Monday, October 10, 2011

Salutary words for those who lead worship. . .

While perusing the pages of The Conduct of the Service [an essential volume in every Lutheran Pastor's library], I noted this little phrase written by the sainted Arthur Carl Piepkorn:

To be reverent, we must be calm.  The unforeseen, the accidental, the disturbing must not be permitted to distract us... the calm peace of the changeless Christ in our souls [must] be reflected in our outward demeanor...  Of course, he is speaking to the Lutheran Pastor who leads the liturgy but his words are applicable to all those who have a part to play in what happens on Sunday morning.

I will admit that this is not an easy task -- to remain calm in the face of train wrecks unfolding right before your eyes.  But it is an essential tool of faithful presiding to project the image of calm even when panicked on the inside.

Over the years I have had people pass out in the pews, confirmands pass out at the altar rail during their confirmation, acolytes pass out over the prie dieux next to me, etc. Amid medical personnel streaming up to help the afflicted and the sound of sirens on their way it has been required of me as Pastor presiding to remain calm and to keep the attention focused where it needs to be.  We have stopped the service to spontaneously pray for those taken ill and we have remained calm as stretchers and emergency personnel came into the sanctuary to carry the afflicted to the emergency room.

I have put up with dive bombing starlings leaving trails of, well, you know, in their wake, as well as hornets and bees, flies and ladybugs trying to reclaim the house of God for themselves.  I have had people interrupt the worship service for various reasons and the electricity rob us of lights, HVAC, and organ (BTW, thanks to those smoke detectors beeping we have not been left in silence by the lack of power).  I have had acolytes forget where they were in the service and assisting ministers skip their parts and the choir or cantor be left with mouth open as we absentmindedly traversed over their spot. 

I have swallowed ladybugs, picked flies out of the chalice (why there need always be a small slotted spoon at the altar), gotten down on my hands during the distribution and knees to wipe up spills from the cup, and gone back to commune folks I somehow overlooked at the rail the first time I passed by.  I have looked down upon the lectern on the pulpit in mortal fear only to see that the sermon manuscript was not the sermon manuscript but the agenda for the Voter's Meeting.  I have walked into the Vestry during the Greeting of Peace because I suddenly realized that I was wearing the wrong color vestments.  Why I have even put out an acolyte's hair on fire (aflame not by the Holy Spirit and not ablaze on purpose, either).

Worse than this, a couple of times I have forgotten to read the Gospel lesson and headed right on into the sermon, skipped the Our Father (not on purpose), led us in the wrong creed, announced the wrong hymn, and, once, forgot to consecrate the bread and cup (which required a reboot and do over).  I am just as guilty as are those around me.  Yet one of the things that is expected of the Presider is that he remain calm and not panic.

If anything, reverence means calm or grace under pressure and even amid chaos.  You know Murphy's law, if anything can go wrong, it will.  Well, God's Law is order amidst chaos and calm amidst the disorder.  So I urge you who lead God's people on Sunday morning -- know the liturgy well, be so thoroughly immersed in the form, that when the panic situation arises, you can exert the strong, loving, and wise demeanor of their shepherd and lead the flock through the mess while keeping our focus clearly upon the Lord and His grace and favor.

Perhaps you may have your own stories to add and, if so, I pray, also your struggle to remain calm in the crisis and the appearance of peace amid the chaos of what can and too often does go wrong...  Feel free to share!

2 comments:

Terry Maher said...

From the notes of an altar boy: I remember as we were going over Holy Week services, Father said if you forget what you are supposed to do but think you're supposed to be doing something, walk over to me just like you know exactly what you are doing, bow, and whisper "What am I supposed to do/" and I will bow back and either tell you what to do, or say "Nothing" then you walk back like you know exactly what you are doing.

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