Monday, January 21, 2008

Being a Lutheran is Hard Work

Okay, not really.

I have to admit, though, that going into yesterday morning's pulpit exchange, I felt a little daunted by what would be expected of me when I stood up to lead worship at the local Lutheran church. With the exception of a few scripture readings, I was responsible for the entire liturgy.

Of course, the Lutheran pastor walked me through the whole thing earlier in the week. He told me where to stand and when, what prayers could be found on what pages of the Big Lutheran Prayer Book, how the communion elements are handled and served. I think that two things daunted me the most:

1. The Big Lutheran Prayer Book. I was really concerned that I'd forget to turn a page, turn too far, skip a prayer, lose my place, etc. Fortunately, everything had been marked out for me beforehand. I did turn too far once, but caught myself before reading anything out loud. And I didn't chant. I might have if I'd had time to practice.

2. Communion. I run a pretty simple communion liturgy at my own church, and really by all accounts, the liturgy was pretty simple yesterday morning. It was more the movements that I was worried about: when to uncover/re-cover the trays, how to serve the communion assistants (who were VERY helpful and understanding), and the actual serving of the congregation.

The uncovering/re-covering wasn't bad. It took me a minute to realize that the chalice was underneath the pall (I looked that up), but other than that, that part was fine. Serving the assistants also went one point I got the impression from the adult assistant that I was doing something different from what he was used to, but I'm the clueless guest pastor so I get a pass. Finally, serving the congregation was the easiest. They do it across the altar railing, and since my own church recently re-introduced this style I already knew what to expect.

One aspect of the service that I'm only just now beginning to process is the fact that most of the liturgy is said from the communion table. The only time that I spent in the pulpit was for the Gospel reading and the sermon. That's actually a very cool theological statement that makes the common meal central rather than the spoken Word. Neither one is right or wrong per se, but there was certainly an emphasis different from what churches with a Reformed background might be accustomed to.

I made it back to my own church's worship service, entrusted to the local Nazarene pastor for the day, right before he began his sermon. He gave a great message based on Jesus' invitation to "come and see" where he was staying in John 1, observing that invitation into one anothers' lives can be and is much more meaningful and genuine than preaching at people about your beliefs. If you think about it, that's the same message as standing behind the communion table rather than the pulpit.

It was a good morning. The afternoon was a different story, as I was called to the bedside of a critically ill parishioner. But that's for another time.