Thursday, April 25, 2013
The Preacher’s Corner
Changing order of service can be confusing
Things that happen in church are a source of endless amazement to preachers. Some of them can be told.
Down in the Mississippi Delta at a church I know, a new preacher arrived and decided right off to do something about the longstanding custom of the deacons going out during the sermon to count the collection.
The practice had begun locally during the Great Depression after one of the men had secretly borrowed a few dollars from the Lord to buy milk for his babies. Conscience-tormented he soon confessed, and it was then decided to alleviate the temptation by having the men count the money as a group, and to do this right away, as soon as the offering was received. To avoid delaying the womenfolk and the all-important Sunday dinner. The ritual was carried out in an anteroom off the sanctuary during the sermon.
To keep the men in church for the sermon (all the deacons were men in those days), the new preacher decided to put the collection, choir anthem, and the long prayer after the sermon. To sweeten the arrangement, he told members that this way they could slip prayer requests into the offering plates and he would remember these concerns individually as he phrased the morning prayers.
Things went well the first week, except that when the minister announced the hymn after his sermon, the four deacons on the back row figured that church was over and left for home, so that there was nobody in place to receive the offering.
Several other members also thought the show was finished and made for the door. A makeshift ushering crew had to be recruited hastily. The treasurer reported that the collection was off by a few dollars, owing to these premature departures.
The second week, the new order of service was more carefully explained. The preacher told everyone that this was the way John Calvin, as well as the early Christians had conducted their services. These were Presbyterians, of course, so the invocation of John Calvin was calculated to settle the issue (a device I have found to be utterly ineffective whenever I have tried it.)
These deacons were duly impressed with the history lesson. Therefore, as the preacher was giving a properly Presbyterian-length exposition, the deacons got up from their places on the rear pews and went out to polish up the plates for the upcoming collection.
That didn’t take long, so they went across the street to the Dairy Queen for a little refreshment, thinking they’d have plenty of time for a cup of coffee before the homily was completed. Well, the sermon ended rather quickly, and for the second week, there were no deacons in place to receive the offering. Again, a makeshift crew was assembled.
After the third week, things got straightened out reasonably well, so the new minister thought, except that at the prayer time after offering, there came a slip from one of the deacons, asking the Good Lord to put the collection back to the place in the service where it was supposed to be.
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