some years ago i made a choice about which i felt slightly guilty. i decided to not vest for our weekday services of daily morning prayer.
as cool as the tippet looks over the surplice over the cassock, as festive as my draped doctoral hood looks, i decided that for me to vest for morning prayer unintentionally would discourage something that i deeply wanted to encourage.
i hoped to convince parishioners that leadership in worship was not privately-owned property, held and jealously guarded by the ordained. i hoped that parishioners would find that discover their freedom to lead... and would take advantage of their discovery.
but i felt slightly guilty. i was sure that visiting clergy, joining us for morning prayer, stole disapproving glances as i led the service sans vestmests. i was sure they thought i was not affording our God or our liturgy the reasonable modicum of respect they both deserved. or perhaps they thought i was merely lazy or sloppy. since i do tend toward irreverance and sloppiness anyway, it was very easy for me to project such judgments of the visiting clergy, whether or not such thoughts were entertained.
nor was it only from other clergy that i expected such judgments. however, fortunately, those parishioners who are more emotionally invested in liturgical correctness than i never attend daily morning prayer with us, for scheduling or other reasons. so i managed to make a habit of not wearing a habit, my slight guilt remained, and i persisted in my hope.
this morning when i walked into the nave to prepare for worship, a parishioner stepped before me and said, "why don't i lead morning prayer this morning?"
this is a man who, just last year, added participation in daily morning prayer to his growing list of spiritual disciplines, and has found the practice satisfying and nourishing. yet a quiet man. a reserved man. not one who ever seeks the stage. and i was so delighted.
as we moved leisurely through the prayers, i felt carried along by the current. it was very luxurious. there was also a personal pleasure in being part of the group, just one of the pack, which is less easy for me to feel when i'm responsible for leading the pack. but the deepest pleasure was that of sharing this man's experience of stretching forward, stepping out into new territory, trying on a new hat. not exactly the same feeling as when witnessing one of your daughters sing a solo or read her own work at a poetry recital, but a cousin to such a feeling.
as i walked away from the nave toward my study, i thought about whether he would have stepped forward this morning if he thought that officiating at morning prayer was a formal thing, requiring cassock, surplice, tippet and hood, the privately-owned property, held and jealously guarded by the ordained.
and i realized that there was another piece to the pleasure i had felt in morning prayer this morning: the total absense of my habitual guilt.
the lord be with you