A note from
Rev. Rob Warren
When I was in grade school, our class put on a play. I remember it like it was more than forty years ago - it was about tooth decay and for some reason, it featured a courtroom scene and I really wanted to be the judge. Apart from having no interest in working hard to learn lines, having no memory to remember lines and being distracted by big shiny things (like spotlights), I was perfect for the part. How perfect? I went to my teacher and withdrew my name from consideration - which came as a shock to her since she had already told me what part I was going to play. I apparently wasn't listening. She wanted me to be the director.
I recognize now what she was doing. She was giving me a "job" so I would be a part of the play (which was required) but not something that actually gave me responsibility. As the "assistant director," I would have to stand next to her while she gave out the instructions to the other students. So, I had no real responsibility and had to stand next to the teacher all day - I think you can probably guess what kind of student I was. It was pretty cool at first; I got my own clipboard (but had to supply my own pen, which I kept losing so just stuck a straw in the clip part so it looked like I had a pen). Then came the day when we were supposed to decide who got to play what part.
She had assigned two people to each role, and now it was up to us to decide who was going to be the person to portray the character in the play. I was apparently supposed to watch the people play their parts and then evaluate who was best and give her my recommendations - which meant I had to go find a pen. When I did, I came back and it was up to us to evaluate the two different people we had that had been playing the part of the judge. The teacher explained to all three students that this was a part of acting, "You first practice, then you audition, then someone has to be chosen."
I didn't like it, and I told my teacher. "But there has to be someone." I mentioned that they could share the role - and she refused. I mentioned that the role could be divided between them, a judge for the first act, and a judge for the second, we could re-write the material to... And then I was told that I had to make the choice; this was my responsibility as the assistant director.
I refused, and then was threatened with a failing grade - you may have already figured out, that wasn't much of a threat to me.
I cried. It wasn't fair; if someone wanted to be in the play, they should be allowed to be in the play - everyone that wanted to should be able to be in it.
My teacher explained the "truth" - that in the theater, it didn't work that way.
I felt so strongly about it, I quit. First grade, first job, first letter of resignation.
I tell you that story to tell you another. When I was in seminary, I was told by an instructor that, when it came to crafting worship, we should be very particular about "who you let lead worship." I raised my hand and asked for clarification. He looked a bit uncomfortable and then said, "Anyone who has an appearance, voice or mannerisms that would distract from worship."
I asked again for clarification. "You mean we shouldn't let our students from other countries lead worship because they might pronounce 'Jesus' in a way that doesn't sound like a midwestern American?"
Of course not THAT; there were students in the room that pronounced the Anointed one from Nazareth as "Gee-Jus" and "Hey-sues."
So I pressed the point, "You mean not to let someone with physical disabilities lead worship because people might be distracted by a wheel chair or some type of obvious physical difference?"
Of course not, those were perfectly acceptable.
"Well, I guess I can't lead worship then," and the professor raised an eyebrow, before I smirked and said, "because I'm soooo pretty, people might get distracted from worship...." at which point I launched into my best Muhammed Ali - "I'm so pretty, lemme tell ya 'bout Moses." I looked at the professor and said, "This kind of attitude is what kept women out of the pulpit, because people preferred the scriptures read by men. It's kept people that weren't white out of the pulpit, because they looked different..." And at that point the professor raised his hand and apologized. Later, after class he came up and said, "When you lead worship, you'll come to understand what I mean."
I tell you that story, to tell you another. I thought about that statement for two years after I graduated (I earned excellent marks in seminary, by the way). I was in worship in a retirement center on a skilled nursing wing. Now, the service for this community is adapted significantly from the one you experience in the sanctuary - the hymns are two-verses, the prayers are thirty seconds, the Lord's Prayer used "trespasses" but it was still very much worship.
One day we were singing and a resident that usually sat quietly in her chair smiled. She had physical impairments that caused her to be in a wheel chair all her life, and her mental capacity was supposedly of a first-grader. We started singing the song, "I come to the garden alone..." and she started rocking back and forth, then she started shouting, "Walk with me! Walk with me! Walk with me!" and my first impulse was to think, "This is distracting." But then I saw the nurses start to move in to calm her down and quiet her, and I waved them off with a grin.
She was fully invested in worship. She was fully present. And instead of hiding her voice, and being shy, she was fully out-there in the worship of God. By the end of the second verse, most of the people that gathered together were singing "Walk with me, Walk with me, Walk with me" with her.
I admit it - I cried. The woman that had never walked was praying that Christ would walk with her.
In that same service, there was a woman who visited every Sunday. Every week, she would come and get her dad out of his room. He was non-responsive, diagnosis of severe dementia. He rarely made eye contact. He was a Presbyterian Elder, had served his church loyally for more than sixty years. If the doors were open, he was there - and his daughter came to worship with him every Sunday. He was chair-bound, always at a recline, his body stiff. She sat next to him, holding his hand.
I was in the middle of a sermon based on the Words of Institution, using the familiar words as a touch-stone. And I got to the phrase where I said, "Let us share the bread and the cup" and suddenly, he shot up out of his chair, walked up to the communion table, picked up the tray with the bread and started walking around the room serving the people that had gathered. At this point, I looked at the nurse and gave her the Michael Jordan arms out in-the-zone shrug - the Spirit was moving and I just grabbed the cups and tried to catch up. Fifteen people later, we got to his daughter, and she was in tears. For the first time in a long time, her dad made eye contact with her. He may not have known who she was, but he knew she was someone who was there to share the bread of heaven.
As soon as he served her, we went on to the next person until we got to the back of the room. Then he followed me back to the table where I served him (as was his tradition, I'm sure), and he suddenly got "lost" again and had to be guided back to his chair.
I tell you those stories to tell you this.
I would like for you to help me. I would like for you to record yourself, or friends or family saying, “Hi, my name is ___. Welcome to First Presbyterian Church." I can use these videos right now as parts of the pre-recorded worship, and later as parts of other productions the church is going to do. Or if you prefer, say or record someone saying the Lord's Prayer. This will let us see each other's faces and remember our faith together. Or call me, and we'll make arrangements to record it here on campus.
But please remember - it is not a performance; it is worship - if it ever becomes a performance, I know how I'll respond. But if it's worship, I'll just follow the leading of the Spirit. If you do this, you will truly help us worship God together.
Walk with me.
Serve with me.
And may God's grace and peace be with you.