The All-In-All of Worship
Updated: Jan 8
Some of you know my story:
Raised from birth in the Episcopal church, grew up an altar boy, was “that” guy who was called in to serve at 7:00AM for the 1928 service when the pre-scheduled person overslept, grew convinced that God was not in the church (or any organized religion for that matter), forsook it all, plunged head-first into a disturbing array of beliefs and behaviors which drew away from the God of my youth, surrendered to Jesus on a Central Floridian beach at 2:00AM on All Saints Day, evangelized just about everybody I met as a bonafide “Jesus Freak,” and returned the the Episcopal Church some three years later ready to take on that sleeping giant with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’ll never forget that day. I walked into Sr. Andrew’s Chapel, Boca Raton, Florida, on a mission from God. My mission: To do church right. When it came time to stand and sing, I’d be first off the pew. When it was time to kneel and pray, I’d be there, on the floor if need be, knees bent, hands clasped, and face all scrunched up like I really meant business. I’d memorize the Apostles’ Creed, fast before Communion, and make sure each movement of my liturgical choreography exemplified a certain soundness, appropriateness, and sensibility. And especially now - since I had been born again with Jesus in my back pocket - liturgy would finally be done the way it was meant to be - right!
But, on that particular day, there was this one man, up there on the front pew, who was doing it all wrong. I mean everything. He sat during the Processional, lifted hands through the Gloria, and recited the Creed in a robust volume that would have shaken the pipes off the organ and sent them running for Rome. I was horrified. He stood at the Prayers of the People, knelt hallway through the Eucharistic Prayers (only to stand abruptly at the Fraction and bow to the altar), took Communion in a fashion that was just way to jovial for my taste, and didn’t even sing the final stanza of the Recessional, but instead turned around and greeted those around him.
I know all this because I was there in the back - staring, glaring, watching his every move, like a liturgical paparazzi, utterly consumed with his outright disrespectful approach to liturgy, the Church, and, for that matter, perhaps even to God himself. By the end of the service I was fuming - so much so that I nearly missed it when the Priest made the unusual announcement about the “special guest,” seated there in the front row.
Now he’s going to get his, I thought. I leaned back into the pew, clutching my Bible across my chest, glaring vehemently.
The man was introduced as visiting bishop, the Right Reverent Bill Fry, a recognized leader of the renewal movement in the Episcopal church, a real rock star. Everyone in the place applauded and rushed to greet him during coffee hour.
A Bishop? He’s a… a Bishop? How can he be a Bishop? He did everything wrong!
A few months later I was reading in 2 Samuel 6:16, where Saul’s daughter, Michal was paparazzing her husband David, as he too was doing it all wrong, “going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” while dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. The writer mentions that Michal was no longer able to bear children as a result of her harsh judgement against someone who was expressing such authentic worship from his heart.
Needless to say, that was a game-changer for me. In that single, God-given moment, my entire liturgical ethos did a “one-eighty,” (and has remained with me to the day). Far from being merely an attitude adjustment (eyeballing inappropriateness on Sunday mornings), it has led me to look inward, examining my own devotion and my own worship before my own God.
Don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate solid liturgy and ecclesiastical excellence more than anyone else in the room - especially in our Priests and Bishop as they lead us through the Eucharist. And - yeah, to be true - I still notice it when people “don’t get it right” (both clergy and laity). But it doesn’t bug me like it used to. It’s not the all-in-all of worship.
The all-in-all of worship reaches far beyond pomp and circumstance, far beyond the "biff and boof’s" of the Celebrant who, like me, will never get it right, far beyond whether or not all the “t’s” are crossed and all the “i’s” are dotted.
That one man, up in the front pew, knew it. He had it right all along. To him, and to us. worship is a matter of the heart.