Just back from my last Holy Thursday at the Chapel + Cultural Center. Or at least my last one in a “behind the scenes” capacity anyway. I think of all the things I’ve accomplished during my time at the C+CC, helping the parish streamline and simplify their Holy Week liturgical observances may be the one in which I take the most pride.
Five years ago, when my crew and I stage-managed my first Holy Week observance there, I calculated that we moved eight tons worth of chairs, tables, risers and other furniture in a veritable merry-go-round of room re-configuration, all in support of an insanely labor intensive Agape dinner on Thursday, dramatic pageant on Friday, and Vigil Mass on Saturday. By the time we got to Easter itself, the most important day on the liturgical calendar, the day of rebirth and resurrection, our core volunteers and staff were absolutely spent, physically, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.
Over the next couple of years, the parish priest and I worked with our liturgy committee and parish council to find ways to make the process less cumbersome. Our signature metrics for all changes we contemplated were: is it simpler to implement? is it more elegant (not in the fancy sense, but in the well crafted and orchestrated sense)? will it allow the maximum number of people to participate in the worship experience without having to leave to do menial labor in the middle of the service? and does it help us all to be in the right frame of mind for each of the liturgies?
Tonight’s Agape Supper absolutely met all of those criteria. There was no stress. There were no angry parishioners. There were no arguments about food service. Literally everyone in the building was an active participant in the service. People had a satisfying, healthy meal before receiving the Eucharist . . . not a vast, gluttonous pot luck pile of carbs and fats as had become the tradition in years before we implemented our changes. The service was quick, elegant, and true to the spirit of the day, with the washing of the feet of the volunteers at the heart of the liturgy, a simple ritual that demonstrates how we can care for each other, and how we can put service at the heart of our ministry.
Tomorrow night’s Good Friday service will be similarly simple, as will be the Easter vigil, as will be the Easter masses. I’m proud to have played a role in helping the parish reinvent its traditions in ways that are more rewarding to all the participants. Worship doesn’t lend itself to ruts. Reinvention and freshness can be crucial to a faith community’s sense of reverence and dedication. And you really can’t go wrong by keeping such things as pure and simple as possible, letting the message resonate more than the pomp and pagentry do.
It was a good evening. These are things I’ll miss about the place.