The Church Where Everything Goes Wrong

Six weeks into the church year, I have realized that I am the minister of a church where things usually go wrong. This morning the copy machine jams repeatedly. The bulletin describing the order of worship has been copied with the second page first and also upside down. No one has remembered to turn on the lights in the sanctuary before the service, so it is dark because it is raining outside. The microphone is buzzing and lets out a painful, high pitched squeal, which makes people wince. We have just started the service when someone runs up with a bunch of flowers for the altar, just as someone else runs in with one of the silk arrangements we keep for the mornings when no one brings real flowers. There is laughter as the two flower bearers meet at the altar. They decide on the real flowers, and things settle down for a while until a baby starts crying, which sets off another baby crying. I try to speak over the wailing as their fathers hustle them down the aisle and try to distract them in the back. Usually, I love watching the tall, gentle fathers who bounce their babies in backpacks at the rear of the sanctuary, but today I am annoyed because I want it to be quiet and holy and lovely and things are definitely not shaping up that way.

The woman who is helping with worship gets up and, instead of giving the announcements, introduces the candle-lighting time, which comes later. People call out, "Not yet!" More laughter. The organist starts playing the wrong hymn and a couple of choir members yell over the din for him to stop; a few minutes later, during the period for prayerful silence, he accidentally falls onto the keyboard, causing the organ to emit horrible, gassy noises. Shrieks and snorts of laughter. All pretense of Sunday morning decorum is lost and something inside me, some furious, bossy desire to have "my worship service" go according to my plan, finally slides free and I can laugh with them.

This will be the first of many times that I laugh at Sunday morning details gone awry. It is also the first of many times that I imagine that God is watching, looking up or down or over or out at us from wherever God sits on Sunday mornings, slightly amazed and maybe at a loss for words because we, God's people, are so funny and wonderful and odd all at the same time. In moments like these I imagine God as a sturdy old woman with her hands on her hips, or perhaps as a rabbi pulling on his long, white beard. I imagine a God shaking his or her head and saying, "What in the world are they doing over there? This is what they call church? What were they thinking?"

But I also imagine a God who is touched and maybe a little honored by our efforts, however halting, to worship and give praise. I imagine a God who is moved by our attempts to care for one another and to name the things we know as holy. There is a warmth in this congregation that is new to me, a simple friendliness that shines through the fumblings and failures, a love that makes the ragged edges smooth. I have always wanted to believe, really believe, that our mistakes aren't the most important parts of us. I have always wanted to believe that kindness and compassion matter more than anything. I sense that I can learn this here.

a dozen egg cartons piled on a linoleum floor, wth broken eggs spilling out their contents
A toddler plays on the floor between empty church pews, turning away from the camera to watch something out of frame.