In the post of my first sermon in my new congregation, Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, I said I’d write soon about this transition. I remember having a brilliant thought to share that I would get down just as soon as I could. Four weeks later, I have zero recollection of what that brilliant thought might be. That shows it’s brilliance, I believe.
This Sunday was my installation into this position. One little girl in the church, after
hearing her mother try to explain what would happen, decided to call it my “inauguration.” The preacher for the worship services this morning, my dear friend, mentor, and church match-maker, the Rev. Carol McDonald, called it my naming day (which reminded me of my favorite baptism book, Water, Come Down, by Walter Wangerin, a book my new church gives to each child being baptized). Whatever we call it, it was a wonderful celebration, and I am still floating a bit on a cloud of gratitude. Not a bad cloud to ride.
I have participated in more installations than I have been the recipient of. I remember worshiping at one installation and going home not wanting to talk any more all day. You see, we use a ton of words in our Presbyterian Church (USA) installations. A ton!! There is a litany (or monologue) about spiritual gifts. There’s a explanation of what ministry is in church and the setting aside of officers for that ministry. There are constitutional questions to the one being installed – lots of questions, nine of them, with a combined 283 words. For the sake of comparison, if you made it this far you have read 271 words. We go on and ask several questions of the congregation, pray more words, and hear charges to the newly installed and congregation. Now I’m not saying any of these words are unimportant or that we should cut any of them. I’m just saying it’s a lot of words. And as a lot of words it can become easy to just stop listening to them.
I made a conscious choice this time around to try to listen to all of them. As overwhelming as they can be, this time I wanted to make sure I was listening intently to what was being said, and not just read along with the words printed on the insert. I’m glad I have them written down so I can see them again when I want to reflect on what happened. But this
time I put the paper down. I focused on the speaker of each section so I could listen for words or phrases that “sparkled,” like we say sometimes in leading lectio divina prayers with Scripture. I paid attention to those questions being asked, especially to whether it was a question that required an “I will” or “I do” or that one tricky questions that is an “I do and I will.” I thought about the way some ask me to confirm something I already believe and do and some ask me to commit to work toward an ideal in my way of working and living, something I hadn’t noticed in that same way before.
Putting other papers down in the service helped me actively worship during the installation, something that isn’t always possible in some ways for worship leaders. I picked hymns for the day that were some of my own familiar favorites. We started with “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” I needed the book for most of this one, but it was still one that flowed off my tongue quite easily. Before the sermon we sang “I Will Come to You,” a newer hymn written by David Haas in 1991 and published by GIA, a Catholic liturgical music source. I know this style has its lovers and haters, but this song has come to be my new favorite for all the spots I might usually pick “Here I Am, Lord.” It’s all God’s promise, all God’s word, and doesn’t make me rush to the strong declaration of “Here I am!” It let’s God’s peace rush over me and sends God’s Spirit to accompany me. I love it. I don’t have the verses memorized, but I can sing “Do not be afraid, I am with you./ I have called you each by name. / Come and follow me, I will bring you home; / I love you and your are mine” without reading the words and those words alone brought me to tears. Lastly, we finished with “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” one I can and do sing without the book. This is my song. Yes, I giggle at the Ebenezer part, and the “interposed his precious blood” is more gory than most of my theology, but if I could have only one hymn the book this would be it. Actually, I wouldn’t need this to be it because I have it memorized, so I can pick another. Anyway, the third verse is everything to me. It is my prayer. It is my statement of faith. It is my hope and trust. I put the book down to sing it from my heart.
I put the paper down so that I could look at the congregation that had called me, the representative of the presbytery that would be my colleagues in ministry, the extended family who supported me, and the immediate family whose lives are changed because of the call I heard and asked them to follow. I put the paper down so that I could experience this installation, the “official” start of ministry in and with Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, with my whole body, mind, and spirit. I put the paper down and it was a blessing to me.