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Not So Silent: Christmas Worship with Children

Dearest church people,

Get ready. In two days it’ll be Christmas Eve. Your congregation will welcome people in for one of the biggest nights of the year. You may be blessed with an overrun of visitors, and I hope some of those visitors will be children and their parents.

In the spirit of preparation (it is Advent, after all), I write to you with my qualifications as both a minister who has specialized in children and youth and, for the last few years, become a pew-sitter; as a minister without a full time clergy position, I have done more pew sitting than worship leading.

And this season, I suspect, is the hardest of my pew sitting: I currently have three lovely children, and we’re doing all the ages and stages right now. The oldest, at 10, is in that phase where she can follow along in church, but sometimes needs a reminder to do so. Sometimes, this nudge results in a little preteen, mother-daughter drama. The five-year-old wants to move. He has the energy of a Pentecostal, which is perhaps a bit more than your average grown up Lutheran. (We currently attend a Lutheran church.) And the two-year-old has recently learned that she has pipes, so she will deliver quite the yelp if someone takes what she believes to be her crayon. She’s also highly attuned to the Holy Spirit, occasionally making a dash for the aisle because she thinks that music is for dancing. And when it’s time to go forward to receive communion, she has a hard time waiting her turn. Sundays in our pew are sort of like wrestling a squirmy pet monkey, all while juggling hymnals and Bibles. Add candles on Christmas Eve (our church has one service, at 7pm, well past the littlest one’s bedtime), and it’s going to be anything but a meditative experience for me. Read more

Grace at the Graveside

Be still…

Be still.

Be still.

Be still.

With varying degrees of success, this has been my mantra as of late. Ministry is quite the opposite of stillness. Ministry requires moving—running ahead of deadlines, walking with the hurt, throwing out hope, catching blessings, dancing and leaping for joy. Stillness won’t write the monthly newsletter, prepare a congregational prayer, lead retreats, authorize bus repairs, exegete a text, teach Bible study, answer e-mails, serve communion, visit the homebound, and then squeeze in time for a social life.

And still, I try to take a moment each day to be. Stealing away to the sanctuary during a particularly hectic day, sitting outside in the beautiful fall air. Sometimes I simply shut my office door and close my eyes for five minutes.

Stillness.

Being.

Knowing God.

My hope, in doing this a little each day, is that this stillness will sustain me when I’m on the move. That in the inevitable movements of hectic hospice visits and frantic phone calls, I can be and know.

Lovely, isn’t it? Peaceful, even. I’m finally on my way to becoming one of those people I’ve always admired, who are centered, set aside time for God, prize silence and sitting. You know, Ghandi, Henri Nouwen, Mother Superior in “The Sound of Music.” Trying my hardest to overcome my extroverted, ambitious, multi-tasking, over-analytical tendencies, even if it’s just for a few moments each day. Being still. Being still. Being still.

Until yesterday, when stillness betrayed me. Read more

Silent and Still

The silence of my prayer was replaced with the noise of the narthex. The hymns were sung. The people were blessed. And now, it was time to share in the joy of being together as the congregation participates in the exodus from the sanctuary to the promise of the Parish Hall.

Babies wake up from the sermon, and the silence fades. The squeals of the children just released from Sunday School nearly drown out the mutterings of “good sermon” and “thank you for worship.” Familiar faces sojourn to coffee hour while insisting I must remember their names. My laughter mixes with the hesitant laughter of visitors. Hands are held. Hugs linger too long. Shoulders are touched. The silence disappears.

Only for a moment, the silence disappears. Only for a moment, there is a clamor of giggling children and a racket of slurping adults. The clatter continues until the Parish Hall empties and I am left to lock the doors.

And then it becomes silent and still once again. My distress grows worse, and my heart becomes hot with me as the silence returns. This silence is not like the stillness of prayer. Those are moments that I crave. I need that respite from the insistence of so many demands screaming incessantly. I need that sacred time to be still and know that God is in the silence. This is precious silence. It is not the same silence that greets me with the click of the lock in the church doors.

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