In pre-pandemic times I knew how to answer the question, “But if you’re always leading church services, when do you worship?”
I encounter the Holy Spirit in the preparation of the sermon, and even sometimes in the prayers and hymn selection. The insight surprises me every time, like a little awakening, and I am grateful and challenged. But while that part is largely a heart and mind encounter, as a pastor I worship God with my body at the same time the folks in the pews do. We are just doing it differently. I too listen for the Holy Spirit moments while I preach, for the words to be carried away from the page, to connect the Word with my life in ways that I could only describe as beyond me. I just do my listening while standing in the pulpit, with everybody looking at me, preaching my heart out. It is worshipful to me, to get carried away in the sermon. Or perfectly controlled, but knowing that it is hitting the most needed note. There are weeks when it feels off, of course, and feedback from others on how I’m doing. The way other church-goers experience worship is not publicly evaluated as mine is, but there are enough powerful experiences to keep me going through the weeks that feel “meh.”
That was what it was like “before.” In this day of pre-recording worship resources including the sermon, by the time we get to Sunday I have somewhat forgotten what I recorded on Thursday. If I am re-preaching an abbreviated version of that sermon into a not-very-powerful microphone for outdoor services, as I have done several times this fall, trying not to project or raise my voice, my facial expressions hidden behind a mask and my hands encumbered by both the microphone and the clipboard to which my notes are attached, it is not worshipful as much as it is an endurance test. There is no way to unselfconsciously lose myself in this pandemic preaching reality.
The interaction with faces and energy of other people is key to worshiping-while-preaching, in my humble experience. Not into a camera. Not distanced and masked. I’m not advocating for doing anything differently than that right now, not at all. But I just mean to say, this is not worship at its best for me either. I understand that it is not the same to watch a service online as it is to be in the room with others who have been faith community for you. I miss preaching to you there too, that’s all. I thought you should know that it’s hard on me too.