Prayer Diversity: Old First E-pistle 07.24.14

Prayer Diversity: Old First E-pistle 07.24.14

I really enjoyed service in the Social Hall last Sunday. We had moved worship there, because we knew that watching the video that Julie B. was sharing during her reflection on her YASC year would work better where everyone could more easily see and hear. That turned out to be very true.

I teased at the opening of worship that it was a dry run, for when, once into the Capital Campaign, we need to vacate the sanctuary for a season when it is being renovated.

Our planning for worshiping downstairs reminded me of past suggestions that the Social Hall would be a much more economical space for air-conditioning and right-sized for smaller summer crowds. (I’m going to try and find out how much approximate savings there actually are in cooling the Social Hall for a service as compared to the Sanctuary.)

But there were other advantages too.

First and foremost, the space was the holy ground in which the YASC community ministers did much of their service: Julie at the shelter; Kayla at the Saturday Cupboard and the shelter and with service camps, and Margaret with her church work on the adult forum. How nice then that the same place was the sacred space where their experiences and learnings got shared with the rest of us.

It’s also just nice to break from tradition sometimes, for the new perspectives or experiences that can afford. Ok, some people weren’t so happy, but once in a while, it’s ok to be surprised. In fact, your pastor believes you should come to church every Sunday expecting a surprise.

And I appreciated how the smaller summer congregation could gather closely for worship in the Social Hall. And while the piano didn’t always sound so great (even with Louis’ masterful playing or with Louis and his friend Gabriel playing four hands), nonetheless, in the confined space with a hard floor, and all of us closer together, the sound of our congregational singing was greatly amplified.

Also in that space, people can offer prayers from where they are sitting. That makes it easier for people who don’t like to speak in front of others to share in prayer, encouraging a wider offering of people praying. It also sort of ducked the way that sometimes our prayers of the people take on the feeling of announcements.

I also liked how that space served so fluidly as multi-purpose space: we went from worshiping there to sharing a meal in that same space. We hardly needed a blessing over the food: worship had sanctified the space for the sharing of the meal.

We might just worship down there ever so often for the broadening and flexibility it affords and encourages…

There was one more experience of worship in the Social Hall I wanted to lift us. As I was leading Prayer of our Savior after people had shared their individual petitions, I could hear Mark Steiner substitute “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” for the way most of us use “debts” and “debtors.”

I have known that this is the form of the Lord’s Prayer he uses. I have known that version before I knew Mark employed it. It’s fairly common in UCC circles when you have people from different congregations and traditions worshiping together.

I believe it is a more recent translation—a middle way, appropriate for ecumenical settings, because it ducks both the debtors and the trespassers’ camps. Or offers them common ground to pray the same words, and asks us to stretch a little.

Others in our church use “trespasses” each week. We don’t hear it very much because the vast majority of people in our congregation go with the flow, the tradition of this congregation which uses “debts” and “debtors.” But I know folks who’ve come to us from the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church who know the prayer with trespasses. That’s even how the UCC congregation I grew up in said it.

But where I stand at the front of the church when we pray this together, I’m usually right in front of Colin Kenny who has made a joke out of insisting on sticking with trespasses (he fancies himself a bad boy in church even as he likes how in our theology he doesn’t get in trouble!). But he’s not the only one—just the one I can hear.

But it doesn’t bother me; actually, deep in my heart, I’m a trespasser too. I mean, as a metaphor, walking where I’m not supposed to is the most evocative for me. It’s also the one I grew up with, and the one I’d used if I didn’t want to be leading worship in the style of this congregation.

But I do have a suggestion that I’d like us to try. I’ve seen it done well in many ecumenical settings. It just takes a bit of awareness. And it turns out quite beautifully, providing us with a liturgical example of diversity and unity in our praying.

What am I talking about? A bit of religious freedom — that was after all Penn’s vision and promise for this state! I am asking the “debtors” to slow down on the ‘forgiveness line’ so that the “sinners” and “trespassers” can pray as they see fit. before we all catch up again:
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

(Remember, Jesus didn’t teach his prayer with any of these words, because he prayed it in Aramaic, though the Bible captured it in its first translation, in the Greek.)

When we get the routine down, it can be quite beautiful. Praying along together in unison until we reach the forgiveness line, and on the fourth word, suddenly diverging into a bit of babble as people complete the line variously and at different pacings.

But once the trespassers are finally finished, the sinners and the debtors join them in unison again as everyone is praying together “Lead us not into temptation.”

I am going to ask that we try it for awhile. So we can learn how to do it. And experience it when it is working well, almost second nature. And then we can decide if it is an innovation for our tradition or just something we experimented with before deciding it didn’t add much to our experience of the prayer.

In the meantime, you might ask yourself (and God) how debts, sins and trespasses variously help you understand our human brokenness and our God’s power to make a whole.

See you in church,

Michael