Sunday, April 22, 2007

Easter 3 - Year C

“How can we evaluate worship? What criteria would you use? Worship is too intangible to measure,” I protested.

“Just watch me,” said my professor.

Being not at all pleased with that answer but also recognizing that I had no other choice, I joined my assigned group to plan worship for one week, one month after starting seminary. On the Friday, the group would gather in a professor’s office to evaluate the weekly worship events.

They called that one week in Hades “Rota.” I don’t know why, but every time I heard the word I couldn’t help but imagine thumb screws and hungry lions waiting in packed arenas; the sacred Roman Rota being an ecclesiastical tribunal, a final court of appeal.

Kind of a bizarre name for worship planning, don’t you think?

“Maybe the name was supposed to warn us about something,” I thought.

It didn’t help that the senior students would approach the week with much fear and trembling. It was their job to organize the group, set meeting times, and make sure you showed up each day of that week.

Lisa approached me with hesitant eyes and shuffling feet. I thought she was going to tell me she backed over my cat. But instead she said with a wisp of apologetic resignation, “You’re on for Rota the week after next.”

She made it sound like a noose was waiting for me. Rota. The Tribunal was gathering.

Lisa said that I was in charge of planning Tuesday worship. “Whew,” I whispered to myself, “Nobody comes to worship on Tuesdays. At least it doesn’t have the packed house as the Wednesday Eucharist.”

“Oh, by the way. You’re also in charge of planning and assisting at Wednesday Eucharist.”


This was not good. Especially since the professor didn’t think we needed to practice or even talk over the service.

“You’ll do fine,” he assured me.

For Tuesday worship I thought I’d be creative and do a little post-modern mingling of traditions.

I invited Paul, an old roommate who was now a worship leader and songwriter at the Kitchener Vineyard Fellowship to lead us through some of his worship songs. And I wrote a “Remembering Your Baptism” liturgy around the tunes he had written.

“It won’t be what they’re used to. But these are really good songs,” I told him.

I’d seen Paul lead worship at his church and knew just how masterly he could lead people into God’s presence by pointing beyond himself to the One we were worshipping. I’d seen him help re-create people to be in joyous gratitude for what God has done for us in Jesus. Paul was talented, passionate, and humble.

But even Paul couldn’t get these people to sing.

Then came the “Remembering Your Baptism” part. I said a prayer over the water. Then I said, “I invite whoever would like to, to come up and receive the sign of the cross on your forehead and a blessing.”

Apparently, no one wanted to remember their baptism or receive a blessing. They just sat, as if superglue was stuck to their pants and flashlights blasted at their retinas.

You need to remember that these people weren’t a group of stoic Norwegians or grumpy German farmers. They were seminarians and professors. Professional church folks. Folks dedicating their lives to the proclamation of the gospel.

I invited Paul to sing one more song then I gave the dismissal.

“Just wait until Friday,” my professor’s eyes said as she frowned at me on the way out of the chapel.

My heart plummeted into my shoes. I looked out the window. It had started to rain.

As I was putting on my big white dress for Wednesday Eucharist I noticed that there was no bread in the vestry. Usually, there are a few stale pieces of flavourless cardboard leftover, but surely someone was responsible for re-filling what they used.

Apparently, that was my job. Oops. No one told me.

After stealing a loaf from the Lutheran Student House across the street I blew into the sanctuary wet from the rain and breathless from dodging cars.

I was ready for worship. Sort of.

After the opening hymn a professor, who was presiding over communion, looked at me as if I was supposed to do something – but what?

He pointed to the page. It was the Kyrie. I looked at him quizzically. Then it dawned on me: he wanted me to SING!

I’m not sure if you know this, but here at Good Shepherd, the sound techs are under STRICT instructions to turn my microphone off during the hymns, lest I blaspheme anyone’s ears with my horrific caterwauling. If you’ve heard a skunk with its tail stuck in a garberator, you’ll get a hint of what my obscene yowling sounds like.

So I screeched my way through the Kyrie. And set the tone for the rest of worship.

I stopped at Tim Horton’s on the way to the Friday evaluation. I needed a comforting shot of caffeine.

With the Tribunal assembled I took my place as one standing accused.

“I hated the music your friend sang,” my liturgy prof said. “And that liturgy you wrote didn’t bring me into worship.”

“You made so many mistakes during the Eucharist I thought of telling you to sit down and grabbing someone else to help me,” the other professor scolded.

I tried to defend myself saying that this was my first experience with worship planning and worship leading. I tried to be creative, break out of the box a little.

Then I received the worst piece of advice ever bestowed on a luckless seminarian, “Do not risk anything new in worship, unless you know 100% that it will work. Failure in worship is not an option.”

Wow. That was a different tale from the one I heard in the music faculty. Across campus, innovation and creativity were esteemed as moral virtues. The weirder the better. “If you’re gonna slam into a wall I want you to hit it at full speed!” my composition professors would proclaim with evangelical zeal. “Just make sure you learn and grow from your mistakes.”

After detailing everything I did wrong that week, the liturgy professor summed up by saying, “After you led worship, I didn’t feel fed.”

“I don’t care if you weren’t feeling fed. I’m not responsible for your feelings!” was what I wished I said. Instead, I just sat slumped in the chair, wondering if I made a life-altering mistake by signing up with the seminary.

It looked like there was more grace in the music department than with God’s people.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus asks a confused Simon Peter.

“Of course, Lord, you know that I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus says.

H’uh. Easier said than done. Especially when you don’t know what the lambs are hungry for. But then again Peter wasn’t one to look before diving snout first where saner mortals fear to stumble.

However, Jesus did just feed him fresh fish at that picnic on the beach, so Peter was well nourished. Even when Peter and his buddies didn’t, for whatever reason, recognize Jesus until he gave them some food, Jesus revealed himself to them because it was only through God-coloured goggles that we can see Jesus for who he is. It was only when they broke bread with him in fellowship did their eyes open to see him, hiding in plain sight.

I wonder if we’re all Peter, we’re all shepherd and we’re all sheep – together - feeding each other and being fed. I realized that I wasn’t the only one responsible for making worship “work.” We all needed each other to see Jesus in our fellowship.

I think of the shooter at Virginia Tech last week and how he saw the world as his enemy – an enemy that needed to be destroyed. I think of how isolation and loneliness brings darkness and bitterness.

But I also think of Liviu Librescu, the professor, the Holocaust survivor, who barricaded the classroom door to save his students, but losing his life in the process. And I think that sheep are still being fed by a Good Shepherd who still lays down his life for the sheep. The world may fixate on the shooter, but God fixates on those who give of themselves, who feed others, who allow themselves to be fed, who give life to the world, even at the cost of themselves.

About a week-and-a-half after the Tribunal, the professor whom I assisted at Holy Communion that Wednesday, left me a note in my mailbox. He said that he was sorry for his behaviour and that he regretted that our relationship had begun on such a sour note. He asked for my forgiveness. And that I come see him.

He was sitting at his desk when I arrived at his office. I knocked. He beckoned me in. He told me again how sorry he was and, again, asked for my forgiveness.

We sat and talked for about an hour. He said he wanted to get to know me better. Who I was. What I did before coming to seminary. Why I wanted to be a pastor.

And he told me about his life. The church he grew up in that was like a second family. His ministry as a mission developer. He told me about his troubled marriage. And about his leukemia.

“It’s important that we learn about each other, I mean REALLY learn,” he said. “Because, we need each other to live more faithfully to the gospel. We need to lean on each other as a family. We’re all in this together.”

That day, in that office, the rumble in my belly calmed.



Blogger Tom in Ontario said...

I did fine in ROTA because I never tried anything new. It may have been new to me but it was "in the book."

And the professor asked you to sing because he's no singer either and he probably figured you were at least as good as he is, if not better. Maybe he learned.

And the liturgics prof, although I love her to bits, could be rather opinionated and blunt. I never did have a ROTA evaluation with her because she ended up being booted out of there when I was in first year.

We included the new healing rite in ELW in our service this past Sunday and I was amazed at all the people who came forward. The service ended up being an hour and three quarters long once communion and everything was over but no one complained.

Keep feeding those lambs.

6:32 AM  

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