Jury Service, Church Duty

Jury Service, Church Duty September 17, 2009

I hate to say out loud that I officially feel I’ve had a run of bad luck lately, but at the moment I am lacking the appropriate theological words to describe my life.  Case in point: this week was my first full week back at the office after a three-month sabbatical.  To begin the week I had the privilege of responding to the invitation of Montgomery County to spend Monday languishing in the jury lounge at the Montgomery County courthouse in sleeping in churchRockville.

Though I usually take my responsibility as a citizen very seriously, I confess I was fully prepared, if necessary, to cry hysterically, talk to myself, pray out loud, or whatever it would take to be excused from jury duty (and I am hereby determined to acquire a clerical collar for future use in situations like these).  I just couldn’t bear the possibility of serving on a jury when I have just again dipped my toe into the rushing stream that is Calvary Baptist Church and fully anticipate being swept away very soon. 

I am happy to report that this tale all ends well, as I was excused from jury service after a day of sitting.  But in between fervent prayers to be excused, my hours of waiting offered time for some, if not deep, then at least (mostly) coherent, reflection.  Here’s what I noticed.

Showing up for jury duty is kind of like attending an unfamiliar church service. 

It’s a little nerve racking to find a brand new place I’ve never been before, follow the directions I printed out from the website, and find a parking place close enough to walk.  Since I’d never been to this particular court (church) before, I ended up having to walk around the building to find the correct door.  The signage was fair, but it was all so unfamiliar.  Finally, I found my way to the right place.  At least it looked like the right place. 

So there was the anxiety of arriving in the right place on time, plus I felt the whole pressure of at least appearing that I was doing everything right.  I felt it necessary, in other words, to look like serving jury duty (attending church) is a regular, and joy-filled, occurrence for me.  I hoped that I could pull off the illusion that I was totally comfortable fulfilling my civil duty, as any upstanding citizen (devoutly religious person) would be.

There were rows and rows of seats (pews), almost like a movie theater, and a couple hundred people all sitting there looking vaguely uncomfortable.  Nobody knew each other, so despite the fact that we all made it to the same place that morning, we all sat there pretending to be thoughtfully contemplating the deeper meaning of civil duty (relationship with God).

Soon, the head jury organizer (pastor) got up to welcome us.  She enthusiastically told lame jokes and tried to make us all feel comfortable in this strange situation (no parallel here, just exactly the same—including and most especially the lame jokes).  At the end of her welcome she reminded us that we were there to do something VERY IMPORTANT, that exercising our civic responsibility and supporting our system of justice was an investment we were making in the preservation of this great democracy (invocation . . . ).

Next, the lights dimmed and a very helpful video began, in which we learned exactly what jury duty was, the difference between criminal and civil cases, and why we should not get our feelings hurt if we are not selected to serve (sermon–using cutting edge media on a screen–on the very same Sunday that you are approached to serve on the building and grounds committee).

After that, the jury organizer lady made an impassioned plea for needy foster children of Montgomery County, to whom we could donate our service stipend of $15.00 (offering).  Everybody pretended to listen with great animation and thoughtfully consider the pros and cons of donating either part or all of the whole $15.00 to the Generous Juror Fund.  Then we all pretended not to look around to see who was filling out the form and who was too greedy to donate their $15.00 to the children of Montgomery County.  Then some people probably thought bad things about the people who appeared not to give.  Not that I know that for sure. (Again, offering).

Next, we all sat around bored (no comment)

Some people went walked to the front to speak to the jury organizer lady (prayer with the pastor).  During the rest of the time (service) some of us surreptitiously pulled out our novels or checked our BlackBerrys, all the while attempting to look engaged, concerned, even enthralled with the very idea of embracing this opportunity to engage in the great judicial system of Montgomery County (the Church of Jesus Christ).

When the jury organizer lady finally got up and told us the docket was clear and we could all leave—thank you very much for your important contribution to promoting and supporting the judicial system of our great country (benediction)—I could hear sighs of relief all around me.  People gathered their things, smiled politely and anonymously, and ran for the door.  After all, it was past twelve, and the lines at all the restaurants around the courthouse (church) were probably way long already.

All in all, I found the potential parallels between jury duty and attending a church service startling and, well, rather alarming.  I think perhaps those of us who create worship for others might do well to remember these potential pitfalls and make sure attending a church service is a little more meaningful than showing up for jury duty.

I have to say, one whole day in a room with 200+ people and not one conversation was ridiculous; I hope that never happens here at Calvary.  But, I have to say: while I was listening to her speech about the critical importance of civic duty, I did happen to notice that the jury organizer lady had a really cool haircut . . . .

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