The Perfect Worship Service

It was time to prepare for the Blue Christmas worship service.  I arrived at the church a couple of hours early, to print bulletins and manage the AV.  We have gone hybrid this year, worshiping both in the sanctuary and on Zoom.  It is important to me that the people who join us from home feel as connected as is possible to those in the church.

This would be a very important small service.  Though many people feel sad, angry or lonely during the holidays, not many wish to focus on it.  But the ones who come to pray their heartbreak with other people really need the space a Blue Christmas service provides.  So I was keen to get everything right.

It was not to be.  The computer had been disconnected from the internet due to an office remodel I had not expected, and I couldn’t print the bulletins.  The mics that had worked so well for the Compline service the evening before were suddenly nonfunctional.  And the music recorded on my slides was playing well over Zoom, but I couldn’t get it to play over the sanctuary sound system.  This, too, had worked perfectly the night before.

I scrambled.  I was rescued in the bulletin-printing department by the deacon of the Lutheran church with whom we share space.  We ran the sound through our rector’s laptop, which then allowed people in the sanctuary to faintly hear our music.  I cranked the volume up on the offending mics so that people on Zoom could hear the readers in the sanctuary faintly.

Angry, frustrated, and “wound tighter than an eight day clock,” as my grandfather used to say, I sat down at the AV console, and the service began.  It was indeed a small gathering: three in the sanctuary and nine at home.  The first slide was a welcome, the second a Taize chant.  The  music filled my headphones:  “O, Lord, hear my prayer. O, Lord, hear my prayer.“

I felt myself slide into the worship, all that was tightly coiled inside springing free.  I began to pray my grief and anger.  Alone amid the screens and the soundboard, removed as I was from both Zoom and sanctuary, I felt the power of the community joined in worship.

As I clicked through the slides I made plenty of new mistakes.  Nothing about the service was perfect.  But I noticed in the faces of all those worshiping a quiet vulnerability that mirrored my own.  We were praying our losses, our disappointments, and our frustration, and God was indeed hearing our prayer.

Here are the words from today’s reading of the prophet Zephaniah that resonated with me today: “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.  The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; God will rejoice over you with gladness, God will renew you in their love.”  (Zephaniah 3:16-17)

I long to create a perfect worship environment.  I long for there to be no irritating distractions.  But this will never be, and it isn’t the most important thing.  The community gathered intent on prayer, and the Lord, our God, in our midst rejoicing and renewing – ultimately that’s what makes for perfect worship.

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