I led our service yesterday on the theme of 'late-blooming'. I will be 57 soon and my daughter will be leaving to go to university in September. I have a constantly niggling anxiety about what I will do next so thought that I could do with a bit of encouragement. I suspect that many of us construct services to meet our own needs.
My usual way of constructing services - and I only do a few a year, sometimes only one - is to think about it for ages, get a few ideas and download a few tunes, find a few poems and readings and then on the Sunday morning get up early and stitch it all together. It is a bit hairy but it works for me.
So by the time that I got to the Meeting House I was tired, feeling that I'd done half-a-day's work. My best performance was probably reading out the notices! I then welcomed myself and off I went. I had a few things that I needed to do - to make mention of our district which had a Songs of Praise later in the day that no-one could make. So I read what I had sent to them and had used the last verse of the hymn we'd chosen as words for the chalice lighting. We sung the hymn later. Then I felt compelled to mention the Japanese earthquake and had a very moving reading from John O'Donohue's book on Blessings about the need not to give in to helplessness.
The rest of the service was on the theme. I had periods of being tongue-tied - had I really constructed sentences which were so difficult to say? I missed a hymn out which people reminded me of at the end - so we sung it then. The last hymn that I'd chosen was unsingable so we read it. And I'd got rather a jolly version of Forever Young, the Dylan classic, by Mike Scott and Sharon Shannon, only it was too quiet and people struggled to hear it.
I closed with relief - not the most perfect of services - E for effort - must try harder next time! But the feedback was so lovely - someone said it was the best that she'd heard me do - either it was good or the others were pretty awful. People were moved by the idea that dreams are not restricted to the young and that we can be inspired by those we know and love. We don't necessarily get inspired by the good and the great.
And I was moved that by stumbling through a service on a theme that I was passionate to explore, which had such strong personal references, I could produce something that was perfectly me. And in being perfectly me, it was perfectly us, as people responded to my creation and made it bigger and better.
My way of constructing a service takes me from the general to a specific to the individual to our community - not sure if this is what I am supposed to do or if anyone else does it this way but it suits. I am always drawn back to the question - what does this mean for this community of ours? If it was just about the individual and their spiritual experiences I would feel that I had not completed the circle. Leading services in our own communities is a precious moment of community building - sometimes in the most unexpected ways.