Hike to The Table...to sled?

The week leading up to this past Sunday was stressful, primarily because of public schools being repeatedly canceled due to the weather, and my studies and work at EMU (plus my wife’s similar responsibilities) not being canceled. One additional responsibility of mine was acting as worship host at The Table. This rotating, scheduled role requires the person filling it to 1) coordinate and attend a meeting related to worship planning, 2) develop an order of worship for Sunday, and 3) coordinate with people responsible for other worship activities (such as communion bread/cups/juice, Scripture readers, musicians, or delegation of any/all these things), to name a few. And these all happen before Sunday morning at 10:30. At that point, this person weaves all these things together in worship that tends to be loose-yet-patterned, and (hopefully) spiritually invigorating.

The weather over the past two months has added another task to the responsibilities associated with this worship host role: weather forecaster. The nature of our worship activities on Sunday morning are such that many things come together from many places to a building that is not our own, but is rented from the university. So when record snows start falling as they have, this presents a logistical challenge that is not easy to resolve in the days leading up to worship. Such was the case this past week.

While trying to get worship matters rounded up throughout the week, my daughter was out of school off and on, while predictions of massive snowfall over the weekend were projected as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. Various families that are typically central to worship planning were planning to be out of town (another complication). I had a late start to call a worship planning meeting that never materialized, and got the impression that many were already planning not to have worship on Sunday morning. Being the gritty Midwesterner accustomed to spirit-crushing winters, I wasn’t quite ready to call it all off.

But the snow started falling Friday morning and kept falling and falling and falling. I kept watching, wondering how to react to the situation. Finally, at 1 PM on Saturday, I sent out an e-mail to the congregational e-mail list, canceling “normal” worship for the following morning, but offering folks within walking distance the option to wade through the deep snow and gather at the Discipleship Center on campus for informal fellowship followed by sledding. My emotions throughout the week leading up to worship were mostly worrisome and anxious. I was worried about making a well-informed decision based on a large number of factors that were in formation throughout the week. I couldn’t simply call off worship as early as Wednesday, so it was a fairly constant task of keeping an eye on all these factors before finally making and communicating my decision on Saturday afternoon. Once this was out in the open, I felt relieved.

On Sunday morning, six familiar faces showed up, including my family & me, and even some guests who had been with us a time or two before. What I had originally intended to be about 30-45 minutes of Scripture reading and discussion flowed just over an hour. We even ran the sled down the hill on campus a time or two before heading back home for warmth and food. Our informal fellowship time was a pleasant experience with the few folks who gathered. Our discussion tended toward fairly conceptual, theological discussion in response to the Lectionary texts, which we took turns reading. I have to admit this is largely my own doing, as my style tends to be heavy into the cognitive-intellectual spectrum, while still trying to elicit experiential responses from the group. I hope it wasn’t too much for the group though, because a high percentage of the other people there were either in seminary or had been at one point. One of our visiting guests was a professor at EMU, so that might help my case for not going too “classroom” on everybody.

I knew even in the middle of the week, that if church was canceled on Sunday morning, it would be fine. So as things progressed and continued to be challenging all the way up until Saturday afternoon when I sent the announcement, I tried not to get too wrapped up into the anxiety. God was at work in me and in my connections with others throughout the week, nudging, comforting, assuring. Trusting in God’s work, being aware of it, and actively participating in it in situations like this is tough. But if done well (perhaps even not done well every time), these experiences can develop spiritual endurance and deepening faith and trust in God. I’m thankful to God for all the redeeming work that I now see (and what I still may not see), which was going on in the midst of a crazy week, and of course thanks to all the wonderful folks in the congregation who helped me develop a sense for what to do. Our decision-making process seems very similar, if not identical to, our worship planning process. I have further thoughts on process and structure, but that can wait for another post. Thanks be to God for such a great worshiping community!

Brian Gumm is an EMS intern for the 2009-10 academic year. He blogs hither and yon across the internet; here as well as at Restorative Theology.