Sunday, February 26, 2012

Presiding Is Not Performing, But....

As everybody knows—well, ought to know—if you consider worship as a drama, be sure you have the parts assigned properly: God is the audience, and the people are the actors, with clergy, choir and other leaders serving as prompters.

It pays to rehearse that little bit of wisdom bequeathed to us from Kierkegaard so we don’t get it into our heads that we clergy are performers. We are there simply to help the rest of the folks do their liturgical work.

During my recent decade of having the view from the pew, I’ve learned a lot—too much from bad examples, I’m afraid—about how to fulfill that role as a presider (and this sometimes includes lay leaders and choir members). So, I’ve come up with some hints I hope are helpful to anyone in this role.

1. Top of the list is that you should remember that you are there to worship, just as everyone else is. The best way to lead is to do it yourself. If you’re concentrating on anything else, like stage directions or scripts or remembering what comes next, the people will sense it. First things first—worship is the order of the day for everyone, you included.

2. A sub-heading of Number 1 is to prepare for worship by worshipping—prayer beforehand for you and other leaders gives you the focus to carry with you into the worship space.

3. And be prepared otherwise. Know your stuff and get it ready so you’ll do it well. Practice ahead of time your spoken parts, out loud—and listen to how they sound.

4. Make eye-contact with the congregation. Since you are in this together with the people in the pews, it makes sense to recognize them by looking at them directly. I’ve seen Scripture read by a person with head down, never looking up, giving the impression that she was reading to herself rather than announcing the Word to the gathered children of God. Eye contact while preaching makes it a conversation, and the same is true of many of the liturgical dialogues.

5. Memorize what you need to know so you don’t have to bury your head in a book or folder. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone forgiving my sins with his nose in a folder, or looking off to the side to read from a book.

6. If you read a prayer from a written text, hold it up so your voice goes out. Too often the text is held waist-high and the image is that the leader is speaking to his belt buckle.

7. Learn how to project. Ask your choir director or one of the members to give you a lesson in breathing and control of your voice. So many readers and preachers slouch and have saggy diaphragms, and their speech is soft and breathy. The ability to project one’s voice counts a great deal.

8. If you must use audio amplification or other media, be very sure they work. A crackling microphone is a huge distraction to everyone. Try all the equipment out yourself before the service. If it doesn’t work right, go without it. If you’ve worked on Number 7, you may be surprised how well you get along without electronic amplification.

9. Pay attention to your gestures and body language. Invite a colleague to spend an hour shooting you with a digital movie camera (or smart phone) so you can see what you look like. Then you can return the favor. If you don’t have a friend like that, use a mirror. Rehearse gestures until they are more graceful and you become comfortable with them. Pay attention to how you sit as well as stand; remember everyone can see your posture and it communicates your attentiveness and participation.

10. Take your time, and don’t rush the service. I remember asking a friend how long the service would take, and he answered, “Until we’re finished.” Let the service find its own pace, for there are some parts that will move deliberately while others move along more joyously.

I’m sure there are more “helpful hints”, but the number 10 seems to be the optimum for lists of this sort. Yet if you have more to add, please do. We all can use every bit of help we’re offered.

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