Since worship is the major event and central act for Christian communities, it is no surprise that planning worship becomes a key issue for ecumenical shared ministries. Not only do different traditions have different emphases in their liturgical life, but our different denominational families have different ways of organizing responsibility for worship. Ecumenical shared ministries are blessed with potentially having access to a wide variety of liturgical texts and musical resources, but at the same time they can feel overwhelmed by the number of choices, and the cost of buying too many sets of books, and they may wish to choose just a few for regular use. Or, they may choose to invest in technology (and copyright permissions!) for putting together a bulletin and/or overhead projection for each service. Each choice can stir up issues of denominational customs and preferences.

One basic question to address is whether the congregation will generally follow one form of service, or whether they will alternate among traditions – using a Lutheran rite one week, a Presbyterian style of worship the next, etc. They may also want to develop ‘blended’ services for particular events – anniversaries, celebration of new ministry and festivals. The relevant judicatories should be involved in decision-making about how a congregation should address these matters and what level of authorization is required.

Whose Responsibility?


‘As the executive of the presbytery, the minister is responsible for the conduct and content of public worship … The session is responsible for regulating the hours and forms of public worship and for arranging special services. The session determines the appointed times and provides for the administration of the sacraments.’ (Book of Forms)


There are national standards for worship and some authorized liturgical texts, which include liturgies and hymns. At the parish level, the pastor and the congregation share responsibility for planning worship.

United Church

“The Session, or its equivalent, has responsibility for worship and administration of the sacraments in the local setting, provided the worship remains in continuity with the Basis of Union.”


The diocesan bishop is the person who authorizes liturgical texts. The General Synod (national governing body) from time to time issues authorized books of worship (liturgies and hymns) and these may be used with the permission of the bishop. Other rites are not supposed to be used, but in practice can be a wide variety of custom.

Since the adoption of the Waterloo Declaration of full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Anglicans and Lutherans are allowed (with the permission of the local bishop) to use each other’s authorized books. (See Appendix for Guidelines for Common Worship).

Authorized or Recommended Texts


The Book of Common Worship (1991); Living Faith/Foi Vivante: A Statement of Christian Belief (1984); The Book of Praise (1997). The Book of Praise is the authorized hymn book; some congregations continue to use the 1982 edition.


Three books are currently authorized: the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), With One Voice (1995), and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006).

United Church

While the church occasionally produces worship resources, they are neither mandated nor exclusive – congregations have the freedom to draw on many sources for worship. United Church recommended resources include Celebrate God’s Presence: A Book of Services (2000); Voices United (1996); More Voices (a supplement to Voices United) date.


The Book of Common Prayer (1962) is the standard of worship and doctrine and the Book of Alternative Services (1985) is in widespread use. More alternatives are included in Services of the Word, Supplementary Eucharistic Prayers, and Night Prayer, and many of these texts are available in French. Common Praise (1998) is an authorized hymn book, as is The Book of Common Praise (1938) and The Hymn Book (1971), but more latitude is given to the choice of hymn books than to liturgical texts.

Considerations in Planning Worship

People often have strong feelings about how worship should be conducted. Any worship committee in an ecumenical shared ministry is encouraged to pay attention to the real issues that may lie behind disputes about liturgy, because for some there will be issued that they consider to be matters of principle. For example, an Anglican may insist on wine for the communion service, since that is the standard expected of Anglicans according to canon law throughout the Anglican Communion – it is not a question of personal preference. On the other hand, a United Church person may insist on grape juice as a necessary requirement of their Methodist heritage. It is important to encourage open discussion of the reasons for these different views and to learn what each tradition cherishes and why. In most cases a compromise can be found that allows for choices within the liturgy – two cups, for example, or a chalice of wine and cups of grape juice.

Some questions about worship that an ecumenical shared ministry will want to address, in consultation with the judicatories:

  • Who may preside at a service of eucharist/communion
  • Who may preside at non-sacramental services
  • Who may preach
  • Who may lead which prayers
  • Frequency of communion
  • Participation of children in communion, and in the whole liturgy
  • Books or bulletins or overhead projection
  • Which books
  • A common rite for the community, or alternate among traditions
  • Bread, wine and/or grape juice
  • How to dispose of communion elements that are left over
  • Vestments for clergy and others
  • Liturgical colours
  • Special services in the Christian year (e.g. Ash Wednesday, Holy Week)
  • Special Sundays (e.g. some traditions mark Worldwide Communion Sunday, or Reformation Day, while others do not)
  • Readings – from a lectionary, or by theme
  • Music – how much, what mix of styles, instruments, sources, choral and/or congregational

Special Occasions

Services for some special occasions, such as baptism, weddings and funerals will each have their own issues, but for the most part these will be related to the needs and desires of the families involved, rather than denominational matters.

The official teaching of all of our churches is that baptism is to be performed with water, using the formula ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

With regard to weddings, ordained ministers are bound to act in accordance with the rules of their own denomination.

For two special services, confirmation and the celebration of a new ministry, there are particular issues that need to be discussed with the judicatories.


Present practice in all the churches involved, except the Anglican, is for the pastor to confirm those who are making an adult profession of the faith of their baptism. Anglicans reserve this to the bishop. Every attempt should be made to find a way for all the people being confirmed to do so together, but if Anglicans are involved their bishop will have to be as well. Some ecumenical shared ministries have the pastor and the bishop lay hands on every candidate; some will invite a person from the other denominations’ judicatories to participate. It is important to respect each other’s legal and traditional requirements, while being creative about celebrating this special event as a whole community.

Confirmation can raise particular questions for people raised in ecumenical shared ministries, as denominational identity may not be as much of an issue. They may not wish to choose to belong to only one denomination. The service can be a means of conveying that while they are being confirmed in one tradition, they are also making their profession of adult faith in the midst of a wider congregation, and they are part of the one Church of God.

Celebrations of New Ministry

When the new ordained minister begins their ministry in the ecumenical shared ministry, you will want to have a service of welcome. In all our traditions, this is a celebration of new ministry for the judicatories, the whole congregation, and the ordained minister. It is an opportunity to celebrate the various ministries that support each other and provide service to the wider community.

Any liturgical celebration can use signs and symbols to illustrate this, and there are some samples in the Appendix. There may also be denominational requirements, such as particular oaths that the minister must take. It is important to consult particularly with the judicatory of the denomination to which the ordained minister belongs to find out what those requirements are and who from the judicatory needs to participate and in what way. At the same time, representatives and important symbols or actions from the other denominations should also be included.

Sample services for appendix