It’s a funny thing we do, worship. It’s silly really. For an hour (or so) a week we go into a room full of stained glass and a giant cross and stand and sit and stand and sit in uncomfortable rows known as “pews”. Which I still to this day think sounds like a dirty word…
On the last day of UNCO15 East I was sitting in the back of the room behind a computer watching a room full of worship leaders worship collaboratively. I have always said that UNCO is some of my favorite worship I have ever experienced, but each time that has happened, I have been helping to lead the worship.
I was still “participating”, running the powerpoint, but I was reminded how strange and uncomfortable to sit through worship. I am always amazed when parishioners ask me “I don’t know how you do it up there”. The truth is, I don’t know how you do it. How do I stop from feeling uncomfortable? I “do” things. Worship especially. It’s uncomfortable, its vulnerable, it scary.
A friend who is a pastor said to me the other day that he had no interest in teaching people how to worship, if you’re in church you should already know. “I have no idea how to worship,” I retorted, “that’s why I lead it.”
I speak truth here. I often begin “prayers of the people” in worship with “Jesus taught us not only to pray for ourselves, but to pray for others.” I don’t know how to pray for myself, that’s why I pray for others.
There’s really not much more to it than that. I’m a pastor who doesn’t know how to worship or pray, that’s why I do it.
Because worship and prayer are hard. The faith thing? Those who can’t believe, pastor.
It’s too personal for me, this thing that is God, worship, faith. I have to “do something” to keep myself from becoming too open, too vulnerable, too moved. Too anything is bad. or is it?
I know a man who lived a tragic life, it was a heartbreaking story. A few of us knew it. He struggled. He was a single man in his 40’s that worshiped and found community in the church, we were his family. But still, in the midst of worship he sat by himself while everyone else sat with their families.
On Christmas Eve during Silent Night he would sob openly and loudly.
You can imagine the comments. This is everyone’s “favorite moment of the year”. This is “the most meaningful moment in all of worship” (pastor eye roll).
Sometimes he would sob alone, another year someone would wrap their arms around him, some of the people in the room “tolerated” it, others cried too, because his sorrow brought out their own. Others looked with empathy, but went about singing merrily.
Worship is uncomfortable, but it is so because (if we’re doing it right) you have permission to be exactly where you are in life at the moment you are experiencing it, to have permission to feel all the feels and think all the thinks. And you’re doing it in front of other people, in a stained glass room full of people.
If I don’t occupy myself in preaching, praying and logistics of worship, I would sob and weep openly.
Every pastor I know who has left church for one reason or another struggles with “attending” worship. Most parishioners I know couldn’t imagine “leading” on a weekly basis.
I need worship. My soul needs to worship. I need to sit and stand and sing and laugh when I say things like “Our scripture lesson this morning comes from the Gospel according to Mike.”
I need to celebrate wins with a community, I need to mourn my grief in public. I need to gather for an hour every week and pray for you, preach the Word of the Lord, administer the sacraments, and ask forgiveness on behalf of the world which is in so much pain.
Worship is terribly hard, if you’re doing it right. I’m not sure I am. And those who can’t do… preach.