This Sunday I was back in worship at Central for the first time since departing on Vacation. This was an unusual break for us, as we typically find ourselves in worship at least one of the Sundays I’m off over Summer break – this typically happens because we often travel home a day early to avoid traffic. I enjoy the Sundays I’m home but not “working,” as I get to stroll in to worship and sit in the back while people joke about me being a visitor. It’s also nice to hear the folks filling the pulpit preach.
This Summer was different because we actually stayed a day later than we do normally so we could connect with some friends. It probably marked the first back to back Sundays I wasn’t actually present at Central in several years 1.
It was nice to get away, but it was really good to be back. I enjoyed speaking with folks and getting some updates on the goings-on of life. Life’s always a roller-coaster – and the amount of struggles, celebrations, frustrations, and joys people have experienced while I’ve been away has been enormous.
As I listened to stories and greeted folks I was truck by how deeply I am connected to this collected set of goofballs known as Central Baptist Church of Riverton-Palmyra. Their laughter, the warmth of their greetings, and the familiarity of their voices is etched into me after twelve years serving as their pastor.
I also missed our worship. People will often look at me funny when I bring it up, but my personal preference for worship is on the higher end of the liturgical spectrum. I find a deep resonance in ancient forms of prayer and song 2. I also know how imposing a worship style on people is often disastrous – I have experienced too much “worship war” fallout to want to inflict that on anyone.
What we end up with, then, is an odd mix of styles and forms. I typically describe Central’s worship as “casually formal.” There is actually quite a bit of theological depth found in the service, but it’s filtered through the quirkiness of our behavior. This leads to a odd combination of serious depth being conveyed alongside of pained grins and head shakes. I love “smells and bells,” but after being away from Central for two weeks I also have to say I missed Central’s peculiarities. This week was no exception.
The oddness began when I forgot to transition to the Lord’s prayer during our opening prayer. I said, “Amen” and sat down, fully expecting the gentleman who leads our prayer time to stand up and lead us forward. Instead the congregation all shuffled a bit, which caused me to look up at our musicians who were looking at me funny. I then glanced at the screen and remembered that we were supposed to sing the Lord’s prayer. By this point everyone had sat down I shrugged apologetically to the musicians and blurted out, “OK, let’s say the Lord’s Prayer.” People chuckled a bit and we did, indeed, say the Lord’s prayer. The the gentleman came up and began our prayer time with the utterance, “Yay! Just another dysfunctional day!” He then later went on to speak one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve heard in a long time.
Today’s oddness continued when I stood up to receive the offering. One gentleman, who had arrived late after dropping his daughter off at a church were she sometimes plays piano, was standing in the back of the room trying to figure out a way to get up front to his wife. I witnessed him peeking around to try and find the least noticeable way to make his way up front 3. Finally, as the woman came forward with the offering plates he jumped in step behind her and marched up the center aisle in the offering’s wake. What made this even better was the box of cheddar bunnies he was holding out in front of him in both hands, as if he were bringing them as his own offering 4. I almost lost it as he marched down the aisle with an expression which said, “This is all perfectly normal, I absolutely should be doing this.”
These are the types of things which endear these folks to me. Central’s worship may not be everything my personal preferences would want, but it’s genuine and joyous and weird.
- I’ve taken two weeks off from preaching, I’ve just typically be around for a Sunday during my vacation. ↩
- In fact, I got to experience a wonderful High(ish) in Hamilton, MA the week prior when we worshipped with some old friends. ↩
- I should mention, we move to our small Sunday School auditorium during the Summer for the AC, there is no sneaking anywhere unnoticed. ↩
- Actually he was returning them to my daughter, who had left them at his family’s mountain cabin. ↩