I had this stream of consciousness yesterday morning about the role of clergy in worship. In the United Methodist Church, we are called upon, as ministers of the Word, to lead the congregation in worship and preach. It sounds so simple, but if it is done right, then it takes a lot of time and energy. The United Methodist Church has a lot of great worship resources to aid in this epic endeavor. We have liturgies and orders of worship passed down from generation to generation. We posses a hymnal filled with sacred music and prayers, as well as psalters and affirmations of faith. There is a lot at our disposal to accomplish the task of leading the Body of Christ in its worship of God. This is balanced by our implicit task of removing obstacles to the people’s worship.
This happy, portly guy is the Hindu god Ganesha. Perhaps you recognize the elephant headed god. One of the things I noticed during my three weeks traveling around India was that Ganesha is at most of the temples and worship sites. Even those not dedicated to him often contain his image at the entrance. This is because he is the remover of obstacles. When Hindus goes to offer their puja, worship in the form of ritual prayer, they will often pray first to Ganesha to remove anything spiritual or material that would obstruct their full worship. While I am neither Hindu nor a worshiper of Ganesha, this sacred duty to remove obstacles to worship resonated with me. I often understand that I have a duty to carefully, meticulously, and intentionally plan worship so that I have considered what may be an obstacle to the congregation and worked that out ahead of time, so that those who gather will have as little reason as possible outside of themselves to offer anything but their very best in worship. It takes a lot of prayer, observation, determination, and a touch of perfectionism (my homage to John Wesley). And so it is that clergy are called upon to focus God’s people and direct their attention and energy to praise, confession, prayer, receiving the exposition of the Word, and offerings of gratitude. What aids me in this holy task? God, most certainly, but also the people. I do not just hear complaints about worship anymore, but I try to listen deeper to see if I am being alerted to something that is an obstacle to them, and perhaps others as well. I never thought I would ask for the complaints of things that irk people in worship, but I am. I need to know so that I can prayerfully discern what the root of it is, fixing it when possible.
For fear of issuing a license to complain, I qualify my request that my congregation tell me things that irk them and why. Don’t just tell me that the organ was too loud, or the lights too bright. Tell me if the organ being so loud sets off your sensitivity to noise and causes a headache. Tell me that the lights get too bright when the sun shines full force and you strain to see, making your eyes ache. Help me find out what is occurring so that we can work to alleviate it. Work with me to determine how our worship can go onto perfection, not just bombard me with your want list. The last thing I or any clergy want to is spend hours upon hours crafting a worship service and a sermon only to have all of that dissipate in worship obstacles that distracted the people and took away the glory we should be giving to God. I work on the assumption that you want to give your best to God when you gather for worship, because I know I do. Unless I have fundamentally misunderstood my role in ordering and leading worship, then I have to hold myself accountable for failing to set the circumstances to the best of my ability, and plan to open the widest possible space for your worship to flourish. So let’s model the manifestation of the Body of Christ together, and go onto perfection in God’s love together, by working out the problems in community. Maybe you can help me by removing some of my obstacles as well. With the power and movement of the Holy Spirit, I have full confidence that we can work in tangent with God to offer our best, and enjoy the blessings of being in worship.