What I am about to suggest is something that might be considered heresy. At least it is not the sort of thing that a pastor might want to admit, given that we see our sermons as the Word of God, and consider the active party in much of what happens in terms of faith to be a matter of the Holy Spirit. But you see, it affects me when you are not here. This is a small enough place that I can literally see and feel your absence.
This past Sunday morning, I looked out on the congregation as I was about to read the Gospel and did the silent assessment that I have been undertaking on Sunday mornings lately. Were there enough children present for a children’s message? Given the way I approach preaching, and seeing that there were not, it is not really all that traumatic of a reality for me. I simply incorporate the children’s portion of the message back into the part intended for the adults.
Still, that you are not here is troublesome for me. I came to this parish because I was increasingly sensing a call to minister to families. I suppose that is a little odd that an almost 60 year old would see that as a ministry niche that he might be called to but it was and still is. I have sensed for some time now that we live in a time when families are increasingly becoming spiritually adrift. So much competes for your time and attention. I came here because I sensed this was a place that was not so far post-Christian, that there was still hope for some of the old structures and that there would be the time and interest in developing some new ones. I have found myself wondering about that lately.
Worship has always been the highest profile expression of a parish pastor’s ministry. It is the place where each week, the Gospel is proclaimed in the context of people who have gathered. Don’t get me wrong. People still gather. It is just that you are not usually there and it has me wondering.
My approach to worship is to make it assessable and family friendly. My sermons are short enough that even the most drowsy ought not fall asleep. I deliberately choose not to preach from the pulpit so that my sermons might be more like conversations then dissertations. I sometimes wear a robe and a stole, but often I do not. I never wear clergy shirts. All of this is done to lower the formality of the affair. I am not sure if any of this really works, but it is my wish that worship be approachable, assessable, and informal enough that it is not something that is stressful to attend.
It is true enough that worship is more or less predictable and maybe not as exciting as it could be. Sometimes my sermons miss the mark. The hymns are sometimes not well known and too slow. The contemporary service isn’t all that contemporary and it’s at 8:30 in the morning.
I come from a different reality than many of you. For the family I grew up in, and the family that Kathy and I raised, worship was the central touchstone of our Christian faith. I understand that there are plenty who question the centrality of worship in the digital era in which we live. I see busy families with all sorts of competing commitments of which worship is simply one among many.
That is a paradigm shift for me, but paradigms can and do shift. What I am not willing to do is to sit back and gently head toward retirement watching the church die for lack of asking what we can do to make it relevant in your lives. How and what should that look like? That is something that we will have to discern together.