Do you know the hardest job at church, in my humble opinion?
Hospitality? This is no problem. I pride myself on a warm welcome and smacking a nametag on anyone who holds still for 5 seconds.
Reading the Psalm? Nah. Be loud. Project. We’re all focusing on reading only the part in bold. Don’t worry about it. You’re nailing this.
Leading Prayers of the People? Slightly more challenging – the whole saying prayers out loud in front of people. It can make anyone a bit sweaty in the armpit area. However, we’ve all got our eyes closed. Easier to feel less self-conscious when folks aren’t looking at you, and you, in turn, aren’t looking at them.
It’s children’s hallway where I struggle. This is the grind-my-teeth-and-do-it-anyway-because-we-need-people volunteer work. It would be selfish, I remind myself, to only do the volunteer work I enjoy, especially when there’s so few people wanting to do this job currently.
Children’s hallway requires a 20 minute early arrival.
You need to be functional enough to guide parents, who might be first-timers, to correct classrooms, and then to the actual sanctuary. all while they have a small person (or two or three) making a lot of sounds and grabbing at them.
You miss most of the church service, arriving, it appears, just in time for Communion, and Dismissal.
The requirements go on. Can you maintain friendly chatter while helping parents check in their children? Attach a sheep-shaped nametag to the back of the shirt of a wiggly small person with a safety pin without drawing blood? Spot kids racing through the hallway, who are too old to be there in the first place, and send them packing with a “how would Jesus feel about this behavior?” side-eye? These are necessary skills.
I can do all these things, and not even through Christ our Lord, as scripture says. These are just in my own wheelhouse. The Lord can put his attention on the Big Game happening over our heads in the sanctuary.
Then the hustle and bustle dies down.
The little kids are in classrooms. The parents are in the sanctuary.
And there I am, alone, for the next hour. In a hallway.
I read through that day’s Scriptures on my phone.
I pace some more.
I peek in doorways and “aw” to myself over the 2-3 year old’s driving plastic toy trucks into each other.
I listen to babies scream from the 0-1’s and smile because it has been a verra, verra long time since I dealt with that, and now it’s endearing instead of completely life-draining.
As time drags on, I repeat these patterns. Pace, read, pace, peek, pace.
Last children’s hallway for me, after forever and a day had passed, I peeked in the sanctuary. Parents would be coming to get kids any second now. I was sure of it.
Wrong. They were smack dab in the middle of Prayers of the People.
First, I’ll ask – do all churches do this? See, I have no idea, because this church, our Anglican church, is the first place I landed and stayed. In case, you’re like me, and thinking “prayer whaaaa?” allow me, another stranger in a strange land, to sum this up.
Prayers of the People happens about middle of the service, right before Confession, Absolution, and then Passing the Peace. P of the P has a leader, a volunteer who reads a pre-written prayer request list. Think less “pray for my Aunt Alma’s hip replacement” and more “Pray for the world.”
This is when folks in the pews can jump in. People have the chance to speak up, to express prayers out loud, from their seats. That’s when you get that shout-out for Aunt Alma in.
Some folks leading P of the P bobble it. They read the prayer script (for the church, for the world, for those in need, and on like this) like robots. The pause is about the time it takes to blink. The monotone is sleep-inducing.
Some folks take a little license, hold that spotlight a little too long. Essentially, if you’re ever brought a poem up to the lectern and read it to begin or end P of the P, I’m talking to you.
Some folks nail it. They make a safe space. They pray when the room stays silent, and people are afraid to speak, providing a lead, a guidance. They pray from the heart and not from the head. They know how to put periods at the ends of sentences. They watch the room, they look for those about to speak.
Most of the praying is internal at our church.
During this last banishment to hallway, when I popped up to see: are we there yet? I saw P of the P in full swing instead. Up close and eyes wide open.
You see, I’m normally one of those people with their eyes crammed shut, alternately praying, and worrying if I should say my prayers out loud.
Today I could see it all in front of me.
When Dorothy was a baby, I watched her sleep all the time. I mean All. The. Time. Borderline stalker.
I did practical things, too. I got housework done. Called people. Sat down and stared out a window, with a book on my lap.
Yet watching her sleep was so satisfying. Her round cheeks, her lips pursed, how she slept with her head turned in one direction. Dorothy’s arms would be raised, her fists resting on each side of her head.
It made my heart hurt, these moments. It was childhood innocence and vulnerability on full display. A child at rest, and unaware, completely safe and sound.
Popping my head up in the window during Prayers of the People, I saw that all over again.
I saw a man in his mid-sixties, on the first pew, his head bent, his eyes closed tight in concentration, his hands resting on his knees.
I saw a pre-teen boy, the sides of his head shaved, a swath of long hair flopping across his forehead, with his face pointed up, his eyes screwed shut, and his lips moving quickly, but silently.
I saw relaxed faces, closed eyes, a sea of prayers.
For a moment, it was tiniest glimpse of what we look like to God.
I ducked away from the window. When Dorothy was little, I watched her sleep. As her mom, it fell under parents’ rights. I go through all the noise and commotion pre-sleeping; my reward is some time basking in your sweet quiet.
These weren’t my children, and it wasn’t my place to watch. They’re God’s. That’s His time, and His space. For about 10 minutes, He’s guaranteed a captive audience. After our noise and commotion throughout the week, He gets to bask in our sweet quiet.
That little glimpse was a gift. Seeing all of us, with our eyes closed, our faces turned upwards, relaxed, at peace.
Today, if you take a minute to screw your eyes closed, let your face relax, and say a few words to God, I hope you remember: that’s how you look to God. You look like my sleeping baby did to me. You look like that an older fellow, and that boy. You look dear. You look special. You look beloved.
If that’s hard to imagine, consider this: I’m an everyday person, with a short-attention span, and a long to-do list. If my sleeping baby can move me to stop, and stare, what does your praying face do to this awesome and extraordinary God?
Get your prayer face on, friend. It’s a beautiful sight.