to accustom themselves to the idea, we are going to bring it up again… )

    1. Tidy Up after church
      Light Candles
      Reader
      Intercessions
      Chalice
      Server
      Make the Coffee
      Hoofer Doofer-er
      Sidesperson
      Take Collection

  21. Love the idea but not a idea that a number of churches would dare try though great step forward, I was just wondering firstly what has been the biggest failure in the idea and secondly what has been the funniest thing to happen

    1. Hi I’d love to come back with some lovely witticisms but truthfully as far as I know nothing has gone wrong and nothing funny has happened. We’ve only been doing it for a couple of months though…

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