I had the privilege of worshipping with another congregation last Sunday; a Pentecostal congregation of mostly African-American women. Coming from the mainline church tradition, where everything proceeds in an orderly fashion following a theme, I find Pentecostal worship revealing and freeing. And being able to be a worshipper rather than a leader is always a gift to my soul.
The call to worship set the tone. The preacher, standing and kneeling in front of the carefully draped Communion table, invoked the Divine presence with every fiber of her being. Her passion instantly transported the congregation from the flurry of Sunday morning preparation to the throne of grace.
We sang, we clapped, we heard the Scripture portion; exactly what you expect in church. But it was the conclusion to the sermon that latched on to my soul. I won’t try to offer a summary of the sermon; preaching in this tradition doesn’t fit an outline. But at the end, as she reflected on the old hymn Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, the preacher focused on one line “O for grace to trust Him more”. As she recounted the ways in which we needed to trust God, we sang underneath her soaring words, “O for grace”.
O, for grace! We pastors, especially those of us who are trying to build the church of the future, are trying nearly everything. We go to seminars on the next new thing in worship. We read every article we can find on church renewal. We try this strategy and that. We spend sleepless nights worrying about staffing and funding the ministries that embody our mission. We are an anxious lot, prone to overwork and depression. If, as Phyllis Tickle said, we are engaged in a giant rummage sale of church practice, we want to be the ones who find success at the bottom of a pile of discards. We believe that the stakes are high and we do not want to fail.
O, for grace! Grace in all the meanings of that word! O to not trip and fall (literally or figuratively) during worship. O to know the right thing to say at the church meeting when someone gets snarky. O to be able to face the Sunday morning rush of details with peace. O to be the human being that this congregation needs to lead them. O to have that supernatural insight that sees a way to get through to someone who is stuck. O, for grace to trust God more!
And that’s why my middle-aged, Yankee Congregationalist self needed to hear a preacher from a very different tradition this week; because what I need is not more self-help books, or an interesting scholarly lens through which to view the Scripture, or another study of religious attitudes among the “nones”. I need grace. I can’t even trust God on my own power. I need grace. And I need to keep asking for it, over and over and over until, exhausted, I am ready to receive God’s presence. And then, it’s up to God.