In almost every parish I have served, there has been an 8:00 am, Rite I, spoken service. The crowd usually is not that large. Because the service is spoken, it tends to be very quiet and to be the shortest service of the day. Those who are attracted to the service usually like the language (We use “thee” and “thou” language and the service has a more penitential tone.) Others like the brevity of the service – appreciating both going to church and having the rest of the day free. While others like the service because it feels more contemplative and centering.
Though the service is always pretty quiet in whatever Episcopal Church you choose, what I have noticed about the 8:00 am crowd at Hickory Neck is that they tend to be not just prompt, but early. Every Sunday, at least five minutes before the service begins, everyone is seated and is silent. Up until this past Sunday, I found the practice unsettling. On Sundays, I am usually amped up, and ready to jump into liturgical leadership. As an extrovert, I am chatty, and am used to some lighthearted conversation before the service starts. So the silence immediately before the service feels discordant with my pent-up energy.
But this past Sunday, I remembered a complaint long ago from a fellow parishioner at the Cathedral where I became an Episcopalian. She used to complain that the beginning of the service was not meant to be happy hour – she was irritated by the chatter all around her when all she wanted to do was kneel on the prayer cushion in front of her and enjoy a moment of silence before the service began. Even the bulletin had a comment at the beginning that reminded people that we should respect others’ desire to begin our worship in quiet contemplation and centering prayer. Though I appreciated the guidance, I never really “got” it – until this past Sunday.
The beauty of five minutes of silence before worship is that you can let go of all the stuff on your to-do list. The beauty of the five minutes of silence before worship is that you can let go of the pain, worry, anger, or stress that is ever present and present yourself humbly before worship. The beauty of the five minutes of silence before worship is that you can listen to God instead of talk to God. As a celebrant, I do not know that I will ever be able to use those last five minutes to center myself (I tend to arrive much earlier at church to find that centering time). But as one who facilitates worship, I have found myself greatly appreciating the gift of those five minutes for our parishioners. I could use a good five minutes today to just listen. In the noise of mass gun violence, terrorism, racism, poverty, and suffering, I am a bit out of things to say to God. Instead I would rather kneel in silence today and give humanity’s and my own brokenness and sinfulness to God. What might you offer to God today in that silence? What do you imagine you might hear in that silence?