Alarmed May 15, 2007

There are days when I feel absolutely certain I have the weirdest job on the planet. Okay, I know that is probably not technically true, but you do have to admit that I have some pretty strange experiences at work.

Yesterday was no exception.

I was preaching, as I usually do on Sunday mornings. And I have to say that this was one sermon I really liked; I felt like I’d really wrestled with the text this week and that the text spoke to me in a fresh and illuminating way.

(FYI: this does not happen every week.)

The text is about healing, but not so much like healing in the dramatic, miraculous sense of the word. The story is about wanting to be healed, and how that’s so very different than waiting for God to serve up whatever it is we want on a silver platter.

So engaging was my experience with the text this week that I decided (well, I hoped, actually) that the congregation, on the off-chance that they also would find the text engaging, might need an actual, physical way to respond to the message. So I planned an anointing–with oil–for those who felt they’d like to respond at the end of the service.

If you are in professional ministry, you might know exactly what this means: if you plan a strange ritual in worship you need to have a few “plants”–that is, people who know what you are doing and will eagerly participate so others will know what to do.

So, being the worry-wart that I am, I told a few reliable folks in worship that I had something special planned for end of the sermon and to please go ahead and participate in the ritual so others would know what to do.

I’d give clear instructions at the appropriate time, I assured them.

So worship began. The music was beautiful; the scripture inspiring; the prayers deeply heart-felt. And . . . I was really feeling it during the sermon. I mean, I felt like the congregation was engaged; I felt like the text was speaking; I felt like we could, as a group, respond to the call of God for our community.

(And, at the end of the day, isn’t that an essential part of genuine worship?)

It was right toward the end of the sermon (I preach from a manuscript, so I know when the end is imminent, even if the listening congregation doesn’t . . . ), when, just as I said the word, “Jesus . . .”

. . . the fire alarm went off.

Let me explain that, in our 150-year-old sanctuary, the fire alarm is really, really loud.


I didn’t know what to do. Really. I mean, with the experience I’ve had I’ve learned about such things as: leaking baptisteries; arrests in worship; broken copiers; . . . but we’ve never (as long as I’ve been here, anyway) had a fire drill . . . during worship.

As we gathered outside on the sidewalk in front of the church waiting for the fire department to arrive, I started to be alarmed at how many said things like, “Well, we never know WHAT you’re going to do, so we weren’t sure at first if you had planned this . . . ?”

(I responded with: “Yes. I am SICK and TIRED of people falling asleep during my sermons . . . “!)

We never got to finish worship . . . in the sanctuary, that is.

But the grace of yesterday was: everyone got out safely and there was no fire after all (just some of our kids who pulled the fire alarm); the weather was heart-achingly beautiful (70s and bright sun) so when we all finally got outside it seemed like a party; we spent at least 30 minutes milling around on the sidewalk, letting our neighborhood know that this big, stately old church IS alive; and we got some great time to chat with our visitors.

I thought, all in all, it was the essence of healing . . . healing of community. It seemed to me that everyone left buoyed by the experience.

Everyone, that is, except me.

Instead, I was alarmed . . . deeply alarmed . . . at the prospect of explaining to our church administrator why we didn’t get around to collecting the offering . . . !

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