Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Promise of Ministry I: Ministry at the Speed of Light

I have in fact arrived safely at the Fund for Theological Education Conference on Excellence in Ministry at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The reason that I have not posted anything since I've been here is because us returning fellows have been tied up planning liturgy at a rate practically beyond comprehension. There are nine of us returning fellows who were ministry fellows at the conference last summer, which means we successfully applied for a fellowship that funds a special project in ministry, (in my case this massive trip I have embarked upon). This year we have accepted the invitation to return hand help plan and celebrate the various liturgies that happen each day of the conference: morning and evening prayer with Eucharist on Sunday morning.

We had several hours of planning scheduled before the conference began on Wednesday morning and early afternoon. We would have had more time if some of us had not gotten lost on the way back from lunch, a situation made worse by the fire department sending us to the wrong seminary when we asked for directions! There are a few things that have made the planning process a bit frustrating from my point of view. First, very few people have had a liturgy class in seminary yet as that is usually reserved for the second or third year. I am in somewhat of a different situation having been thoroughly immersed in creating liturgy in my work with the ICPC and having studied sacramental theology with the Lindisfarne Community. The returning fellows have been placed in charge of planning and celebrating morning prayer and then helping celebrate evening prayer, but both projects become daunting when the vast majority of those responsible for them are unaware of their history, form, etc. The second frustration is that we have adopted a "liturgy by committee" approach which means that several small groups are responsible for a different morning each. There are many points at which such an approach can fall apart. It would be very easy for the diversity of the group to produce a liturgy so diffuse that it lacks meaning instead of providing a balance amongst myriad traditions. It can also lead to a lack of coherence when the diverse traditions are brought together in such a way that the flow of the service becomes broken and choppy. So far we have been able to avoid such a fate, but the process of developing the liturgy has sometimes felt more like a tug of war than a mutually constructive endeavor. Finally, the speed at which these services have to be produced belie the contemplative mindset they are intended to embody.

Last night my new friend Laurie, who is part of the group planning the liturgies, and I spent several hours putting the bulletin to bed and so were unable to get to bed ourselves until almost midnight. This morning we celebrated morning prayer and it went very well. I began the service with a Byzantine chant I learned in my chant classes at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline this past year. The strangest things come in handy sometimes. Each of the elements of the service was presented creatively, at a speed conducive to reflection, and with plenty of silence for contemplation. At the end, we picked up the rousing "Alleluia" we had sung earlier in the service and danced out the back. The service was prayerful in spite of the pace of its planning.

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