Today I will sit in church, morning and evening, and say nothing. Hard to believe? It’s true. The morning service will be led by the Sunday School, the closing of same, the voices will include the staff person who leads this work (Louisa) and the children themselves. I have never served a church where the children and youth read so well. They are all so poised, their vocal pacing is perfect and best of all they seem enthused to be sharing what they are reading. There will be a theme and our Minister of Music, Shawn, will have lots of music that fits the theme and lifts the spirits. I say nothing.
Tonight the service will be led by our youth staff lead, Ann, and the youth themselves. Further the jazz music will be supplied by the Bethany Jazz Quartet and the preaching will be offered by Native Elder Billy Lewis. The theme will focus on our relationship with indigenous peoples. The youth have made our United Church crest more inclusive and accurate, it now includes a reference to our First Nations people. I will be there and will say nothing.
The reason I add these last sentences is to affirm that as a trained worship leader I am happy to participate as a parishioner. That may surprise for two reasons, people know me and assume I need to talk to be happy and there are many clergy who find it hard to sit and worship, not critique what is going on around them. I have spoken to no fewer than ten retired colleagues who told me they cannot attend worship because they get irritated by things the worship planner has done, is doing. I don’t need to speak and I don’t get irritated when people don’t do what I would do.
There are only three things that irritate me about some worship services I attend; 1) when there is no reference the broader community around the building or the world, 2) when it appears obvious the preacher has written her/his text the night before and 3) when there is little participation from anyone other than the Minister. Otherwise I can usually find things to challenge me, help form my discipleship and bring me into communion/community with my fellow believers.
Worship for me has many aspects; there is praise of our God, there is community with those who share in worship with me, there is the call to “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable”, there is singing one’s faith, there is offering myself in discipleship, there is prayer for those I know and those I don’t know, there is some form of testimony, there is a person sharing what s/he believes and why and there is some inspiration/aspiration to mission, there is the church thinking/acting bigger than itself. One last piece, I asked a national staff person once why new Canadians seem to pass over the UCC and he responded immediately “there is little emotion to our services, everything is written down and we spend the hour making sure we pronounce and say every word correctly. People from places where worship is connected to the land expect and need an ecstatic expression of faith and they will go to churches with theology they don’t like, put up with that, to find authentic emotive worship.” Ouch! I keep that in mind often as I plan worship. Not that I am particularly emotive (understatement!), but I am passionate and lively and thus I witness to that as much as possible and hope the hymns, music, prayers, etc…do same.
I like good theology. Consistency, thinking things through, using my God-given brain and not turning it off, these all matter to me. It’s why I belong to the United Church. But we need to do more in worship than “say all the right things, at the right times.” We need to hear what God has done, what God is doing and where God is leading us. That takes scholarship and skill but it also takes actually talking to the people you are serving and touching them with words, liturgy and song. The good news is God is present and connecting with us despite our best efforts, not because of them. Our God is both mystery and tangible, unknowable and intimate, challenging and comforting, personal and much, much larger than us. Worship takes us there, with or without the Minister saying anything.