Monday, February 1, 2010

Sunday Surprise: The Impact of Blessing

First Lutheran Community Church of Port Orchard hosted its first "Celebrating Faces" worship service Sunday, January 31. The intent behind the service is an intentional outreach to give thanks for people who serve in particular roles in a community--offering a particular message, music, encouragement and hospitality. The emphasis toward regular worshipers in the congregation was personal invitation to colleagues and friends. The 11am worship service on the last Sunday of the month will focus on a specific vocational track to share in an offering of thanks. The January 31 service emphasized health care workers. As outreach has not been my specialty in over 11 years of ordained ministry, I didn't know what to expect from the results of the efforts of numerous volunteers and my preparation and vision casting. Even though my expectations for the gathering were limited outside of dedicated work and hospitality, I was surprised that the greatest impact among those in attendance appeared to be the individual blessings of health care workers.

Blessing was not in my original worship planning. As I pondered what would make this service distinct from other worship opportunities at FLCC, all I had planned was slightly changing the sermon and offering some different music. Though I have yet to find another congregation that is offering a "vocational outreach service," I did learn that the PCUSA and UCC has designated Sundays during the year for awareness, thanksgiving and advocacy. The UCC had a Health and Human Services Sunday, and the PCUSA has some worship resources related to health ministries. These resources sparked some creativity, and a litany and blessing/laying on of hands were added to the order of worship. A sign language interpreter also signed two of the songs during worship.

I confess, I did not preach a great sermon during the 11am service. I was too tight worrying about details during the service--and I became distracted and tense during the sermon. I was too focused on self, rather than the faithful work of the volunteers gathering this group together--there had to be at least 20 volunteers along the way who were always positive about the project. This was a Holy Spirit gathering and I didn't need to worry. I sat down after the sermon, disappointed in my delivery. Then I realized (duh) that this service wasn't about me, but the sharing of thanks and the blessing of God. When I invited the health care workers in the congregation to come forward for blessing/laying on of hands, people started pouring forward. At least 20 people came, and Pastor George Larson and I shared blessings for these health care workers and their healing service for people in their daily work.

This is the fourth service in my 5 months at FLCC where I have presided over a specific group blessing during worship: school children with their backpacks, Affirmation of Baptism, Blue Christmas and now "Celebrating Faces." The desire to be encouraged and blessed was something I didn't see coming--the blessing was easily the most powerful part of the worship service. I am reminded how easy it is to be discouraged in life and that with prayer, thanks, hospitality (we offered a free meal, among other hospitality details), appropriate touch (laying on of hands), and an opportunity to connect with God and others, people can be affirmed in their value in God's world and given the strength to face their days. Though I've never been completely sure about where the greatest impact in any worshiping community lies, the impact of God's blessing repeatedly grabs my attention.

The congregation, volunteers and I still have much to learn about this outreach project--where will it go from here? What can we improve? What can be celebrated? I think we could all agree about the presence of God and the impact of the gathering. My hope is that this outreach can be easily passed on to the next pastor and that the volunteers continue with their insight, passion and initiative.


  1. Hey Joe (Hendrix, baby!),

    First, the sermon was good, so you are right not to worry about it. Your 8:00 version came up at the 9:30 Adult Sunday School quite a few times. Trust me, your sermons get discussed, often before I've heard them! It always amazes me what happens to the proclamation once it leaves our vocal cords, the connections it makes on the wings of the Spirit! Rest assured that it was well received. Whatever distraction and tenseness you felt went unnoticed by us (mostly!). Chalk it up to those damn spotlights!

    Second, the blessing through the laying on of hands was indeed powerful. Even for those of us merely observing. We need more of this.

    Finally, a suggestion and a question.

    Suggestion: How about the possibility of a congregational member (members?) giving a short testimonial as to how a particular vocation impacted their life? For example, during the service for health care workers, someone could have told how a nurse (or whatever) made an illness (or whatever) more than merely a matter of healing (or whatever). I might actually be willing to say something short during the service for law enforcement!

    Question: How narrowly or broadly should we define each vocation? For example, I 'teach' at the Buzz on Wednesdays - am I an 'educator' for the purpose of these services? I don't really think so, but just thought I'd ask.

    Keep up the good work, Pastor!

  2. Thanks for your affirmations, Tracy.

    I am certainly one of my own biggest critics. I am relatively confident in how God and I can work together to make a Gospel proclamation. My attempt in this post was to convey the serendipitous Holy Spirit reminding me that the work of the Spirit is not confined to my sermon or to the details I arrange--which is actually part of the point of the healing of Bartimaeus. The disciples hadn't planned on his presence, and they didn't even consider that he was supposed to be there.