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Are leading and worshipping compatible?

A cartoon of Homer Simpson's brain with little room for anything but sleep and donuts.

In the summer, I came across a post from The Vernacular Vicar which essentially described a difficulty in being a Priest as he (Fr David Cloake) saw it. Namely that its really hard to both worship and lead others in worship at the same time.

At the time, there was a mixture of reaction in me as I read. There was part of me that feels and expects that it should be possible to both worship and lead others in worship at the same time. Indeed, one might argue, that to truly lead others in worship one must also be worshipping. On the other hand, I knew precisely what he was talking about. The elephant in the room for many leaders of worship (whether ordained or otherwise) is that when you are planning and then trying to lead your people through the journey of the worship, conscious of newcomers and guests, let alone children, keeping one eye on the clock, and another on whether dear ol’ Flo has pocketed her wafer rather than consuming it again, it’s very hard to retain a sense in your heart of worship and the presence of God.

Of course, a big part of the answer as David notes, is to find our worshipping life elsewhere. Rhythms of retreat are important on both a daily, monthly and annual cycle. If we are to be priests and leaders, we must be concerned for our own spiritual life. Otherwise what are we modelling to our congregations? Let alone what resources are we serving up within the worship that we construct and then lead? Is it hot crunchy bread or stale soggy toast?

And yet… and yet… it doesn’t fill me with joy to leave it at just that. I struggle to accept that one cannot worship while leading others in worship. To be fair, right now, I don’t often grasp it. In a new environment as I am, I still feel like I’m being careful where I put my feet or place my book. Things are not yet comfortable in a way that means I don’t have to think about them, and thus have room to think about something else… like God! I still feel like Homer when he complained ‘everything I learn something new it pushes old stuff out of my brain’.

But occasionally you grasp it – I know times when I have been able to do both. The beauty of being able to worship liturgically is often that you’re taken on a journey yourself and while the whole pathway may not mean much more than ‘I know I have to get this group of people from a to b to c’, sometimes you get surprised by one of the milestones along the way. You read a prayer or an invitation or a statement and it hits you anew, the view looks different, God comes into view again.

I don’t know… thinking aloud and trying not to let this elephant in the room go unnoticed. So what do you think leaders of worship (whether ordained or not)? Can you worship and lead others at the same time? Is our act of service in leading others an act of sacrifice as well since it will mean we cannot enter into God’s presence? Do we stand and hold the door open for others? Or are we expected to lead the line into the building?

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