Sarah (another Sarah, not me – there are lots of Sarahs in our congregation) has a big job. She recruits, schedules, and coordinates the laypeople who contribute to the worship service: the scripture readers, the crucifer, the Gospel bearer, the prayer leaders, the altar guild (who help prepare the Eucharist.) She waits at the door to check off who is there, so that she can recruit folks at the last minute to sub in, if necessary. She does an amazing job. We are… perhaps a bit of a loosey goosey lot, so I imagine her job is a bit like herding cats.
And so when something didn’t go to plan this past Palm Sunday (when Sarah wasn’t there to catch it) – well, let’s just say, my opinion of Sarah’s organizational prowess did not change a whit. After all, it was the first time I had seen this happen in the three years I’ve been at the Advocate. The fact that it doesn’t happen more often is a testament to her dedication.
Be that as it may, somehow, when the time came for a lay reader to step up on Palm Sunday morning, there was silence, and an empty lectern. We all just sat there, waiting. We continued to wait, even as it became obvious that it had been too long for someone who had not been paying attention to snap to it and come forward. There was no reader.
And while all of us were sitting there thinking our various thoughts about that, Pat stood up. “I will read!” And she did. And even having not practiced ahead of time (how could she have?), she read beautifully.
In that moment, it occurred to me that the Advocate is an unusually empowered congregation. If it gets too warm, one of us gets up and opens a window or two. If there’s someone we don’t recognize – someone we are fairly certain is a visitor – we introduce ourselves and make sure they know how to use the binder in which we keep our worship materials. If the Vicar tells us the incorrect number when telling us what page to turn to in the worship guide, one of us calls out the right page number – right in the middle of worship. We laugh if something strikes us as funny in the Gospel reading. And, as Pat demonstrated, we leap up to contribute when help is needed – when worship might not move forward without our help.
Our Vicar tells us that the worship service is what we make it – that our presence makes all the difference. That truth is made especially visible at the Church of the Advocate, where we are liberated – even encouraged – to step up and contribute what we can, what is needed, even (especially?) when no one else is doing so. In worship, we are formed into individuals who have been given the freedom to take responsibility.
I like to imagine that we carry this discipline into our life in the world outside our sanctuary. Our church has a slogan: “Be the noun, do the verb.” That means that we are to be advocates, and so to advocate. We are learning to do that in our worship, and I hope that our worship is shaping us into folks who do it everywhere else, sticking our noses in anywhere we see the need for us to be an advocate.
— Sarah McGiverin