An Idea for All Saints as retold by Rev. Rick Maeser
The idea for this particular celebration of All Saints Sunday was Phil Schroeder's, which he demonstrated at our Northwest District clergy retreat. You could use a different scripture, but I chose Job 1:13-22, 2:11-13. I spoke about what rending one's clothes meant, and how Job's friends joined him in this expression of grief. I noted that in the biblical account of their response, words were neither available nor necessary at that particular moment to communicate their empathy, or to offer comfort.
The cloth you use is your choice. I used white cloth (it was a new pillow case from the Dollar Store). I made about a 3 inch cut in the fabric every 3 inches or so along one edge of the piece of cloth. I made as many cuts as there were people to be remembered, plus one or two. This made the fabric easy to tear. The length was about 2 1/2 feet. I wanted to be able to tear a strip from the cloth in one motion with my arms almost fully extended. All of this is subject to personal preference and aesthetic sense. When I saw Phil do this at our district clergy retreat, he used a very large and thick piece of patterned fabric in earthtone colors which required two or three pulls for each strip. It was very effective. He had previously cut the fabric as I described, so that it could be torn easily and in even strips. You may want to practice with whatever material you choose to use.
We didn't ring the handbell or light special candles for this service. I called each name, tore a strip from the cloth, and draped it over the front edge of the altar (not the chancel rail) so that each strip could be seen by the congregation. I had cloth left over (with a few extra cuts along the edge in case more strips were needed) which I folded and placed on top of the altar when I finished. I didn't ask the families to stand for their loved ones. If you do, you may want to be sure they are all standing before you begin to tear the cloth, so they can all see and hear this being done and receive the maximum benefit from this powerful gesture. One family later told me they experienced closure during this service which they had not experienced at the time of their loved ones' funeral, and they were grateful. (In Phil's seminar setting, we were given the opportunity to tear off our own strip of cloth, if we wished. I didn't offer this option to the families in our worship setting.)