The RevGalBlogPals are discussing “understanding ritual” today using a post from Katie Z. Dawson at Salvaged Faith. I was going to comment, but had about three different things to say and decided it would make a better blog post than extensive comment. (Turns out it’s way too long even as a blog post.)
Dawson, beginning with taking part in an inter-denominational wedding, and others discuss ways to make sure congregations understand the rituals of the church. I am a “ruling elder” in a PC(USA) congregation, but I grew up in extremely non-liturgical traditions, so there are still moments that I don’t entirely understand or by which I am surprised. I would like some explanation, but I don’t know when explanation is nice for everyone and when it becomes burdensome for people who have heard it before (if, indeed, they have). My mom attends church with us when she is in town, and she has commented that it doesn’t seem very different (liturgically, I guess) to Lutheran or Catholic services she has attended. I, on the other hand, think it is a lot different than Lutheran or Catholic or Episcopal (which I’ve done more often because of Computerguy’s mom) services. We are, evidently, fairly high church Presbyterians, if there is such a thing, but there’s no kneeling or kissing or holy watering or that sort of thing. (I still struggle with chancel/narthex/vestry/nave/pulpit-side/lectern-side and so on. I find myself saying stage and foyer and little-room-off-the-stage and right and left (or stage right and stage left) so I really am kind of behind the curve on church language and matters.)
But then there’s the crucifer. This has become a matter of contention. At the beginning of the service, a young person puts on a robe and carries a cross down the aisle and places it on the chancel, usually leading the choir procession; however, when the choir doesn’t process, the crucifer still does. Herein lies contention number one. Imagine a bustling woman asking in some consternation, “why is the crucifer processing when the choir is not?” Easy, practical, non-liturgical answer: the Sunday School coordinator lines up the crucifers ahead of time; we don’t know until the day of whether the choir is processing . When this came up in a meeting, I suggested it could be addressed in a time with children. Honestly, I’m unsure of the point of the crucifer; do the children get it? Since they are the ones doing it, why not talk to them about it?And in the meantime, it could be explained why, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing every week whether the choir is processing or not. The look I got from the AP when I made that suggestion, well, he’s not going to be addressing that anytime soon. Okay–so maybe we shouldn’t hijack the “Time with Children” to address issues with the whole church (though if the main purpose is still helping the kids worship, I don’t really see why not), but then talk about it at another moment or write about it in the newsletter. If I don’t really get the point of the crucifer and if my friend thinks it’s “too catholic” and if some people are concerned about whether the crucifer should process alone and if others are concerned because we’ve lowered the age of the kids who do it (another point of contention, but the high schoolers were just done) and if those younger kids probably really don’t understand what they are doing (if the older ones did), why not address it? I’m just saying…
While there are some moments like the above that I think could be addressed, there are other things the church is doing that show we are thinking about the ritual and trying to be intentional and meaningful. A couple months ago, I was the Session (church board) member who presented new members to the congregation. The RevDoc and I talked beforehand about finding ways to have the promises the congregation makes to the new members stand out, be meaningful. So often it can seem like it’s a bit of business we’re just trying to get through as the time edges toward noon, and folks don’t even think about what they are saying. So there’s that. I tried to read my parts thoughtfully and pause to give time to let the words hang in the air a little, but I don’t know how much can be done with tone and rhythm (okay–I think anything can be done with tone and rhythm, but it’s not exactly a poetry reading).
On a related note, I received a letter from the woman who coordinates lectors (lay readers) for the church. Our lectors tend to do the Call to Worship, at least part of the Confession, and read at least one of the Scripture Passages. They sit behind the lectern with the “teaching elders” (pastors) and are a visible reminder that we are all ministers. I LOVE it, LOVE it, LOVE it. I really do. In case I was unclear, it’s my very favorite thing to do in church–even more than serve communion, though they’re in a close race (and it’s not a competition). I like that as a lay person, I can help lead the service. And, honestly, I like nothing better in life than reading out loud to people. [It’s my favorite part of motherhood and was my favorite part of teaching literature.] But, seriously, growing up in the churches I did, there was no place for the lay people in the worship service except singing–and I don’t sing (Don’t get me wrong; I know there are many many places for lay people to serve, just not as part of the worship service). I like that every week there is a lay person helping lead the service. And I like that anyone can participate in this way, even though it means no one (meaning me) gets to do it very often. And that brings me to the letter.
The idea, evidently, is that rather than having a random group of lectors, there will be a smaller pool, a “class of lectors” who go through training and learn to think more about the scripture and interpret with their reading and fully participate in the worship experience. These folks will lector more often and really be a part of making every moment of worship intentional and meaningful. In theory, I’m all for this. These are things I do by nature and training (I have a Ph.D. in English. I close read everything!), but some lectors seem to do so more than others. Being intentional, being thoughtful, reading well and with expression, interpreting the scripture while reading, these are good qualities in a reader and do enhance worship–at least they do for me.
My concern is that this will intimidate people and they won’t want to participate in the training and we will lose the notion that anyone can lead worship because everyone is a minister. I don’t think the intent is to close it off to anyone. I assume the letter I received was sent to everyone who has been lector in the last few years. But if people doubt themselves, they might not join the class. Or, if they just don’t want to make that much of a commitment, they might not join. And the same faces will be seen again and again and it will seem less and less like a ministry for everyone. I don’t know. I hope it will be good and that many people will choose to participate and that we will be more intentional and more meaningful and the real point, giving glory to God, leading God’s people in worship of God will be the result. May it be so.