In 1847, Ebenezer Davies, a visiting Englishman, was invited to preach while in Cincinnati. Later he wrote, “At the close of the sermon, having pronounced the benediction, I engaged, according to English custom, in a short act of private devotion. When I raised my head and opened my eyes, the very last man of the congregation was actually making his exit through the doorway; and it was quite as much as I could manage to put on my top-coat and gloves and reach the door before the sexton closed it.” Ebenezer Davies, American Scenes and Christian Slavery; A Recent Tour of Four Thousand Miles in the United States. (London; John Snow, 1849)
Americans have always been in a rush. Sometimes we notice ourselves hurrying through time; sometimes we are astonished to find time has gone past faster than we expected; somehow we are always surprised to discover that rush and hurry don’t make us more efficient, that speed affords less profit than we imagined, that we get a hint of some other value we might want, when suddenly we are forced to stop a moment.
I’d bet that most intentional Christians in their own places of worship have had a hard half year–hard years are a norm, even with joy and gladness interspersed. Congregational leaders have certainly had a hard half year so far—most are working for most of the time with fewer members than usual; at any given moment some were surprised by the former music director’s taking a new job in mid-year; some have not been able to raise up new leaders for essential ministries yet; all have kept up with hard work of getting their congregational house in order—learning how to plan for building maintenance rather than letting the building reach emergency needs first; learning how to become good stewards of the members’ trust in them; getting finances from a state of savings and funds in many coffee cans to a gathered, intentionally ordered unity of giving and resources, planning how stewardship and giving will reflect the whole church and provide for the whole church’s work in mission and ministry. The heaviness of the half year thus far might have made some feel anxious or pressed on them a sense of falling behind, but I’d be surprised if most meet and work in this way every month. Some leaders have been changed by taking up the habit of praying together at the close of each meeting; some leadership groups have taken on praying each for the members they represent and care for, in some order of grouped names each month. Praying for their work and the people they are keeping house for, changes leaders, gives them a vibrancy in the Presence.
Bishop Ronald H. Haines http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/79425_95945_ENG_HTM.htm has proved one of the five most influential people in my life. He was an extraordinarily busy leader, working steadfastly while under rather constant attack from many of his peers for his decisions, including his decision to ordain the first openly lesbian priest in the Episcopal Church while he was Bishop of Washington, D.C. He never sounded rushed or hurried, anxious or angry as he went about his work. I knew him in retirement. I asked him once why all these pressures did not affect him in that usual way. “You should ask yourself: what’s the good in that?” he said. “Remember: it took a long time for things to get into the state they’re in; it’ll take a long time to make them better. You can’t get to the end before you start, and you’ll never begin if you rush. Nobody can really think in a hurry. When I drop things and I get angry, I know I’m going too fast.”
Here’s an interesting thing: It’s hard to hurry through evening prayer, especially if one is using a liturgical service like Compline. The rhythm and language of the liturgy opens time to reveal us as we are, where we are, when we are: always moving and breathing in God’s presence, in whom there is no rush or hurry that overlooks details, drops things, inclines to forgetfulness or defensive anger. True: we can’t keep from being American, from holding an almost instinctive impatience with whatever it is that holds us back from going fast and even faster. But we can grow more mature as Christians by practicing the virtue of patience until we find ourselves formed more closely as the people God can call and into whom God can pour increasing energy for worship, witness and service.
Your session, vestry, consistory, council, meets on a regular day of the month. Why not take time at the end of the evening on those days, throughout the rest of this coming year, and read Compline http://www.bcponline.org/DailyOffice/compline.html yourself, or some other service of evening or night prayer, wherever you are, joining your leaders in prayer and praying for them by name, once a month, as they do the work of leadership you have laid on them for 2013?