Angst, Discernment, Ministry

The Heart of the Matter

First, thanks for the cyber-hugs!! I slept a little better last night and feel a teeny bit perkier today. This morning I met with one of my lectionary group friends (the others are on vacation), and we had a great discussion about Holy Ground and burning bushes. The group will “re”group and go forward. I think I need to say something to the departing colleague about how it felt to get the word via e-mail.

I didn’t love the response I got from the manager of the dog list, but I found a peaceful way to share my thoughts about the e-mail that had angered me the other night.

The news of the world is no better today. Since I posted yesterday I learned of Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the USA employ assassination as a political tool. His first foray into TV was in my hometown many years ago, and my (Baptist Republican) maternal grandmother was an early financial supporter of his. My opinion of him can be summed up thusly: Pat and his wife Deedee loved my grandmother while she had a checkbook and a pen, inviting her to their home and making a fuss over her; Deedee even made some curtains for her! But as soon as a series of small strokes weakened her mentally and physically, Pat dropped her cold. My advice to Pat: it might be time to stop telling God what to do and take a listen to what God might be saying instead.

Friday Mom (who really should be working or dissertating, right? but I’m glad you stopped by anyway!) wanted to know what I meant in the comments box about inadequacy, which I confessed lay beneath the surface of my mood yesterday . Sunday night I had the chance to worship with the new church start that will now be renting space from Small Church. It’s an Open and Affirming UCC congregation of about 50, worshipping in a contemporary style. The pastor is a good friend; we used to be in supervision together and have worked together on some denominational projects. I’m very happy we have a space they can use and I see great things ahead for the two congregations working together. (Just don’t ask me to love Praise Music. I do not love Praise Music.)

But on Sunday night, watching him lead that very different service, I thought about how free-wheeling he is and how careful I am, and it bothered me. A lot. I’ve worked through a lot of my novice nervousness in the past three years. I’ve grown into doing Communion without anxiety. I’ve adapted the service to lower the barriers for everyone in worship, explaining things as we go along, leading worship in an informal style that allows everyone to feel welcomed and has broken down a lot of the icy rigidity that was the mode when I arrived there. We do a lot of drama in worship and include the children in a variety of ways. We have a vibrant worship life. These are changes that have pleased most people, and if people aren’t pleased, they certainly aren’t telling me (an old family systems issue for this congregation!).

The problem area for me is the sermon. I identify myself more as pastor and writer than pastor and preacher, and I fear I make an idol of my written text. I’m getting better about departing from it, as I find something mid-sermon that I want to add, or drop something that doesn’t seem to fit anymore. I work things in that came up during the Sharing of Joys and Concerns, for instance, if they seem apropos.

Rev. Fun (he calls himself that, so it seems appropriate) had designed a service that began at their old meeting place. They caravaned together to Small Church, where they sang a few songs, and then he preached briefly. He told the story of the Egyptian army being covered by the Red Sea, and the celebration of the Hebrews who could see the view, and the trepidation of those who had crossed the Red Sea first and could now see, spreading out before them, a vast desert, an enormous unknown wilderness. It was very well-done. He’s scripturally and theologically sound, amusing, heartfelt. I’ve admired his preaching before.

But here’s what really got to me on Sunday night. The people talked back to him. They talked back to him!!! When they felt he had left something out, or not finished something off, they did it for him! And he didn’t turn a hair.

I would have been mortified. I would have felt threatened. I would have cared.

Am I holding on too tightly? Is it because 3 years out from ordination is the equivalent of being in preschool? Will I be more open when more time has passed?

So much of Protestant worship is moving in this direction: Power Point and Praise Music and virtually no liturgy. The thing is, I *like* hymns (I like all good music, really, and would even like good Praise Music if I heard some), I like to hold the book in my hand, I like to hear scripture read aloud well, I like praying corporately and responsively, and I especially like writing those sermons. They are both a gift from and an offering to my God each week. But I fear I am both a baby and a dinosaur and have a hard time seeing what the future holds for me, if this is the future.

I will leave you with this image. Pure Luck listened to me patiently after the service the other night, and they understood most of what I was talking about, but they didn’t know what I meant when I said “Praise Music.” So I downloaded a clip of “Shine Jesus Shine” to play for him and explained that it was the sort of music intended for arm-waving and that sort of thing. I told the whole story again to #1 Son a short while later, while I was moping in the living room, and as I played the clip on my laptop, I caught sight of Pure Luck next door in his office, waving his arms back and forth!