Of course as a "professional" church goer, I don't do it very often. On Sunday mornings I strut around the altar in fancy vestments, stand in the pulpit for 10-12 minutes, and sit only when other people are doing liturgical things -- like reading from the Bible or singing a choral anthem.
But as Summer rolls around and vacation looms, I'll be spending a few weeks sitting in pews at some yet-to-be-determined churches. And I'll again realize just how easily annoyed I can be. Uncharitable thoughts inevitable arise. Like:
"I can't believe how many typos are in this bulletin. 'The Lard be with you?!' Come on!"
"That is not the proper order in which to light the altar candles. What kind of liturgical yahoo trained this acolyte anyway?"
"If this hymn was played any slower, I swear I'd fall asleep standing up."
"Would it be rude to yell, 'I object!' in the middle of this vaguely heretical sermon?"Perhaps it's simply an occupational hazard. I mean, when bus drivers ride the bus, they can't help but think to themselves how poorly the driver took that turn back on Main and Elm, right? But I'll be honest. No one likes sitting next to me -- certainly not my family. It may be the what-I-thought-was-barely-audible-but-apparently-was-not sighs too deep for words.
I remember a slightly different approach to clergy sitting in the pews that was equally irritating to the priest's family when on vacation. The spouse used to complain about her husband the minister acting as "Pew Captain" whenever they'd be in church together. He'd be the first one in the congregation to stand up or respond to a versicle. His "amens" were hearty and he encouraged everyone around him to sing louder.
I guess that would be a different kind of annoying. But the truth is I'm easily distracted when I sit in church and this does nothing at all for my spiritual life.
It's not a bad thing to want to worship in the beauty of holiness or to want worship to be "decently and in order." But when small things consistently get in the way of your experience with and of God, you may have some spiritual work to do. I know I do.
And it's worth reflecting on two questions: Where does your mind go during worship? And where does your heart go? Not every service will feel like a heaven-meets-earth transcendent moment. I get that. But you also have to put yourself in a receptive frame of mind to encounter the holy and be accepting and grateful -- and forgiving -- in order to experience God's amazing grace.
So worship, as important as it is, can never become an idol in and of itself. We can't sacrifice our faith on the altar of personal piety. Certainly not when it comes to going to church in an unfamiliar place a few Sundays a year.
So wherever I end up worshipping this Summer, I'll try my best to relax and enjoy being in relationship with Jesus while having a break from being in liturgical control.
And, anyway, I'm sure I'll have some clergy stop by St. John's this summer. And they'll feel the same way about some of the things I'm doing up there.