This has been my first Holy Week since I retired.  And it’s absolutely bizarre.  After some thirty years of planning and leading worship (and all the extra planning and sermons for the special services during Holy Week) I got to choose what services I participated in and where I worshiped.  I only led one (public) service all week on Palm Sunday.  I did the major offices of Matins and Vespers (mostly) at home.  I attended a Maundy Thursday service at an Episcopal Church.  I attended an Easter Vigil at a Lutheran Church.  I’ll probably say Matins in the morning at home.  It’s actually nice just to be there to worship.  Although, after some thirty years in the field, it’s pretty much automatic that you are critiquing every service you attend.

Maybe they shouldn’t let clergy attend services led by others!

But I find myself thinking that every three to five years all clergy should be required to attend someone else’s Holy Week and Christmas services.  Not everything was done the way I would have done it.  And that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing!

First of all, things were a little messier than I would have done them.  I’ve gotten behind the idea (though I have not put it into practice) that baptisms are probably more powerful a symbol of new life if they are done by emersion.  My friend, Scott, did the anointing for baptism and the renewal of baptismal vows using his whole hand in a large bowl of oil, spreading oil on both sides of the face (as well as making the sign of the cross on the forehead).  It was powerful.

I have to admit, I didn’t want to go up and have oil smeared all over me when he offered the opportunity.  I might, another year, having had time to process what he did.  My friend Joe did the traditional footwashing.  Before I retired, I’d changed to a handwashing in my congregation.  Partly it was because it was hard to get volunteers to have their feet washed (most women want to wear pantyhose and no one really wants to take off their shoes and sox).  Partly it was because we don’t wash our guest’s feet any more when they visit (and we do wash our hands before we eat).  When everyone in the congregation happily washed another’s hands and dried them the first year I tried this, I was sold.  Particularly as we did the liturgy of the word immediately after around a potluck meal to celebrate the Last Supper and the giving of the “new” commandment.  It just made sense.

But Joe made a good case for doing things that were uncomfortable for us in serving God.  And he got fully half the congregation to participate in a very lengthy (but effective and powerful) footwashing.  And then he added a procession at the end of the service I’d never seen before.

On the whole, I probably like the way I used to do things more (duh!).  But it stretched my thinking.  And I might well want to do some of the things Scott and Joe did in the future.

But even if I do find myself evaluating services I attend, it’s still a real blessing.  It’s not that I don’t worship when I lead services.  But my focus is usually divided.  Part of me is worshiping.  But part of me is thinking about what needs to be done next – trying to be prepared to do things well and also to anticipate and deal with any problems that might come up.  I don’t know that I will ever be fully present in worship.  But I think I am able to be more present when I’m not responsible for what’s happening.

And it’s actually nice to have choices.