The word "liturgy", we were told in seminary, means "work of the people." (At least that's what I recall on this perfect, Summer, Sunday afternoon...)
This weekend our congregation welcomed Shea Reyenga to our pulpit. Shea grew up at Trinity. Even as an elementary school student, Shea would take his turn reading scripture in our main weekend services. People would -as people do in a church- take notice of his confidence, reading ability, and "presence."
He and his family moved to the Fort Worth, Texas about five years ago. We've stayed in touch.
So, about half way through his first year at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, I sent him a note and asked if he would want to come back this Summer and preach at the church where he grew up. He was the preacher at all four weekend services.
Shea did great. Amazing delivery...obviously a scholar...with a passion to see the church fully alive with a radical degree of devotion to Jesus Christ.
As I watched and listened to Shea, as I heard the people buzzing in the hallways between services, I was struck again by the fact that preachers are grown up by the church. I'm not sure all lay people understand this, but their gracious, patient, encouragement when we are starting out...is crucial.
Lay people at Walkerton and Door Village and Wanatah Faith and Lebanon UMC all endured my best efforts, when I was starting out. They were gracious. Didn't point out that the big words sometimes got in the way of the message. Didn't note that Jesus preached simple messages using every day illustrations...from every day life...and I could have easily left the quotes from Barth and Tillich back in the study.
I remember one Summer Sunday morning at Door Village (just outside LaPorte, Indiana), when the small sanctuary was like an oven. Just out of IU, I was preaching in a suit and tie. Finally, beaten by the heat, I looked out and took off my jacket. Told the men, "Okay, guys it's so warm you don't have to sit there in a suit and tie!" I thought I was being brilliant... truth is I was the only man in the room silly enough to even try wearing a suit and tie on that Summer morning. They knew...they already knew... and they were waiting for me to learn the lesson.
Listen to pastors and they will tell you about a Sunday School teacher who stopped them and told them, "I see a preacher when I look at you." Listen to pastors and they will tell you how they watched a youth director or pastor and began to learn the rhythms of ministry...the necessity of both faith and courage if you are to lead people in the name of Jesus.
Lay people...congregations...grow up preachers just like a gardener plants and tends tomato plants. Raises sweet corn.
Shea will learn this...more and more. His ministry will be, in large part, a product of all the Sunday School teachers and laity and youth directors who have poured love and faith into his life.
It isn't just liturgy that is the work of the people: the making of preachers and pastors is also the work of the people!