True confession of a pastor: I love mistakes in worship
July 2, 2018
by Mary Wood Brown
I remember experiencing this special delight for the first time as a child. I was sitting across the sanctuary with my best friend, well out of reach of my parents’ discipline, when the organist bumped an especially loud and unexpected note. BLARRRT! The ice of our usually-formal service was broken… and we loved it! We tried to stifle our laughter, which only made things more deliciously hilarious.
Apparently we hadn’t been laughing as quietly as we’d thought. After the service, my parents gave me a stern talking-to… but that didn’t stop my new-found love for mistakes during worship.
That’s not to say we should make those mistakes on purpose. Worship is an act of devotion to God, and God deserves our very best. The choir rehearses; the acolytes receive training; the liturgist reads the Scripture out loud ahead of time; I study and write and practice and rewrite my sermon. We do everything we can to make sure this hour is worthy of our amazing God.
But still… mishaps happen. I almost light my hair on fire by standing too close to the Advent wreath. The kids spill the offering. I forget what comes next in the service. The sound system miscommunicates. These things happen, and when they do – what can do we but laugh?
Part of me delights in these moments because I still have a childish sense of humor. But another part of me gets an important theological reminder from these mishaps: that no matter how much we prepare we cannot control everything. In that spirit I reassure our new-and-nervous liturgists by telling them, “What’s most important isn’t that you do this perfectly; it’s that you come with a good intention, offering your best. There’s plenty of grace for any mistakes.”
Unfortunately, what I see so easily in the sanctuary I miss elsewhere. I forget things constantly – my daughter’s dance shoes for her class, my toiletries bag in a hotel room, my whole carefully-packed suitcase for a trip (yes, that happened). I do not delight in these moments. I get mad at myself.
But what I need to tell myself is: “What’s most important isn’t that you do this perfectly; it’s that you come with a good intention, offering your best. There’s plenty of grace for any mistakes.”
Jesus has called us to be perfect as God is perfect: in love (Matthew 5:48). Today, bring your best intention to love God and love neighbor… and when mishaps happen, laugh and embrace God’s grace.
Dr,. Mary Wood Brown is the pastor of Andrews UMC in the Smoky Mountain District