Ministry

How It Went

Jane Dark asked how the sermon went.

I arrived at church still feeling anxious. The sermon didn’t really jell until uncomfortably late in the process. Last night I was spinning my wheels and complaining about it, when #2 Son offered to listen to it. We agreed that I basically had some good stuff, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to wrap it up. That’s unusual for me; generally I know exactly where I’m going and sometimes I write the last sentence before anything else. The draft he heard was not ready for the emphatic “Amen” at the end.

Finally a question he asked helped me pull the ending together, and then I found things flowing as I revised and polished. In the end I dropped one anecdote and added another, and then it felt “cooked.” “Amen,” I typed, and I felt pretty satisfied.

That did not mean, however, that I wasn’t still feeling the performance anxiety. Could it possibly be a good sermon when I had insisted on using three readings? Would all the threads of this weave hold together?

I knew one thing. I had written at least one good sentence, in the section about Joshua 3:7-17.

“These priests stand in the stream of time, holding the sacred at the center, making it possible for the people to move forward to a new life.”

So, we arrived at church. The little choir rose to the challenge of a change-up and quickly learned a simple a capella presentation of “If Anybody Asks You Who I Am,” also the eventual title of the sermon. #2 Son and Hobbit Boy brought tears to my eyes as they rehearsed the Offertory music. I teased #2 Son about changing the topic of my sermon to his birth fifteen years ago this morning. I chatted with Fair Chair and mentioned that it was a little weird to have my friend and my ex-husband coming to church. She said, “What are you worried about? You’ll be great! You always are.”

Church began. Announcements included a call for a few more items for raffle baskets for the fair. “I can help you with the pet basket,” I said as I came back to the microphone, “but I’m probably not much help with the wine.”

“I can help with that!” bellowed Disabled Vet. He has recently started attending services, after many years of dropping by for assistance, usually when rip-roaring drunk. There was a general chuckle. We heard the choir (good work!), joined together in our Call to Worship, and then began the first hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” I kept thinking the singing was a little weak, but since I’m trying so hard to use my new glasses right, I was focused on where to look through them to be able to read the words well.

So I didn’t notice when Gentle Deacon slid sideways in her seat. At the end of the hymn, a choir member directed my attention to her.
This happened once before. It was just a few months after I arrived at Small Church. Gentle Deacon didn’t stand up for the final hymn, and we ended up with a church full of paramedics. I infuriated the organist (who hated me anyway and had already decided to quit) by suggesting that the choir really ought to stop staring at her and leave the sanctuary, since everyone else had. She wasn’t pleased.

Today was very different. It was time for the Prayer of Invocation, so I said, “Let’s put our bulletins aside and pray.” I asked God to be with us, and with Gentle Deacon, and bought a little time to figure out what to do next. Retired Nurse and New Chef had gone right to her and were managing the situation. We decided to call 911 and sent a deacon out to use the phone. We gathered the children and sent them on to Sunday School. “Friends,” I said, “we’re going to sit quietly and wait and pray.” And we waited for help to come.

The next segment of the morning seemed much longer than it actually was. I stopped worrying about everyone else and stood beside Gentle Deacon, touching her head. What a relief to see her eyes snap open and to hear her say, “What happened?!?” The fire engine arrived first. I love the City By the Sea Fire Department. In every contact I’ve had with them, they have been the very picture of reassurance and competence. Her briefly negligible pulse was now much stronger. They gave her a little oxygen while we awaited the ambulance. Too Young to Be a Great Grandmother remembered the name of Gentle Deacon’s daughter and called her.

In the end, she was able to walk out with them. New Chef, a seemingly gruff guy in his middle forties who is a fairly new member of the church and a terrific contributor at our Bible Study, offered to ride in the ambulance with her. After all, we didn’t want her to go alone, did we? He whipped out a little notebook and took down my cell phone number, so he could call and let me know how she was doing.

And where were we? If #2 Son and Hobbit Boy hadn’t been standing there with clarinet and bass, I’m not sure I would have known. I called us back to worship, saying it felt funny to turn to the offering, but suggesting that we do it with an appreciation for the gift of music the boys were bringing and that we take that time to center ourselves on God, to find again our focus.

I felt a little sorry for them. They had been standing there for such a long time, in great uncertainty. But they rose to the occasion and played beautifully. The congregation burst into spontaneous applause and Lovely Musician held the Doxology to let them give thanks.

Next came our time of sharing joys and concerns, and then we prayed. Another hymn followed, then the scripture readings (all three of them, for better or for worse), and finally, the focus of my anxiety, the sermon.

Somehow I had invested two people in my life with the power to bring down the house of cards of my imagined gifts for ministry. But by this point in the emotional morning, I wasn’t thinking of that anymore.

“These priests stand in the stream of time, holding the sacred at the center, making it possible for the people to move forward to a new life.”

This is what I’ve learned in three years at Small Church. I’ve learned how to hold the sacred at the center, standing in the stream of time and events, of crises and dramas, making it possible for the congregation to move forward, not just in the large areas of organization and vision, but in the act of worship, one week after another.

I thank God for the learning of these three years. I thank God for the warmth and caring the people of Small Church show to old friends and new, to the well-dressed ex-husband of the pastor and the barely sober high school classmate of the Head Deacon. I thank God that Gentle Deacon seems to be fine and probably just didn’t eat a diabetic-appropriate breakfast. I thank God that by the time the compliments came, they didn’t matter to me anymore.

I thank God for this call to ministry. Amen!

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20 thoughts on “How It Went”

  1. It is a true gift to be able to hold on to the sacred in the midst of the trials and the tedium of life. I know you are a blessing to your congregation every day.

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  2. Wow. We’ve had things like that happen before at St. Paul’s, so I know a little about it — but not from the perspective of the pulpit, of course.
    I want to go to your church, too. In fact, I am now sillily intrigued with Maine churches in general. We called our new rector from Castine, and you and she are both remarkable.

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  3. Oh my dear!WHAT a morning….I’m so glad that you did indeed hold the sacred at the centre,- blessings on all of you, and belated birthday greetings to No2 son as well.

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  4. What an amazing morning … it sounds as though you and the congregation handled it all with great aplomb and grace. And I’m sure the sermon was wonderful.
    Happy birthday to #2 son!

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  5. I read about your Sunday after going to my own UCC church, and I am amazed at the differences. I was not raised UCC, and I do not keep in mind that my chosen church is an amalgam of the many pieces that have come together to make it.
    My particular congregation started out as the old German Evangelical and Reformed; created in fact around 125 years ago because the congregants were upset that their children were receiving their education from the public school system IN ENGLISH.
    Since last Sunday was Reformation Sunday and we have German beginnings, we did the standards, including opening with “A Mighty Fortress.”

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  6. oh God is so good 🙂
    I loved this story from beginning to end. I love that you share your church, and your sheep with us. I feel ministered by your words and your touch even over the miles.
    Truly God is amazing.

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  7. Camera, we’re so totally Congregational, we might mention that it’s Reformation Sunday, but I can’t think of a time in my 18 years in three UCC churches in Maine when any of them did a full-bore Reformation Sunday.
    There’s so much great hymnody from the Reformed tradition. Does your church still use the Heidelberg Catechism with Confirmands?

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  8. Wow, Songbird. This line blew me away…
    Somehow I had invested two people in my life with the power to bring down the house of cards of my imagined gifts for ministry.
    How true this is in my life too. Not with my gifts of ministry, but in so many other instances. Why do I allow other people the power to bring down my house of cards? I love it.
    I’m glad Gentle Deacon is okay, and glad that you pulled it off beautifully.

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  9. “This is what I’ve learned in three years at Small Church. I’ve learned how to hold the sacred at the center, standing in the stream of time and events, of crises and dramas, making it possible for the congregation to move forward, not just in the large areas of organization and vision, but in the act of worship, one week after another.”
    This is really wonderful. And what a day. Your congregation is very lucky to have you.

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