One of the nights I worked this past week was because of an event held by our local ecumenical group. The Westmount Christian Council formed several decades ago when lay people in St Peter’s neighbourhood decided the Churches should cooperate better. On Sunday evening they hosted a service and fellowship time. I have find it to be one of the times we get this Church thing right–when we understand that the God we have in common is much greater than the things we disagree over.
I had a great time. It was a beautiful service and a gracious group. We prayed, “Gracious God, so often our churches choose the logic of competition and dispute by desiring to be the best. We are weary of this race to excel. Allow us to rest at the well. Refresh us with the water of unity drawn from our common prayer. May your Spirit who hovered over the waters of chaos bring unity from our diversity. Amen”
And I must confess: I noticed the pauses and the glances, the sense of uncertainty, the unfamiliarity that leads to imperfect projection. It was tempting, in the seconds of noticing to judge, to condemn, to keep myself apart. To wonder why they didn’t cover that before the service, to judge their lack of practiced communication. Even knowing how challenging it is to balance all of that, it can be hard to participate and appreciate.
I remember sitting at one of my internship parishes, two seminarians and a 25 year priest talking about how ordination and the call to lead worship changes our participation. The mental gymnastics leading worship asks for are convoluted. Being aware of what we are doing, how people are or aren’t participating, knowing what comes next and seeing of the leaders for that are present, having the current and future page number and place and words, listening for my own voice to check the microphone and my own projection, remaining centred in the prayer and worship of God, trying to hear the still small voice these acts are trying to amplify. It’s exhausting and there is a gift in being the one who sits in the pew, who is called first to praying. Even still it takes a few minutes for my to let go of how I would to things so that I can participate fully in the now and the doing of worship I am not leading.
After the service, while we were enjoying tea and snacks, someone commented on the presence the pastors had at the front while we were offering the sending blessing. I knew what was meant. It’s the little things. Knowing how to project, speaking at the right pace, trusting that we will catch each other’s pauses and cues. And it was hard to hear. While I appreciate the generosity of the Council sharing the leadership with us ordained types, I’m so in awe of the witness they offer to us. And I know that what was commented on is in many ways a skill.
I know because I spent years learning these skills. Because in High School I was the definition of painfully shy: soft and rarely spoken, public speaking turned me into a blushing shaking mess. Because this fear, this inability, my own uncertainty and nerves, was one of my top reasons God could not be asking me to seek ordination.
I listen and watch my colleagues whose backgrounds involved more public speaking or performance than reading history books and I still marvel at their presence, their ability to hold a moment, to invite others into their moment.
And I remember the Sundays when the awkward moments stretch as we all wonder who is suppose to read, the first Sunday in Lent when I picked a hymn with 41 Alleluias (that was this year😕), the times I misspeak, the Sundays when I am disappointed in my sermon.
Sitting there on Sunday night, was a beautiful reminder that God loves an amateur. Because none of us manage the worship of God perfectly. We are standing in front of the altar of God doing mental gymnastics, desperately hoping someone will catch our cues, praying we don’t screw it up and knowing we do.
All that we do, hopefully in Church, ideally in our lives, is done for the love of God. And we are all amateurs at it. Jesus is the one human who got it right, and he was God-with-us. For the rest of us, we are amateurs struggling to love God as we are loved.
Thankfully God loves an amateur.