Okay, Let’s Talk About Beatles Sunday

This past Sunday was Beatles Sunday at the church.

On Sunday afternoon, I posted a status to my church Facebook page thanking everyone who donated to and shopped at the Farmers Market that we hosted after worship that day.  I said I would get to Beatles Sunday later – I was in desperate need of a nap and I could not get cohesive thoughts to come together, let alone a large post expressing my gratitude and joy for the incredible worship experience that so many people helped make possible that morning.

As the day went on, however, I realized that I really needed a bigger space to express those feelings.  Trying to type on my phone into a Facebook post just seemed insufficient.  So here we go, a few days late and a few words too long!

This was our third annual Beatles Sunday, a somewhat random idea that Jordan and I came up with three summers ago in a worship planning meeting.  We were trying think of something that would break up the monotony of summer and one of us jokingly said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do an entire worship service with just Beatles music?” and we both started laughing.

And then we stopped laughing and kind of looked at each other, as if to say, “Wait … could we?”

I wouldn’t describe our first year as a free-for-all, but I wouldn’t exactly say that we were organized, either.  There were only a few of us that were really involved at the time, so everyone wore a myriad of different hats throughout the service – at one point I think I came down off the pulpit from reading, grabbed my saxophone, put it down while someone else was reading and then sang the next song.  Everyone had multiple parts and it was there but by the grace of God we managed to pull it off.

Last year we got more people involved, but with more people came more chaos.  Rehearsals were a little bit hectic because everyone showed up all at once for and they ended up turning into giant Beatles jam sessions (which, arguably, were a freaking blast, but nowhere in the Order of Worship was the song, Yellow Submarine).

I was nervous going into this year.  I had been away for six weeks and we didn’t have a strong song list before I left.  I had a lot of writing to do for the service that I was planning on doing while I was on sabbatical and had not started any of it.  We were confirming musicians way more last minute that I like to.  We started advertising late.  I started to wonder if we could pull it off.

Well – the number speak for themselves.

129.  That is the number of people that were in worship on Sunday morning.  129!  This is a church that has averaged 58 people in worship so far this summer.  We more than doubled our weekly attendance!

17.  That is the number of musicians that participated in the service.  17 people came to the church on more than one occasion to practice last week.  17 people practiced at home.  17 people showed up at 7:30AM on Sunday morning to set up and warm up.

14.  That is the number of instruments that were played at various points throughout the service.  We had piano, bass, 2 guitars, a full drum set, several chimes, wall chimes, cello, violin, trumpet, french horn, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and a whole chorus of vocalists.

12.  That is the number of people that acted as readers during the service.  12 people either sought me out and asked me if they could read or responded to my call for volunteers early that week.  12 people received their parts ahead of time and practiced.  12 people got up in front of church and read beautifully.  12 people read words that I wrote and conveyed the same meaning and passion when they read them that I felt when I was writing them.

I actually said to Bruce on Sunday night that I felt bad some people only got to sing in one or two songs and some people did not get to read, because in previous years they had more to do/sing/play.  He smiled and said, “But that’s a GOOD thing!  That means more people were involved!”  He was totally right.

It’s strange because as Beatles Sunday has grown, my role in leading the service has actually shrunk.  I spent a good part of worship this year sitting on the steps to the balcony with Bruce listening to the music.  At one point I realized I left something in my office and went downstairs to go get it.  I did open the service, facilitate our prayer time and preside over communion but, other than that, worship came from the community.


I mean – I was still the crazy preacher playing her saxophone in a clerical collar and 4 inch heels, but this was a worship service where you really got to see the community shine.

And please know that I do not use the phrase “worship service” loosely.  Last year, my parents came out for the service and my mom said to me after, “So that was an actual WORSHIP service!”  I think when people see an advertisement for “Beatles Sunday” they just imagine a bunch of people singing Beatles music for the entire hour with no real worship structure.  But that’s not it at all!  I strongly believe worship should be centered around scripture, reflection and prayer; so in preparation for Beatles Sunday, I spend a considerable amount of time writing and crafting a service that is fun, incorporates the songs we have chosen and still creates an authentic worship experience.

A lot goes into it!  We start by picking music – appropriate music, of course!  We have definitely had moments where I will turn something on to consider and Jordan will say, “I think that’s a little too psychadelic for church.”  The truth is there are a handful of Beatles songs that work really well in a worship setting and we pretty much just rotate those.  We usually pick 7 or 8 songs and that seems to work well for the hour time slot we have.

Once the music is picked, I look at the lyrics and try to pull out an overriding theme for each song.  Some songs are easier than others (All You Need Is Love is one of the easier ones!) and others I need to listen to a few times.  I choose scriptures that I think correspond well with the themes of the songs and then write a reflection for each song that ties the scripture to our lives and then leads into the song.  The reflections are about 250 words each.  Since Beatles Sunday fell on the first Sunday of the month this year, we also served communion.  I paired the song Blackbird to go with communion, using themes of redemption and new life and imperfections and second chances.

This was pretty much what I looked like every afternoon. Writing while drowning out the sounds of the world and listening to the Beatles. My cat was super pumped about the arrangement.
This was pretty much what I looked like every afternoon last week. Writing while drowning out the world by listening to the Beatles. My cat was super pumped about the arrangement.

The structure of the service is pretty simple – scripture, reflection, song, repeat.  The musicians set up while the scripture and reflections are being read so the music can start immediately and then when the song is almost over the next readers make their way to the lecturn so they can start speaking as soon as the music ends.  I’m really picky about flow (and no “dead air”) during worship and this seems to work well.

I realized this year that the difference really is in the details.  We knew that we were going to have a big crowd, so the person who has been organizing pop-up Farmers Markets this summer planned one for that morning and made sure we had plenty of stuff.  Bruce usually sets up lemonade and cookies after worship in the summer, but the Deacons helped this week with extra juice, coffee and goodies.  Bruce also set up a speaker on the front steps to the church so there was Beatles music playing quietly outside as people were gathering before and after worship.  There is something so miraculous and holy about watching the roads of our sacred and our secular worlds intersect and it really felt like an honor to watch everyone play their part.

I am definitely a control freak when it comes to worship and I feel like I go into hyperdrive for Beatles Sunday.  I print out a detailed order of worship with obnoxious notes everywhere that say things like, “Music immediately begins” (yes, underlined) and leave copies in binders for everyone.  I know, I’m a real gem to work with.  But thankfully everyone around me humors me and is even flexible when I adapt things at the last minute.  This year I slid a handwritten note onto Jordan’s music mid-service while he was in the middle of another song that said, “Can you play Let It Be during my pastoral prayer?” and he nodded, didn’t miss a beat in what he was playing and really tied the prayer together with that song.

All in all, it was another successful Beatles Sunday!  While I do love the normalcy of preaching and our worship order, there is a good chance I may crank up the Beatles and having a mini British Invasion this week as I write my sermon.

Our advertisement. Last year we recreated Abbey Road, which made a whole lot more sense to people.

Thank you to everyone who made this one possible! <3

4 thoughts on “Okay, Let’s Talk About Beatles Sunday

  1. Sarah.. one of the best services. I enjoyed the reflections. Most brought tears to my eyes.

  2. The Beatles music was a great tribute to four lads who helped us to survive a most awful decade ! Between Vietnam, assassinations, riots, bad drugs, Watergate, etc., etc., these boys were out there with survival tunes. I was no Hippie but loved their music. Many thanks for a great program.

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