One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came shortly after one of the first worship services I led as a pastor. One of the parish members came up to me after worship one week and said, "You didn't leave enough room."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.
One Sunday at worship, a very small, wonderful thing happened. During the closing hymn (a rousing rendition of "How Firm a Foundation," by the way), we carried the cross and processed to the entry of the church, as always. The people turned to face the cross, as always (or at least as they have begun to do during this past year). We stood there, continuing to sing, as always.
And then, three little girls, about three or four years old, began to dance.
I don't know why you come to church on a particular Sunday, or why you don't. Sometimes you show up; sometimes you don't. When you don't, maybe it's because you are sick or out of town or your alarm clock didn't go off or you just can't bear to be in a room with those particular people on this particular day. Maybe you are caught between wanting your kids to experience God and a faith community, and the reality of what it's really like to be a part of a faith community.
Contrary to what you might have been told, Lent does not mean “40 days of beating yourself up.” It does not even mean “40 days of God beating you up and reminding you of what kind of a person you really are.”
Our local state fair advertises nearly everything on-a-stick, so why not Bible verses? The verse our ministry fair chose? Micah 6:8, of course. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
The church where I grew up held their final worship service on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. I have a copy of the bulletin from the service, even though I wasn't able to attend. The picture on the front of the bulletin is from the church's heyday, in the early 1970s. I keep looking at the picture, thinking about the past and where I am now.
In the past year or so, we have started using the term "faith formation" at my congregation. In the past, we talked about "Christian education," or we talked about "Sunday school" or "confirmation." Or maybe, "adult study." Words like that.
It happened again. A young family visited our congregation recently. They are looking for a church. They liked the worship service. They liked the kneelers (this is sort of unusual for a Lutheran church; we have had kneelers since the 1960s); they liked the sermon. But as they looked around, they made the observation, "There are an awful lot of gray heads out there."
Almost every Sunday after church, I stop at the grocery store. I don't want to cook after a busy Sunday morning, but we do have to eat, so I peruse the deli selection and bring something home. And I'm not necessarily proud to admit this, but a lot of the people who work at this particular grocery store know me now.
Sometimes, especially lately, someone will come up to me and sort of whisper to me, "You know, I'm not that liberal, but I really do think we need to do something about gun violence in this country. At least background checks. Or access to semi-automatic weapons." I don't know why. Perhaps it is because they sense that I am safe, in a certain way.
We pull out all the stops on Easter. So do you, I'll bet. We have the flowers, and the music, and the crowds. This year we had an incredible liturgical dancer who carried the paschal candle throughout the sanctuary. The Easter sermon was clear and dramatic and inspiring.
So the senior pastor and I decided not to chant the communion liturgy this year during Lent, thinking it would be simple and a bit austere—and that, like "Alleluia," we might miss it and long for its return. It's not a total fast, as we still chant the "Kyrie," although that's usually the choir, not me or the senior pastor.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. We had bookend services, one at 8:00 a.m. in the chapel, the other at 7:00 p.m. The services were essentially the same: readings, sermon, imposition of ashes, confession, communion. Just the essentials.