And all the assembly said “Amen,” and praised the Lord. Nehemiah 5:13b
Recent years have seen much greater emphasis on congregational participation in worship. But one small word keeps being withheld from the people: AMEN. It’s meant to be a cry of assent, a shout, an affirmation. Yet too often we experience it as a barely audible whimper.
A small piece of good advice (in earlier days this was known as a ‘rubric’*) on page 549 of A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa would help congregations to reclaim the AMEN.
Liturgy is always invitation and response – God’s invitation and our response. Good liturgy needs to echo this through the presider’s invitation and the people’s response. A prayer needs to draw a response from the people.
People feel confident and secure that this invitation has been extended if they clearly recognize some words of invitation. A prayer that seems to finish in mid-air, leaving the congregation to guess whether it has ended, does not evoke a confident AMEN.
Neither does it help for the presider to say the word. What follows is a straggle of muttered ‘Amens’, simply confirming the congregation in their passivity.
Barbara Schmich writes:
We are present. We are open.
We hearken. We understand
Here we are; we listening to your word.
“Amen” makes demands
Like a signature on a dotted line:
Sober bond to all that goes before;
No hesitation, no half-heartedness,
no mental reservation allowed.
We support. We approve.
We are of one mind. We promise.
May this come to pass. So be it.
Be careful when you say “Amen.”
*A rubric is like a good secretary who knows how things should be done – and even more importantly, how they shouldn’t be done!
Martin Davies is Ministry Educator for Waiapu.