And on the 11th day of Christmas, we address what to do when parishioners get their own ideas about using the pulpit--as a soapbox.
My lay leader, prior to giving the blessing over the offering on Christmas Eve Sunday, read what appeared to be one of those email rants about Christmas not being allowed to be called Christmas any more (even mentioned Jane Fonda, Al Franken, K Mart, and the like). I live in the conservative South, but I thought that even by those standards, the poem/diatribe pushed the envelope too far.
In previous weeks, I've made statements that we Christians are a little too sensitive, too—and that our job is less to complain about how offended we are with a "Happy Holiday" greeting than to actually take Christ's love to the streets. I do not think he intended it as a way of arguing-with-me-without-arguing-with-me via the pulpit, but his action has made me consider wether I have #1–too open a policy of what can be said and done during worship (incidentally, a liberal-leaning guy did something similar a couple months ago, and #2–whether I ought to speak to him privately about my misgivings. I think he was trying to be "religious" and did it awkwardly. My husband (who heard it) didn't seem to be too upset by it and thinks I should ignore it. I found it inappropriate.
For me, this is a very real dilemma: I don't want to control, but I must maintain the authority of the pulpit. If I'm too laid-back, then worship becomes a venue to vent opinions. I believe firmly in laypeople taking part in worship, but I'm second-guessing my approach. It's a new appointment and I'm following what's been done in the past, but after 6 months now, I'm thinking I need to have a "training" or develop a policy for anyone who assists in leading worship.
What do you think?
Well, some of the matriarchs haven't returned from the holiday yet, but we did hear from Peripatetic Polar Bear and Jan, who agree that your concerns are valid. Interestingly, they had distinctly different reactions—you may find that it depends possibly on your denomination and certainly on your liturgical practices.
These pronouncements are not really appropriate to a worship service that is crafted and planned by pastor and lay-committee on worship.
It sounds, though, like people want to be able to talk and to be heard. Are there other opportunities for that to happen? A sermon talk-back adult ed? A service or time of testimony? I'm actually intrigued by testimony these days. The book Tell It Like It Is might be a place to start. (I admit that I haven't read it but have heard enough of it from the author to say that reading would probably be useful.)
To resolve your problem, I'd take the solution back to the laypeople. Talk to the lay committee on worship. See how they feel. See if there's a way to put some boundaries around what happens in worship, without putting boundaries around laity's speech and testimony—as awkward as it might be.
I understand the authority of the pulpit, but if liturgy is the "work of the people" it seems that the resolution to and authority to resolve this problem need to lay in the hands of the people.
While most worshippers might have reacted like your husband, I think your concern is valid. Do lay leaders receive any training before they assist in worship? They should, if not. (And I'm referring to issues bigger than "Speak into the microphone and slow down.")
In the training, it's helpful to remind them of a couple of deal-breakers:
#1–Worship is about God, never about us. We might be personally moved by a specific cultural issue (be it Darfur or the fur trade), personally devastated by the death of a celebrity (be it Gerald Ford or James Brown), or personally ticked off by a rant-worthy pet peeve (be it "Happy Holidays" or the playing of Christmas carols before Halloween.) Nevertheless, it's never about our own personal issues. It's about God, and in particular . . .
#2–Worship is carefully and prayerfully planned along themes, lectionary-based readings, whatever the professional worship leader has prepared which is her job. For worship to be effective and authentic, it needs to flow.
The lay leader's beef might be valid, theologically sound, and in line with everything the pastor herself personally believes. But if it distracts from the focus of worship (God's Word, etc.) Then it's not helpful. For example, we once had a lay leader from Lebanon who used all her parts in worship (from announcements to the assurance of pardon) to talk about the plight of Christians in Lebanon, which is great—except it was the Sunday School kick-off day and we were focussing on something else.
Just because you are the liturgist (or the preacher) doesn't mean you get to hijack the worship service to sound off about a personal gripe. (And that's my own rant for the day.)
I'm struck with the thought that some people don't know the difference between a rant and a reflection, and what may be offered as food for thought may be received as force-feeding. Help people learn the difference, while acknowledging their need to express and share, and you'll be fine.
In the meantime, all of us who rant and reflect in our various blogs send our support and prayers. If you have something you'd like to share, please do so in comments!