Yesterday, everything fell apart in the service. All the usual suspects were gone, traveling or sick. There are some transitions in the ushering, and I guess everyone’s getting used to their jobs. But, the upshot of it all was that nothing was where it ought to have been.
There was a baptism and no font. During the silent prayer of confession, I realized it, and began to scurry around, looking for it. When the children’s sermon began, I had to give it, while someone from the choir took my place in finding and filling the bowl. The problem was that for the children’s sermon, I had planned to have the children participate in the baptism (something that the children don’t normally see), so I didn’t have anything specifically prepared. And so, I was left rambling….
The choir decided to remain seated during the baptismal hymn, except they forgot to tell one of the members, so there was a struggle between the supreme forces of standing and sitting in the loft. There was communion and no bread to break or cup to pour. We had five elders instead of six to serve. When the offering plates were actually in the place that they were supposed to be, I was shocked. I stopped and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving, because from beginning to end, it was a comedy of errors.
But it was okay. With a bit of whispering and with the help from members of the choir and Susan Fellows, our seminary intern, somehow, it worked out fine. After a few years of leading worship, I’ve learned to juggle a bit. The baby was beautiful and we got to celebrate communion. The students (in particular) needed some comfort in wake of the fire. So that’s what people took home with them.
It reminded me of a tension that remains in our liturgical worship services, between the professional and relational. I’ve led worship in churches where the most important thing is to make sure that everything is done perfectly, that the silver trays remain exactly three inches from the edge of the communion table (and they had charts to illustrate what exactly what that meant), the music is conducted with excellence, and the performance is flawless.
And I’ve served churches where there was more emphasis on that relationship between the pastor and the person in the pew. It’s that bond that forms in the liturgy. There’s much more priority given to the participation than the perfection.
I’m much more comfortable in the latter situation. My gifts reside there as well. Because…well…I pretty much dwell in the right side of my brain–the creative, artistic side–and as a result…I forget stuff. I’ve learned organizational techniques (calendars, lists, etc.) so that I don’t neglect things so often, but it still happens. As a result, I choke a bit if I need to remember exactly which margin of the hymn to stand, or if I have to stress out each time the organist makes a mistake.
I remember my lessons from seminary. It’s been a while since I read it, but I think it was in Attack Upon Christendom, where Soren Kierkegaard writes about the act of worship. He said that we often think of worship in terms of a theatrical production. The problem with that is when there is wedding in a play, the bride and groom embrace each other with tenderness, they caress each other lovingly. But they are not married at the end of it.
Worship, on the other hand, isn’t a staged production, starring the preacher and the choir. The congregation doesn’t sit back as the audience, passively applauding at all the correct cues. In worship, the wedding is real. The love that’s expressed to God and one another is not a mere show. And the members of the congregation, they are participants. We’re all actively and intimately involved. We’re all in it together.