My love of wonder and awe and majesty in worship started early – not in my dad’s church, but at Central United Methodist Church in Richmond, Indiana. Central was sort of “Episcopal light.” There was impressive stained glass and grand processions, acolytes and one of the largest pipe organs in the state.
The senior minister, Dr. Holmes, gave soaring, inspirational sermons that lasted exactly 15 minutes. In fact, everything was perfectly timed at Central. The 11 am worship ended promptly at noon… week after week. At Central, everything was done with taste and decency, and you could count on it.
If you’re a good teacher, you can change a child’s life forever. And if you are a bad teacher, you can change a child’s life forever.
My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. It seemed that my father, the Baptist preacher, was forever entertaining the idea of a new pulpit and new congregation. And I, for the most part, loved the adventure. My parents used to call me the gypsy child because, they said, I was forever ready to go. So when the announcement came that we were moving from Logansport, Indiana to Richmond, Indiana, I was thrilled (Go figure!). There would be a new house, a new neighborhood and a new school. And I would learn a brand-new lesson: “Be careful what you wish for.”
There is nothing quite as annoying as a young zealot. So I must have driven people crazy! I knew the answers! I didn’t have a lot of questions about God or the nature of the Church or who Jesus was. And that made me a golden child in a church where certainty was prized above all else.
Eventually life knocked all of that out of me. The complexities of being alive, the contradictions between dogma and experience, hard knocks and more hard knocks left me unsure of most things. I continue that journey today.
Next week on Gathering Sunday we will celebrate being in this new space for one year. And this new space has presented us with new gifts and new challenges. One of the gifts is living with a congregation that shares our commitment to the social Gospel – the idea that Christ’s new way of living actually changes the circumstances of those most in need. One of the challenges is worshipping in such a huge room. We have struggled to feel cohesive. The acoustics can be a challenge. And the space is far less formal that our previous building. That means that we have also had to think about how we worship and how space defines the parameters of good worship.
A mild case of dyslexia made it difficult for me to learn to read music. But my ear was good. My grandmother played the piano by ear and seeing the same gift in me, she bought me a toy piano – and not just any piano, but a toy baby grand. I still remember the first song I ever learned to play. It was a hymn, of course, since church was such a big part of my childhood. One day when I was in my room plunking away at it, trying to learn the end, my mother popped her head in and told me that that as soon as I had learned to play it all, I could have some cookies and milk. And it worked!