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Goldfish worship, and more besides 25 March 2014

Posted by Dr Moose in Church, Faith, Grumbles, Life, Ponderings, Self-criticism.
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On Sunday morning we did something very rare. We didn’t take a Sunday off from church, although there is nothing wrong with that, in moderation. Far worse, we went and then walked out part-way through. Even clergy and their families have bad days, after all.

The fact that LM was over-tired and not very well served as an excuse, but the honest truth is that it was just bad. Myself and the GLW were both very tired, and had had precious little sleep on Saturday night (for no particular reason) which didn’t put us in the best frame of mind. LM had made it perfectly clear how unimpressed she was with the idea in the morning, not helped by the fact that it was a “worship together” service. (Admittedly she also complains when she has to go out into groups, so we can’t win!) In theory it should have been ideal, with uniformed organisations in and an infant baptism. But somehow it just didn’t work. LM & LMP sat there colouring, listening, but not really engaging. (LMP is usually off dancing energetically with streaming ribbons, after all!) Somehow the worship just felt like an awful lot of rather dull choruses, repeated forever. “Vain repetitions” is the phrase that comes to mind, or as I tweeted at the time (and that fact in itself speaks volumes)

Too much #GoldfishWorship: repeated & banal for those with short attention spans. Bored, not good. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

So, after fifty minutes, with still no sign of a baptism, we left. It wasn’t that there was no Bible reading, because there was. We got the first half of the talk too (which, I think, was split into two). But, for whatever reason I couldn’t engage, just an awareness of goldfish worship: round and round, without the excitement of seeing things as if for the first time. I was engaging in an ‘act’ of worship, going through the motions and following the script, but not actually worshipping. (And, if we’re honest, I suspect it’s something we all do at one time or another, especially those of us who have lead worship, that feeling of knowing that somehow God is receiving worship and praise through what you doing or enabling others to do, and yet feeling detached. A worship from the head, not so much from the heart).

It’s not really the done thing to leave in the middle of a service, but the church is relaxed enough to be used to comings and goings, and big enough too. I like the place, I feel like I’m making friends and welcomed, but it was not to be, not this time. Normally I’d have just put up with it, the GLW would have taken one or both of the girls home in the car and I would have stayed, walking home later. This time I was pleased of an excuse to leave. Odd thing was though, that we weren’t running away from God or faith, just one expression of that faith. As soon as we got home I got the guitar out and made sure that God received praise that I knew I meant, and felt so much better for it. Worship that required a bigger investment of the self, in playing the music (even if I was reminded for the nth time that I really should change those guitar strings!)

Why it was like that, I don’t know. Likewise how much was internal and personal versus external and corporate. What I do know is, whether I like it or not, this is one of the times of year when I do most pondering. Maybe it’s something to do with the season of Lent and the expectation, and practise, of self-examination. Maybe it’s because I have a birthday coming up next month with a big enough number to make me want to not be reminded! It’s true that I am into the last six months of my two year contract, and that while I’m hoping and praying for renewal I won’t know for a while, which is unsettling. It’s also true that we took possession of our house very nearly a year ago, and that I’m very aware of some tasks that are unfinished. Not to mention a number of other household stressses at the moment. We’ve also been at church long enough both to have learned the way things work (whether we like them or not) and to want to contribute and make a difference (and the frustration and uncertainty about what we can and can’t do!) I suppose I’ve been reminded of that issue again of late, what with the church electoral roll being brought up to date – and the reminder that as clergy I am not on it.

Eighteen months or so in to being full-time Uni Chaplain I have no desire to leave it and return to parochial ministry, but I am becoming more aware of the peripheral nature of my (clerical) existence in ways I hadn’t expected, but I suspect that’s for another time. (If only to spare you, dear reader, any more of my ramblings…)




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