Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"It's Not What You Make, but What You Leave"

"It's not what you make, but what you leave" is a saying among pool players. Where do you leave the table when you finally miss? What have you left the other player to work with? Hopefully, you've left a a table that doesn't allow much of a run.

We who do parish work might want to think about what we are going to be leave behind and compare it to what we were given when we were first installed. I am talking about the worship tradition of the congregation.
Are you going to leave it in better shape than when you first showed up?

Some signs of the kind of worship tradition that you would want to leave behind, some of the ways that it had improved under your guidance:
1. worship is more predictable in all the good ways, but still people get up and come to church on Sunday just to see what's going to happen.
2. the congregation has a common language to talk about life, words, phrases and concepts that are the common currency of the worship service. People refer to ideas and concepts by referring to sermons that they have heard.
3. more of the depth and breadth of life is addressed in worship -- the previously unmentionable subjects -- drug addiction, sexual problems, prejudice, shameful thoughts, weakness and dependency, power and powerlessness -- are brought to worship.
4. Everybody has copies of treasured readings, prayers, quotations from the worship service pinned in their cubicle at work, on the refrigerator, and folded up in their wallets.
5. when texts and ideas from other cultural contexts are presented in worship, the congregation can appreciate both the points of convergence and divergence with and from the congregations shared understandings, and their own individual.
6. the congregation has a better sense of self-differentiation about its worship -- a sense of "what we do here" -- which fosters a sense of self-differentiation among the individuals.

Every congregation has its own worship tradition. They range from "the rudimentary and chaotic" on through the "well-developed and healthy" on over to the "sclerotic and rigid." Of course, the age of the congregation has a huge influence on the worship tradition of the church, a long with length of pastorates, social and demographic changes, etc. But all of our more recently established churches must have particularly difficult times getting their tradition started, especially given the low value placed on theological definition and liturgical tradition in present day UUism. But the work of building and developing that tradition is incremental work, done week by week. So, take the long view, and consider what you will leave behind.

1 comment:

Christine Robinson said...

I would add one more thing, that the people of the church see enough spiritual risks taken in worship.by clergy and lay leaders, that when a prayer is needed by a bedside, or a word of faith brought to a political discussion, or a note of grace to respond to a friend's impromptu confession, they are willing to stumble through something because they've seen it done, week after week, in sermons, meditations, and liturgy.