However, I have never witnessed, and I am confident that you have never witnessed either, a service which omitted all announcements.
An extreme example may ratify this point. At a morning prayer service at a worship conference I attended, there was little need for announcements, as the service was to be followed, so the agenda said, by announcements.
However, the presider did not wish to deprive us, and began her service with a vestigial announcement, a sort of foretaste of the feast to come. Slumped over the podium she began by saying, "Hello, how you all doing? OK, let's see, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of...." etc.
We must admit that a counter argument of no little weight could be advanced on this ground for the children's sermon, as our people are known to riot at the omission of this, yet pass over without remark a sermon omitting all reference to the gospel. However, even I have experienced, on rare occasions, worship without this feature.
A second argument is that a thing which is of the essence is that which we testify to others, even at risk to ourselves. At a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr. some years ago, the Lutheran worship leaders had occasion to make such a testimony to an ecumenical assembly.
Many things dear to traditional Lutheran liturgists had been sacrificed in the interest of ecumenism. For example, all the hymns were going to be singable.
However, the presider began by going on record, "We have a few announcements; it just wouldn't be a Lutheran service without announcements."
A third argument can be made that when elements of the service must be shortened, the announcements are never shortened. We all know that length of the worship is important, for the only way to get the church council to discuss worship is to have two services in a row go over an hour.
Years ago, after a service where I was doing supply preaching, a parishioner greeted me by saying, "That was the best worship we have ever had here." To which his companion, considerately seeking to make sure the point was driven home clearly, said, "Yea, he kept it short."
In our seminaries it is taught that a good sermon can be 12 minutes, or even 7. Length is not essential. The clock on the back wall reminds us of this. Communion would be more frequent, as worship committee debates testify, if we could just figure out how to keep it shorter.
However, I defy any of you to produce a discussion where the length of the announcements was a concern. Even should someone take five minutes to explain that, at the fellowship, decaf coffee will be in the carafe with a red band, no one is upset.
A fourth argument can be established by considering the placement of the announcements. Should an attempt be made to move the announcements to the front of the service, the objection will be raised that "latecomers will miss them," an objection that is never made for missing the Confession and Absolution, the Greeting, or the Kyrie. This shows that announcements are more important than these.
A fifth argument is shown by the extent to which we identify with this time and it has become a place of real presence for us. As a younger, more innocent, lay person, before I had been fully trained, I once proposed omitting all announcements at some special service. In horror, another council member responded, "But that is the only time we get to see the pastors as human beings."
Thus, announcements testify to the Incarnation, overcoming the Docetism of only having pastors pray for us, preach about our lives, and bless us.
Need for Renewal
Now that we have so clearly identified this element as essential, a program of announcement renewal may be suggested. Forgive me for descending from the high realms of pure doctrine to mere practicalities, but now that the theory has been agreed upon, we can have a sure guide to adiaphora.
Perhaps we might consider an "announcement service" where, like hymn song services, we replace all the parts of the liturgy with announcements.
The sensitive designer of worship will want to do this decently and in good order. For example, the hymn of praise could be replaced with an announcement congratulating the youth softball team on a recent victory. The Old Testament lesson could be replaced with an announcement about some previous era of the church's history.
The possibility of reading announcements responsively to each other should not be overlooked. The sermon could select one announcement and explain it, surely something all would appreciate, given the confusion that often arises when untrained laity are permitted to give announcements.
As congregations are now offering a cafeteria of services to appeal to all types, the need for thematic coherence is importance. You should match your announcements to the service, matching the traditional announcements ("we need someone to teach second grade") for the traditional service, and, at the contemporary service, having contemporary announcements ("youth advisors report for fingerprinting on Tuesday").
You might survey the congregation to find out what their favorite announcements were, and repeat them at a special heritage service. A Sunday morning forum series on announcements would be useful.
With our focus on the revised Concordat, it would be appropriate to explain how our announcement practices differ from those of the Episcopalians. Perhaps you might invite the local Episcopal priest to come and share some of their announcements.
It would be a great testimony to our unity in the body of Christ for all of our members to see that we, despite our distinctly Lutheran gifts, do in fact, share many announcements in common.
Youth are always a concern, and so you should include training in how to give announcements in confirmation class, always allowing for the colorful variations that youth will want to introduce.
It is probably unnecessary to purse this point, but the creative and alert pastor, assisted by the admiring lay leadership, can develop this concept fully.
It is with gratitude to God and the editor, that I give thanks for the opportunity to assist the parishes with this crucial point. I trust that my answer of this question of essentiality will permit us to terminate this debate and move to other issues.