Last Sunday, we had a guest pastor, which is always a harrowing experience for all concerned. Every church, like every family, has its idiosyncratic practices. When those are violated, it can create a brief moment of discomfort, but it can also call us to greater participation and leadership, refreshing our worship experience.
I'm thinking of one specific moment during the service, following the offering, when we are used to a certain way of presenting the offering on the altar and a particular offering prayer. Pastor then turns to face the congregation and makes eye contact with me at the organ so that I know we can being the Great Thanksgiving. Without our usual practices, the acolytes didn't know what to do with the offering plates, I didn't know when to begin the music, and the service faltered for just a brief moment. Of course, it was a minor issue, and the service continued.
From a musical perspective, it made me think of two things. First, the rhythm and melody of the liturgy and the hymns can truly unite a congregation, even if the prayers are offered with a slightly different verbal stress or the service is not one hundred percent aligned with our past experience. When I travel and attend services, there is a sense of being an observer, until the music begins. When a congregation is singing, we are all together in one endeavor.
Second, we (like sheep) do go astray when we don't have strong leadership. Once, a choir director of mine asked the group who was the leader of our music. Most people said the director, some said the accompanist, some pointed to section leaders or particularly strong singers in the group. But the director said all those answers were wrong. Every single member of the choir needed to be a leader for it to work. If you wait for the person next to you to sing, then you are already late, of course. The best choirs have a confidence and shared trust among themselves because they are all leaders.
Perhaps the experience of having a guest pastor can shake us up a bit and encourage us all to step up and take responsibility and leadership. A congregation is a community, and it thrives on participation, in its ministries and its music.