Bi-Vocational Pastor: Reflections on the Virginia Synod Assembly & “Liturgical Movements”

This past weekend, I headed to Salem, VA to take part in our annual Assembly of the Virginia Synod.  It’s my second Synod Assembly in Virginia, but my first as a pastor (I missed last year for a valid reason, I promise!).  People show up starting Friday morning, and we conclude on Sunday at noon.  Each year, the culmination of the Assembly is Saturday evening worship at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA.  It’s a pretty grand worship in a beautiful sanctuary – the procession of pastors across the Synod, full organ and brass ensemble, and over 300 voices singing hymns and speaking liturgy together as one voice.

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I took the opportunity to not process with the rest of the pastors, primarily because I don’t get to simply worship much anymore.  I appreciated that time, but I also have to admit, there were times during worship that things seemed, well, mundane.  Tedious.  Grandiose.  Performative.  As beautiful as the worship experience was, I found myself not just drifting, but disconnecting.

My thing about worship like this past Saturday night is that for me, it just feels so disconnected with what typically happens in my day-to-day life.  It doesn’t seem to resemble anything I see or do.  And I suppose that’s the point; that’s what makes worship like this special.  Our presiding bishop of the ELCA has written, “At the heart of what we do is worship,” but I wonder, what does this mean?

And it doesn’t remove the feeling of disconnection that I feel.

I admit, my attitudes towards worship are different from most pastors.  Having grown up in Minnesota farm country, folks appreciated a nice, “efficient” service because they had been up since 4am milking cows.  Don’t preach too long, don’t sing all 6 verses of that hymn, and it’s ok to skip the full Eucharistic prayer and Sanctus in the communion liturgy.  However, through that experience growing up I came to understand that worship was something well beyond Sunday morning and the doors of our little church.  Our whole lives are worship and in that way, worship was at the heart of who we are and what we do.

Liturgy means generally, “The work of the people.”  What I’ve come to understand about my life is that it is an act of worship to God, and that my daily activity is a series of “liturgical movements” within that worship.  What I’ve come discover in the journey through seminary and since I’ve been a pastor is that I’m focused and aware of these liturgical movements occurring in daily life.  This past weekend at Synod Assembly was no different.

I heard laughter and excitement as people registered on Friday morning.

I watched people – long time friends and strangers – gather over meals and have meaningful, life-giving conversations with each other.

I caught up with folks from Bedford Lutheran and heard about their hopes and challenges in becoming an established congregation in the Synod.

I learned what other congregations are doing, ideas they’re trying as ways to be more missional in their communities.  And more important, I noticed their passion and desire, alongside their anxiety and uncertainty.

I got to watch my good friend “hover” around his 7th grade daughter as she participated in the Youth Assembly – the struggle of every parent who watches their kid shift to a time of independence.

I watched congregations wrestle with the questions raised about getting to know and understand their neighbors around their churches better and what that means for them.

I saw two old pastors engaged in a late night conversation as I headed to my room – clearly they were good friends who didn’t see much of each other.

I watched my Synodical Bishop read the list of saints departed, pastors who have died this past year – one among those names being his own father.

I listened to a man’s response, his frustration about race relations in this country and the helplessness and pain he feels.  I also listened to his concerns for the future about the farm he operates and if there will be anyone willing to take it over.

I witnessed the representatives from the two congregations I serve have meaningful discussion about the future of their churches, and their future together.

And I got to play racquetball with that good friend of mine too (although I kicked my ass and that bothers me!).

I could continue on, but do you see it – Worship?  Confession, thanksgiving, sharing of the peace, hymns and sounds of praise, prayers of intercession, and blessing.  People nourished and refreshed, not just in Word as preaching and Sacrament as Eucharist, but Word proclaiming that Christ, the incarnate God, is among us and Sacramental presence that unites saints and sinners around God’s Grace.  These liturgical movements are the work of the people happening in the routine, the ordinary, and the familiar.  It is in these liturgical movements that people come to know a God who is deeply with them and acting for them, and for the sake of the world.

I wonder if others feel that disconnect between what happens in the pew and from day-to-day, and struggle with what seems like competing priorities, too.  David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and a former professor of mine at Luther Seminary was fond of saying, “Today, weekly worship needs to be thought of as the practice rather than the actual game.  The value in weekly worship is that it trains us to know what God’s presence and action look like, so that we might identify it more easily in our lives.”  What this suggests is that worship is indeed at the heart of what we do as Christians – but it’s a worship that encompasses all of life, both in the pew and in our daily routines and activity.

This past weekend affirmed and reminded me that this connected and integrated truth about Christian worship is true, and it is this truth that strengthens and sustains us both in faith and vocation as Christians living in the world today.

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