Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Collateral Effect

As part of the ongoing transition in the life of my congregation, our primary worship service moved this last year to being fully contemporary, meaning all CCM, fused as organically as I was able with a classical Presbyterian and Reformed service.   You know, "Preparing for the Word," meaning, singing four CCM songs, with interspersed prayers of Confession and Assurance, "Hearing the Word," meaning the Lay Pastor and I read scripture, and I deliver a 15-minute or less message, and "Responding to the Word," meaning three more CCM songs.

This last Sunday, though, marked another shift.  Ever since I've been at my congregation, the service has been at 10:00 AM.  It's not a bad time.  Not too early.  Not too late.  But as the church has gotten younger, suddenly 10:00 AM has seemed...early.  Among the younger folk of the church, who are now the majority of the church, there was a movement to shift worship to the early afternoon.  Meaning 1:30 PM. 

Honestly, I wasn't sure how it would fly.  My sense of that time was and is that it is neither here nor there, and that it kinda puts the kibosh on parents with older kids showing up.  But my lay-ordained leadership wanted it, because they were convinced that more young folk would show up, which might stem the bleed-out in worship we've seen over the last three years.  That change of direction is hugely important, because if Trinity wants to bring in a new pastor, things should be moving in the right direction.  I suppose I could have pitched some kind of hissy fit about it, but if you want to claim to be a collaborative leader, you need to listen to what folks are saying, nut up, and shut up. 

So the church went ahead with it.

And it actually made for a really spiritual Sunday.  I'd set the 10:00 AM hour aside for silent prayer, followed by reflection.  So at that hour, I sat in the sanctuary with an elder, and we prayed in silence for 45 minutes, using a Christ-candle as the focus of our meditation.

It prolonged and focused prayer can often be...intense, a simultaneously shaking and centering experience.  I know, I know, we Presbyterians aren't supposed to do that sort of thing, but hey.

This is the first time in seven years that I haven't lead worship in the morning, so part of the meditation felt like mourning.   In particular, mourning the death of the church that I came to serve seven years ago.  That church really no longer exists.  It needed to pass, of course.  But the single candle, and darkness of the unlit sanctuary, and the silence where for so many years there was morning singing and preaching and communal prayer, felt like I was sitting shiva.  

There was also, as the forty-five minutes progressed, a growing sense of presence.  That doesn't always come with prayer, but it did this last Sunday.  It took a while to still my internal monologue, and to focus myself on prayers of presence, but I did eventually get there.  As clouds passed overhead, and the light in the sanctuary dimmed and then brightened, I attained, for a timeless peak minute or two, that sense of immersion in the Creator, of being caught up in and connected to One infinitely larger.

Things felt...different afterwards.  Connected.   Calm.  Aware.  And Good.

1:30 PM was good, too, in the large loud lively way that CCM is good.  The worship numbers ticked upwards, just like folks had hoped.  People who I'd been concerned about not making it actually did make it out. 

But there is so little space for stillness and silence in CCM-driven worship.  The collateral benefit of the schedule change opening up a time for intentional silent meditation just made the whole thing feel complete.

It was nice to have that balance.