I've written three previous posts on what it's like for me, a Quaker, to prepare a message to give in meeting for worship, and on Sunday I gave the message, trying to be present to the Spirit in the process. Here I give some self-criticisms and then share about how it went giving the message.
I wish I was funnier when I speak. I think I take myself too seriously in that setting, because I'm funny in normal life...but telling jokes isn't my forte. I like it when others do this--well, most of the time, at least. Sometimes it's distracting because it has nothing to do with what they're going to talk about. But when they tell a funny story that gets at the heart of their message it just draws everyone right in, and I don't do that well. Also, I wish I was a better story teller. I know people relate to and remember things better when there are stories, but I don't naturally think of stories. I think of concepts and questions. I told one story Sunday besides the passage in John, although it wasn't about me. I talked about how I relate to the things I was talking about, but I wished I had some stories that would illustrate it better. I don't know if this is just a personality thing, but I want to work on developing this better in the future.
Giving the Message
I had the brainstorm that it would be cool to have something fragrant in the worship space so that we would have a sensual reminder of what it would have been like to be there. I thought about finding a really fragrant perfume, but I know some people are allergic or sensitive to synthetic fragrances, so instead I encouraged people via our e-group to bring daffodils or other fragrant flowers from their yards. (People might be allergic to these as well, but are more likely to have their meds on-hand, especially at this time of year with everything blooming.) This way we had the fragrance as well as the added bonus of a way for people to participate and offer something to Christ like Mary did with the perfume (although, of course, much cheaper!).
I think that part went well. First, I went out and gathered a bunch of daffodils and daphnia from around the meetinghouse that morning, and that was a good time of centering. I was grateful to be outside, grateful for spring and the beautiful fragrance, and focused on the simple task of choosing, picking and arranging flowers. Preparing the meeting space helped me prepare my self and my heart. Second, watching people bring in their flowers brought me joy, and it looked like it brought them joy as well. Even though we're Quakers, I think sometimes it's really helpful to have something you can put your hands on to offer to God, or as a reminder of God's presence. I think the daffodils played that part on Sunday: a symbol that drew us into the presence of God and that we could bring as an offering of our intention to be aware of and follow God.
I appreciated the music that happened before the message. The people who led music chose good songs that went with the theme, and this also helped me center. When I became distracted, wondering how I'd do, I reminded myself to focus on the words and be present, and to trust that God would work through me even if none of my words said anything to anyone there. God was going to be at work anyway.
I had a full manuscript in front of me but I didn't read it most of the time. There were certain things I wanted to say very clearly and so those I read, but otherwise I used the manuscript as a reminder. I think it's a good idea to read the manuscript out loud a few times, standing and looking around as if you're up in front of people, but I didn't do that this time. I just read it several times silently.
In a pre-service prayer time, Paul (my father-in-law and the worship coordinator at our meeting) asked if there was anything specific he could pray for, and what I was most worried about was that I would ask the questions I had prepared and no one would answer them and it would just be awkward. My worry (as most worries are) was unfounded. Many people shared when I opened it up for them to do so--so many that it took way longer than I anticipated, but it was really good stuff. I found myself near tears several times as people shared deeply and vulnerably about the ways they could relate to the characters in the story. I was so grateful to be there to hear God speak through them.
That's really my favorite thing about meeting for worship, whether programmed or unprogrammed--when we hear God together through more than one voice. This can happen if there's a regular sermon and a good amount of open worship, but I really like what we've been experimenting with over the last year or so in my meeting of having the message be more of a dialogue, or setting up the passage and asking good questions. Sometimes the person who's brought the message will ask such a good question that there's no time for the speaker to share much--the message comes out of the congregation. It's kind of difficult but really important to be able to discern in those instances whether the prepared message should still be given, or if God is speaking in a different way through those gathered. I hope to become better and better at that kind of discernment.
Anyway, Sunday I was very moved by what people shared. It added such richness and depth to what I brought that it humbled me, but also gave me great joy. I was grateful that what I had to offer simply became one piece of the worship offering we lifted up together in community to the present, living God, the Messiah who died and calls us to take up our cross, but who also lives and gives us more life than we could imagine.