Thursday, May 3, 2007
“Housekeeping” the pews is often ‘centering’
The current movement toward “spirituality” in the churches emphasizes various activities such as “journaling,” “walking a labyrinth,” various prayer rituals, songs, prayers set repetitively, and so forth as ways of channeling our thoughts toward God. One of the terms you often hear is “centering prayer.”
As you may detect, I am less given to contemplation than to action. I do think about things a lot, but I have never considered my thinking as particularly “spiritual” — it is more like worry than prayer!
But I do find a certain sense of peace — some might even call it “centering” as I walk around our church each week before the service and make sure everything is in order for the upcoming Sunday.
I try to do this as early in the week as I can in case tourists come to see us. Not only tourists — anyone who comes in deserves to find God’s house in order. Wilted flowers need to be removed from the altar, communion vessels cleaned and put away, chairs left helter-skelter need to be put in orderly rows, hymnals and Bibles returned to the pew racks — Kleenexes and scattered bulletins need to be picked up, my sermon notes need to be collected and discarded (I do not save old sermons — I always feel I could improve on last week’s attempt! I may repeat myself, but it’s my wandering mind — not because I am reading the yellowed pages of an old sermon!)
Different people keep their pews in different ways. Some are excellent housekeepers. Others leave something to be desired. Because I do this bit of housekeeping, I sometimes find interesting bits in the pew. Once, several years ago, was a note neatly lettered on a corner of the bulletin. It said, “Shall we eat this week at John Paul’s or the Hitching Post?”
I am reminded of a note the Rev. John Stott, a famed preacher in London says he found while tidying the pews of his great old church in London. It read:
Our church has a veritable collection of umbrellas, hats, gloves, reading glasses, earrings, and such like. We have so many spoons, forks, and other serving pieces that we could furnish a bridal hope chest — if the bride did not require that the pieces all matched! Sometime I am going to have a rummage sale of all these items. I am sure each one could tell its own story.
On one or two Sundays a child has even been left behind. It happened that both parents came in separate cars, and each raced away from the service thinking that the other had Junior. Thoughts ran through my mind of old Eli who was given the boy Samuel to raise by his mother Hannah.
She had prayed for a son and promised to give him to the Lord, should her prayer be answered. But as far as I know no one asked Eli about the bargain. Eli had not been an exemplary father to his own sons Phineas and Hophni. But Samuel turned out to be an outstanding man of God. Still, I do not intend to raise any children “accidentally” left behind after worship in the Holly Springs Kirk!
So my advice is the same to one and all. Leave your pews tidy. Take your notes with you. And please claim your children after the service!
Sometimes people protest that they do not think the minister should have to do such routine chores. But as I move about the pews and rooms of our church, it “centers” me on the work I am here to do. I think of the people whom I associate with at each spot and think of the work I am called to do in their midst. It is a kind of prayer for each one.
I would miss those moments of preparation were they not mine to do. After all, does not the psalmist say, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness?”
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