M-4 had its annual Thanksgiving service last Wednesday night. The four churches (ECC, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian & Episcopal) gathered at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal church for a delightful evening of readings, lessons, anthems from a combined choir and responses. They were all printed out carefully in a beautiful bulletin.
As we debriefed the service the next day, our Associate Pastor Jon Lemmond remarked how much he loved all the rich language we used in worship together. Jon comes from Texas Baptist tradition, earning a PhD at UCSB in medieval German history, adjunct teaching at Westmont and now licensed with the ECC. As we talked he threw out a phrase that I quoted above about how good liturgical language can liberate a person from "the burden of spontaneity." That phrase sang in my heart too.
There is in the air a hubris about the extemporaneous versus the carefully crafted. I know that the danger of the well crafted phrase, sentence or speech can come across as dry and heartless.
My dad was a champion of the well crafted manuscript, whether for a sermon, a prayer or a class lesson. "Why" he rhetorically asked "is the Holy Spirit more active in the pastor in the pulpit before the congregation than with him or her alone in the study?"
Equally liberating is the notion that I do not need to depend upon my own words at the moment, but can draw from the rich heritage of the ages and the saints (with proper attribution of course!).
One of the customs at Montecito Covenant that I am growing to appreciate is the handing off of the congregational prayer each Sunday to someone from the congregation (once a month the staff prays). Some pray without notes, and others pray from prepared and read notes. But others come into the pulpit with a book and share how the prayer today comes from this or that spiritual giant who made a deep impact on them. So in those times we get to pray across time! It's so nice not to bear the burden of spontaneity!