Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Perfectionism and Serving

I've been thinking about the next post for this blog for the last few days. A bad cold and a busy day on Monday prevented me from doing much about it till today which, I think, was a good thing. One of the dangers that I sense myself falling into is far too much ecclesialogical controversy and not enough focusing on what really matters. I almost feel that I've fallen into that danger in my first few posts.

Now, don't get me wrong, it isn't that the current controversies in the Anglican communion are irrelevant or pointless. I really do think that the implications behind the controversies are of first-order importance: how do we read Scripture, what is God's justice, how do we deal with the marginalized and oppressed? But, when we tie ourselves up with our divisions, we all too often forget our God. We live in an age where, all too often, the fruits of the Spirit (love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) (Galatians, 5, 22) are lacking in our Communion, in our churches and, if I am to be ruthlessly honest, in myself.

It is that last point that I have been thinking about since Sunday. In the rather Anglo-Catholic parish where my wife and I worship, I act, about once a month, as a server. Over that time, I've carried torches, carried the cross, waved incense as the thurifer and, recently, acted as the Master of ceremonies. I admit to being amused at a turn of events that has led me, a evangelical, to take on the role of a server at an Anglo-Catholic parish, but I have learned so much about liturgy and about worship that I can't say that I've ever regretted agreeing to help.

Yet, on this particular Sunday, I was up for Master of Ceremonies, which is a relatively new job to me, so I was feeling nervous. That isn't new in the sense that every time I serve, I have to work hard to pray away my perfectionism which is usually manifested in my case as picking out every single error I've made and scolding myself for it. Thus, I try to remember two things when I serve: that serving is my gift to the parish and God and that my perception of my own mistakes is more acute than anybody elses.

Still, I wasn't having the best day that day. I was still fighting a cold. I had gotten in rather later than I wanted. I felt rushed getting things organized. I couldn't remember how to arrange the table at the side of the alter. I positioned myself in the wrong part of the procession to enter....Well, you get the idea.

I was, of course, keeping track of all these errors and letting them bother me. Yet, I prayed to remember that, errors and all, this was my offering to the God who loves me. I prayed to give up the self-centeredness that my perfectionism hides. And I prayed for the people and clergy of my parish as we took communion. I can't say that all my self-criticism fled from me in the face of these prayers, but I knew I was profoundly in the right place and that my prayers were part of my struggle to keep perspective, to be humble before God, who is, after all, the only perfect person in our own life. And that was also okay.

Back at the vestry after the service, the grace which had escaped my attention in the service stayed around to remind me that not everything is as I make it out to be. A sub-deacon apologized for her harsh words at a certain point in the setting of the table (she wasn't anywhere near as harsh as I was being to myself) and we discussed in a constructive way how to avoid that problem again. I was able to listen to other suggestions from other more experienced servers without taking them as failures on my part. And I realized why I liked being at this parish. The Spirit moves here too.

It is that realization which gives me hope for myself, for my parish and for the Anglican Communion as a whole. Somehow, if we let it, this whole church thing actually works; the Spirit stays among us and we work through difficult things somehow. I grieve that all too often we don't listen to the Spirit's voice. Yet, sometimes that voice breaks out for us and we remember what has brought us all together.



angli_fan said...

Bwah Ha Ha! The honor of 1st blog comment is forever mine! >:)

Hi Phil. Great job so far! I do have a question 'tho. At my church we have a celebrant, lay readers, acolytes, eucharistic assistants...but no MC. What, exactly are the duties of a Master of Ceremonies?

BTW, I hope at some point, you will use this space to discuss your feelings on war and pacifism, a topic that we've mentioned once or twice on EV, but never discussed in much depth.

Carry on!



Phil S. said...

Thanks, anglifan. That 1st comment honour is officially yours!

Just a quick answer. Really, only fairly high churches have Masters of Ceremonies. Their main purposes are setting out the 'holy hardware' (as it were) before the service, making sure that the flow of the service keeps smooth (reminding other servers about cues, if necessary), ringing the bells at the Sanctus and the elevation of the host and cup, making sure the 'holy hardware' is washed up and returned to the vault at the end of service and, lastly, preparing the chalice and priest's portion for the weekday Eucharist. Phew, that is quite a bit.

Generally, most churches don't use an MC because services in most Anglican churches are simply not as elaborate as Anglo-Catholic ones. When you are juggling a crucifer, thurifer and two acolyes, traffic control is tricky. So, really it is the complexity of the services that gives the MC a job.

As for war and pacifism, I'm sure I'll write on the subject as those subjects are dear to my heart. Given recent events in Iraq, that may be sooner than later.