I started off the day scared. No, not scared — terrified! I was facing a new experience and, even though I had been trained, I was terrified that I would screw it up. Does that sound familiar?
Our church has a tiny congregation…30 to 35 worshippers on an average Sunday. Such a small group makes for a tight-knit bunch (by necessity), but it also means that there are fewer people to do the same jobs as would be shared around in a larger congregation. Plus, a couple of our most active families have recently moved away, making a huge gap in the volunteer pool!
Ever since becoming an Episcopalian 38 years ago I have admired the laypeople who have assisted with the worship services. I have listened carefully as they led the Prayers of the People each week, and watched intently as they served the communion wine. But I knew deep inside that being a LEM (lay eucharistic minister) was not a place where I would ever serve. I wasn’t part of the “in crowd”, nor would I ever be invited in.
Then came the massive schism in our diocese, and everything turned upside down! Gone was the comfortable (albeit often oppressive) routine as part of a large congregation. All of a sudden there was no “in crowd”, just a church family that shared the load, everyone helping in some way, many taking on roles they had never considered before. Ushering, Sunday School, vestry, coffee hour, altar guild, lay reader, and yes, lay eucharistic minister. All tasks needing to be done by a workforce of 35 or so people.
Which led me to today. I hope the entire congregation was focused on their prayer books while I led the Prayers of the People — that way they didn’t see my hands shaking as I held my own book.
And at the altar…my goodness! I just knew I would hand the priest the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, or would drop the goblet of wine entirely, or spill wine on an unsuspecting congregant, or drop the linen napkin into the goblet while wiping the lip between worshippers, or forget to say, “The blood of Christ” when offering the wine. So many fears, so much anxiety, so many prayers for calmness.
When the time came, my voice was a bit quavery at first saying the prayers, and I was awfully tentative handing the elements, but our priest is an excellent teacher and as patient with us adults as she is with her Kindergarteners during the week. There were no mishaps, there were even a couple of whispered, “You are doing great” blessings from my friends during communion. Friends also corralled my granddaughters while I was busy at the altar…and at one point I saw the little one sag onto a comfortable shoulder as she fell asleep in someone’s arms.
I won’t be scared next time. I hope to get better and more relaxed each time. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. She knows we are human, and made in her image, and gives us Grace. How can we offer less to ourselves?