Six years into retirement, one might think that I had lost many of the habits of the full-time cleric. Last weekend proved me wrong. While holidaying, we took the time to attend church on Sunday morning. It was a lovely little church in a charming setting, with a small but friendly congregation. So far, so good!
I was puzzled to see that the liturgy as mapped out in the bulletin that day was to be a mash-up of two different rites. Trying to please everyone? Who knows, because what happened was a reasonably straightforward use of a single rite. The priest (who I assumed had put together the day’s liturgy) blithely ignored most of what was printed in the bulletin.
Without going into a lot of detail, let’s just say that I was disappointed in the service. My spouse heard me sigh several times during the long rambling sermon. The liturgy stopped and started several times, while the celebrant appeared to be either trying to find his place or deciding what to do next. My “trainer mode” clicked into full ON, unasked and unwanted but apparently unavoidable.
I meant this post not to criticize someone else’s work (he might just have been having a bad day), but rather to reflect on my reaction to it. Being critical this way doesn’t help the experience of worshiping, but it seems that it doesn’t take much for my critic persona to emerge. When I was in full-time ministry, it served me in good stead at times, because I was the usual object of my own criticism.
At a course on clergy self-care some years ago, the leader told us that clergy need to find their own means for spiritual feeding. The traditional triad of prayer, bible reading, and worship work well for lay-people as spiritual disciplines, but less so for clergy, because they are too closely tied to our professional lives. Since retiring, I have spent most Sundays in the choir rather than pulpit and altar. In that time, I have found it increasingly easy to worship wholeheartedly in our parish church. Even so, at times I find myself worrying about liturgical details that are Not My Problem. Also, other people’s sermons can at times trigger “trainer mode”.
Those things came back in spades last Sunday. I am left wondering: will the “professional preacher and presider” in me ever go away? will I ever really be able to relax and just participate in a service of worship in the spirit in which it is offered? We’ll see.
In the meantime, even after six years out of the saddle, I know that I haven’t quite let go of the priest-persona. The other question is, of course, whether I want to do that. But that’s a question for another day.