Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Care-Full" Worship

The first visit I made many years ago to the New Skete Monastery near Cambridge, New York, required a substantial thought adjustment on my part.

A friend and I arrived unannounced at their “Old World” church for Vespers as the sun was setting. We were the only visitors. The service was beautifully sung and chanted by the ten monks, for more than an hour.

To my Protestant mind, it was impressive, to say the least. Wow! I thought, how much rehearsal must it have taken to perform such a program? Not only Vespers (Evening Prayer), but they sang Matins (Morning Prayer) every day as well. The brothers had shown extraordinary care in preparing their liturgy, the music, the space, everything. Clearly all this was not for just the two of us. If my friend and I had not shown up, it would have been only the monks and their God in the liturgical conversation.

Well, this demanded a reorienting of my ideas of worship. So often in Protestant churches, we are so concerned with the response and reaction of the “audience,” we forget that the most important listener is the Almighty.

Even so, in our desire to please the congregation in front of us, we don’t always give it our very best. We cut corners or slack off a bit, because we are too busy in other arenas of our lives. Worship doesn’t always appear at the top of the To-Do List. Even if it does, other responsibilities are known to claw their way to the top of the heap. Preparing and leading worship may be ranked Number One, but there are a lot of other things ranked One-B. Clergy have sermon prep, visits, committees, counseling, family, prayer, study, and those other unexpected emergencies that take over prime time. Everyone is busily busy.

Nevertheless, should we not care more fully about our worship? Is it not important for us to make it as first-rate and near perfect as possible? Being care-full in our worship demands our extra attention in many areas.

If one is going to use electronics, for example, spend the extra time to make sure everything works the way it’s supposed to.

As the guest preacher one Sunday, I was greeted by an elder who clamped a tiny mike on my stole. I asked to try it out, and when we did, I was glad we did, because it only worked on its own whim. After fussing to fix it and failing, I removed the mike and spoke louder. Microphones, amplifiers and speakers that crackle and cut out can completely obscure whatever is being said or sung. Give electronics considerable care.

I’m not a fan of projecting lyrics or readings on the wall, mainly because it is so rarely done with perfection. In a church recently a lengthy creedal statement was printed in the bulletin in paragraph-prose format, but also shown on the wall. Most people watched the wall. So when one slide was skipped, the leaders continued without the congregation, until they caught up with the wall. Better to read it from the printed page. If you’re into projecting, be extra full of care.

(Also, while we’re on the subject, printing anything to be read by the people is best not in a paragraph-prose format. Try phrase-lining, a phrase to a line as one would speak it—for samples, look at the prayers in the Book of Common Worship. It’s a way of being care-full so the people can do their parts in prayer and praise.)

And one more small admonition to care: proof read. The misspelling of a word that people are to read aloud can be annoying at best, disastrous at worst. Someone other than the secretary or writer should give it a care-full second, even third look.

After all, when we worship, we are gathered in God’s presence, and it behooves us to be full of care so we do our best for our God.

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