Good Friday. The faithful had gathered, about 45 people, seated in a circle surrounding the space saved for the cross. We had all come for a time of reflection, a time for contemplating the mystery of the cross, the mystery that somehow through his death Jesus conquered death, that through his weakness his strength was revealed. We had come knowing silence would be a part of our experience together. We were ready.
The silence began. Everyone was settling in. The quiet came.
A few minutes into the silence Alem stood up and said that the Spirit had spoken to him and he wanted to say a few words. He spoke about the day, the sadness of the church and each of us at remembering Jesus’ death, our grieving, our responsibility for his death and the hope we have in the resurrection. All of what he said was fine. And then he sat down.
And the silence began in earnest.
Five minutes. Ten minutes. We had now been gathered for 15 minutes and people were getting restless. But they were ready to endure. A few late-comers arrived and joined in the silence, looking a bit confused, but willing to take part in this mysterious event.
There was sighing. Legs were crossed and uncrossed. One person left, presumably for the restroom, and returned. There were a few noises coming from the Atrium, but nothing we couldn’t ignore reasonably well.
I began looking at Alem, hoping to catch his eye to somehow indicate that the silence had been long enough. That the service should move on. But our eyes never met.
In my worship training I had learned that the one presiding had control of the service. The presider is the one to make sure that things run smoothly. I try to follow that practice, but have grown into a flexibility because of the circumstances in which I find myself, namely working with someone not trained the way I was trained, someone whose first, second, and third languages are not English. I also find myself constantly discerning the role of presider versus Senior Pastor, mentor, teacher, guide. However, ultimately things are my responsibility.
I also am aware of Alem’s wonderful sense of the Spirit guiding the proceedings at hand and his deep commitment to following what the Spirit is telling him at any particular time, especially in worship. So, I assumed the Spirit was moving him to allow our silence to continue.
I was also beginning to worry. Didn’t Alem realize he was the presider? Our pattern always is that the one who is not preaching is the presider. I had mentioned it to him, more than once about this particular service, even. I was worrying about the people so willing to take part in the worship experience that had been prepared for them. This is not what they had expected.
Alem moved and there was sense of hope in the circle. Maybe now we will begin.
Nothing. I wondered what the three Augsburg male students were thinking and I saw the Augsburg women whisper and smile at each other. Surely this isn’t what they expected, and they were so faithful to come to worship on a Spring Friday evening.
The debate began in my head. Do I walk over to Alem and say something? Do I undermine his role as presider and Spirit-led man of God and begin the liturgy myself? Do I let this go on until he figures it out? How long can we endure? And, if I am the one to begin everyone will think this was my plan and my fault. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry.
Twenty minutes. Twenty-five. Thirty minutes. Finally I decided “the heck with the Spirit, it is time to begin,” and so I led the Prayer of the Day. A great relief and willingness to pray - out loud - was evident.
The adventure was not over, however. A few verses into the Passion Reading a loud chorus of “Mack, the Knife” from Three Penny Opera, complete with piano, began in the Atrium. Two worshipers ran out and quickly quieted the music.
The service went on from there. Things went as planned although the remaining moments of silence were noticeably shorter than they would otherwise have been.
We ended standing around the cross, which had been carried in, knelt in prayer before and surrounded with candles, with a triumphant singing of “There In God’s Garden.”
A brief silence followed. The worshipers shuffled out. In silence. And were gone.
I slept fitfully Friday night. I was angry at Alem and kicking myself for not having jumped in sooner. I spent the weekend preparing myself for the barrage of complaints that were inevitable on Sunday morning – and never came. In the midst of all that I was also grateful for the graciousness and openness of the worshipers that evening. Any other group on any other night and it could have been a complete disaster.
In the midst of my angst I also could see the great humor of it all and have had several good laughs telling the story.
We had suffered, each in our own ways, and we went our ways ready for the resurrection celebration to come.
Alem and I will talk today, the first chance we will have had.
Alem and I have talked. And have had a good laugh together. He was expecting me to lead the service and was waiting for me to begin with the prayer. He had been trying to catch my attention to indicate that it had been long enough, but our eyes never met.
On the instructional side of things, he really appreciated the long silence; it was the first silence at Trinity that was long enough for him to really get into it. He also said that our Eritrean family was very happy. The long silence is a part of their spiritual history and practice.
So, this was a learning experience which I will continue to reflect on in some shape or form for and with Trinity. And I expect there will be other insights that come with time.
For now Alem and I have come up with a code for getting each other’s attention if we are uncertain about something during worship.
Original Journal Entry date: 4/13/04
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