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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stranger in God's house

It's very good for pastors to go out and worship in places where they have no idea what is going on.  I learned an important lesson about worship here at St. Tikhon Monastery--one that we should all remember.  Now first of all this is not a criticism, anymore than it's a criticism of every house of worship which suffers from the same fate--how is a guest to know what to do?    Let me describe my experience the first morning at worship and then share a tip at the end manifested through my new friend Jenny.

6:45 am and the monks are already gathered preparing for 7am matins.  As you enter the church it is dark, there are lots of icons on the walls and four predominately placed icons near the center of the worship space.  Some folks when they enter go first to either one, two, three, or four of the icons in the middle and show adoration, others just come in and stand. There is a wall with a gate and two hidden panel doors that separates the altar (and the choir, officiating priest, etc...) from the rest of us.  There is a single row of chairs along the back and side of the worship space.  I entered in to hear very fast single voice chanting of several petitions for God to have mercy and be present, this lasted for about 15 minutes.  People seemed to make the sign of the cross about 50 times or so during the hour and a half.  I couldn't figure out when you were supposed to except the very obvious naming of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  During the service we all stood, except half of the folks would sit occasionally then get up quickly--again I couldn't figure it out so I just decided to join the "always standing" group.  Then there were times when folks went to the floor in a sphinx like position (it was connected to the consecrating of the elements, but I decided to to stay standing as piously as possible).  There was a chanted announcements that "all Catechumates should leave" it was said 3 times to get out if you were a catechumenate...I'm baptized so I decided to stay, but wasn't sure.   Then when it came time for communion, I knew by Orthodox theology I wasn't welcome at the table, they were communing via a spoon dipped into the wine by the presiding priest and placed in the mouths of the Orthodox baptized.  Then there was a monk with a pitcher of wine set up in the back and with a basket of bread. 

Now I knew the bread was 'blessed' for those of us who didn't commune to feel welcome, but the wine evidently was just for those who had already communed so I just stayed away from the whole thing, not wanting to offend, and not sure what was proper.   Finally at the end there was a line to move forward and kiss a cross and receive a blessing/benediction from the presiding priest.  I wasn't sure what part of the cross you were supposed to kiss, nor did I know the protocol, so I just stood in the back and then left after it was apparent the service was over.

OK...was it worshipful...absolutely.  Was the Holy Spirit present, of course.  Was I completely clueless, lost and feeling like a dupe---You bet!!    I didn't have a play book.  I didn't know the rules.  It was like playing with the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland where you are never quite sure of the rules and always afraid you might do something costly or at least stupid.  But I left out one important detail.

Thank the good Lord for my friend Jenny.   As I stood in the back during communion, not quite sure what to do, she grabbed a piece of blessed bread for each of us (this is not the host of communion, but a blessed bread that all can consume) she came by, smiled and gave me the bread.  It was a small gesture, probably just natural for her to be hospitable and kind....but it was the light of Christ to me!  Her simple act spoke volumes...I was welcome in this house of the Lord.

We might have beautiful worship, but if folks don't reach out with that human connection folks will just feel lost and confused and probably won't come back.   Think about worship at Our Savior's and then then about those things that might be confusing to a new family or guest.   Go out of your way to talk to guests in worship and not just after worship....but before and DURING!!!  If someone doesn't seem to have a bulletin go up and offer them yours.  Do they have children and aren't sure what to do for children's sermon, go and tell them what is about to happen.   Do they understand what communion is?  Do they know where the nursery is?  Do they know where the bathrooms are?  Do they know how to get to the patio for coffee and donuts?   I as your pastor and worship leader will do the best I can to instruct and help folks, especially new folks feel welcome and informed, but you have to do your job too.  You must  be like Jenny!  Reach out and don't assume that folks know what we are doing or why we do it.  If nothing else smile and let them know how glad you are that they are with us in worship.   Shame on us if we don't help people feel like they belong in the house of the Lord!

PS...Icon writing/painting is VERY VERY Hard!!!  More on that to follow.

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