In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Monday, December 12, 2005

Prayers: The Saga Continues

OK - I realize that as I write this, I'm opening a whole can of worms. Not a bad can, mind you...but this is a lot. I've been internally processing my relationship with my congregation for quite some time now. This is a good community to process all this. Most of you are outside situation. Your perspective will be quite useful.

To respond to a few comments from the last post: I know that most of us have been posting about our ambivalent relationship with the Church. This has come up a lot lately with the Vatican document on gay clergy (or seminarians). Mind the Bear has been struggling with how he relates to his denomination. I have to say that I'm still fairly positive about my relationship with the ELCA. I'm not very bitter. I still believe in it as a tool of God. The hard part for me has been my relationship with this particular congregation. For one thing, I don't want to be a membership whore. I'm really bugged by those people who get ticked off at something that their congregation (or often the clergy) did or didn't do, and then sweep their membership somewhere else, until they get ticked off again. I want to be a stable presence. I actually feel guilty sometimes for not supporting the congregation. Because it is a large beautiful building in downtown Minneapolis, there are a lot of "absentee members". Many couples want to get married there, so they join the congregation to get the cheaper rate (yet another pet peeve of mine). Can I stress this enough: I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT SHALLOW.

I won't go into the fact that the congregation can't pay their staff, but someone can cough up 2.5 million dollars to build a bell tower...BUT TRUST ME, I COULD! All I'm going to say is, think of those kids who just got their budget cut. A bell tower doesn't really keep them in the faith community.

But, I digress. Here's the real story:

Sunday morning I hauled my butt out of bed at 6:45 after our party the night before. At 8:00, we met in the (interim) Senior Pastor's office to go through the worship service. I've gotten so emotionally distant from the place, I feel very withdrawn. I don't really chat with anyone.

The real adventure started when there was some time after that meeting before the worship started. I went to the fellowship hall and had a cup of hot chocolate. I re-read the prayers I had written. I feel a little lazy on how I wrote them. I looked at the lectionary texts for the day, and I re-wrote the scripture into prayer form. Now, I don't mean that I prayed on the themes of the texts (which is good). I really copied the texts and used personal pronouns. Here's what I came up with:

Creator God, our souls magnify you. You have looked with favor on the lowliness of us, your servants. You lift up and tear down. Help us, your people to recognize the wonderful and fearful things you have done. As we recognize your work and your action in the world, continue to hear the praise from our souls. Lord in your mercy...‚…

Lord God, your Spirit is upon us. You have anointed each of us. Send us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. Give us voice to proclaim the year of your favor, the vengeance of our God. Strengthen us to comfort those who mourn. Lord, in your mercy...‚…

Ever-closer God, give us voice to proclaim your advent. As John the Baptist called people to repentance, so too, let us call out for hearts to turn to you. Help us to proclaim and prepare the masses for your triumphant return. Help us to be prepared for the day and the hour. Lord, in your mercy...‚…

Healing God, be with those who mourn. Be with those in pain. Be among those who celebrate. Be among those who worry. Be among those who are not yet ready to know you. GodÂ…just be. Lord in your mercy...‚…

As I re-read them, I made a few changes. For one, I realized that I used the phrase "give us voice" about four times. That needed to go. Then, I realized that we were not using the Magnificat. I realized that (nearly) directly quoting the verses would be sending an unclear message. So, I scrapped the first petition, and wrote a paraphrase/prayer of the Epistle. I don't have it, so you can't see it. Sorry.

As I was writing this last petition, CrazyWoman came over. I don't know her name, but I remember many staff being afraid/annoyed with her when I worked there. She sat down at the table with me. She asked if I was the lector, and I said, "No, I'm the prayer." She then asked me if I had the Worship Pastor approve the prayers. I said, no, that he trusted me. I have prayed several times, and we never show him our prayers. She then launched into the fact that he should review my prayers because, "this church needs money." She then went into an assessment of the pastoral situation, which I believe was not based in fact.

She also told me that the Worship Pastor would know if the prayers were good enough for Rebecca. I made the mistake of asking, "Rebecca Who?” That got a huge reaction from her. She described this Rebecca person as the holder of purse strings and unofficial person to please. The only Rebecca I could think of was a former staff member who had also quit in the turmoil.

I excused myself from the table and walked away. I was clearly shaken. What was worse, I knew that she was crazy. But at the same time, she could articulate a level of dysfunction that I can feel as well. It's what left me feeling very off balance for the first worship service.

Here's the kicker: there are a number of wonderful people at this congregation. I was complimented on my prayers by several folks. Between services I had coffee with a woman who sings in the choir. I chatted with friends I had made there. I clearly want to be around these people.

This feeling of enjoying the community I have around the congregation gets mixed with the disgust at the dysfunction. I really enjoy the worship style. It's the best worship experience for me. It's fairly liturgical, while still being creative and global. The problem is that I can hardly listen to the voices from the front, because I have a high level of distrust of (mainly former) clergy and congregational leaders.

Lately, I've been attending a nice church that is three blocks from my house. I can walk to worship. I really like the pastor. The Director of Faith Formation was my college roommate. They are great people. However, they have not had the "gay conversation" as a congregation. That makes me nervous about putting my membership there.

Here's my other rub with where my membership is: I am a professional lay church worker who does not work in a congregation. I have an MA in Congregational Leadership and Christian Education from a fine Lutheran Seminary. My curse is that I will always be able to identify the "behind the scenes" work at any congregation where I am a member. Perhaps Downtown Lutheran Church is the best place to hold a membership while I go wherever I like. Or is there a lack of integrity in that? Most of my friends are also pastors, or at least seminary-educated folks. I have made it a personal rule to not have my friends as my pastors. That cuts out a lot of churches that I would like to support (take J's church for example). So, I support them as a friend, not as a member.

This has provoked rambling on my part, as well as many of you. This is a huge issue that I think I will continue to struggle with.

In the next post: you will finally hear about the party. Maybe I'll talk about the Hip-Hop Christmas Pageant we had last night.


Blogger Vic Mansfield said...

Ross, Thanks for more words on the praying place. BTW: excellent, thoughful, well-written prayers!

If one is an employee of the church, it is hard to be a member, too, as you noted. Hopefully one has a good relationship with one's boss, but how can he/she be pastor as well as supervisor? Not an easy task. You are wise to keep some boundaries on some relationships. BTW, I am lousy at it.

You mention the close-by congregation as not having had the "gay conversation". Well, Big Downtown Church had the "conversation" and you lost the vote. I'm not sure which situation would be more difficult for me.

I wouldn't worry about "membership." A good thing/bad thing about the "big church" is that your name can be on the role and they probably won't notice if you are there or not. The important thing is where are you going to be able to worship (and not as part of "work") and where will you look for pastoral support?

I try never to confuse the congregational register with the Book of Life. You're in the Big Book.

"Shout on, pray on, we're gaining ground."

Cheers, Joe

3:49 PM  

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