I’ve been to plenty of perfectly choreographed worship services. Every syllable of the liturgy was flawlessly executed. Every note sung by the choir was glorious. Every word of the sermon was inspired. The Spirit was present.
I’ve been to even more worship services that some would call imperfect – or even sloppy. There was the time someone forgot to fill the baptism font. (And one of the ushers recruited a child to come forward with the family carrying a pitcher for me to use. “I’m the water bearer,” she whispered to me. And the role of “water bearer” was born in that church.) There was the time a deacon’s scarf caught fire on Pentecost. (And as she tore it off her neck, the pastor leaped up and stomped out the flames to great applause by the congregation.) There was the time the five year old was reading the Psalm of the day and she couldn’t pronounce her “R”s. (And it was lovely.) There was the time an elder who’d been recently diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia started playing with the hair of the first time visitor sitting in front of him. (And after the elder’s wife explained what was going on, the visitor smiled and said, “No worries.”) The Spirit was present at each of these moments as well.
Yesterday in Cambridge, England Dr. Paul Brandon Rimmer wrote a “letter of apology” to the Dean of King’s College regarding the “disruption” by his 9 year old son during the Evensong service on Father’s Day. Apparently young Tristan is a non-verbal person with autism, and yet he expresses delight by making joyful noises when he is happy. He was happy during Evensong.
An usher invited Dr. Rimmer and his family to leave because Tristan was being disruptive. This happened in a church that welcomes all – even “the disabled” – according to their communications.
What exactly was being disrupted Sunday night?
- Was it a performance much like a concert or a play?
- Was it a worship service with the expectation that everything (even the joyful noise of a young worshiper who cannot speak) is for the glory of God?
[Dr. Rimmer notes that he and his family thought that Evensong was a worship service, but apparently they were mistaken.]
This unfortunate episode in the King’s College Chapel reminds us that we need to ask ourselves in every church-related activity:
Why are we doing what we are doing in church?
- To perform?
- To check off a list of “things churches do” whether we truly want to/need to do them or not?
- To make the church matriarchs/patriarchs happy?
- To compete with the church down the street?
- To glorify God and enjoy God forever?