Monday, August 07, 2006

Worship Leaders and Pouter Pigeons

First of all, my little powder pigeons, let me explain where I get that term of endearment. It is from my favorite movie, "The Producers," featuring the brilliant and inimitable Zero Mostel as a seducer of little old ladies. He calls one of his paramours his "little powder pigeon," or so I thought, until I looked it up years ago and found out that the pigeons in question were actually pouter pigeons. No matter, but I thought you ought to know. I stick with powder pigeons, because it's funnier.

When training worship leaders, it is the minister's job to make perfectly clear the expectations about how to dress for such an honor, and to brook no fuss about it. Set clear guidelines, provide them in both written and oral form, and for those who complain, firmly state that we're moving out of the old "come-as-you-are" approach to church leadership to modeling a more gracious and hospitable presence, which includes dressing up for church.

To light a chalice in pajama bottoms or anything resembling such is a disgrace. We should not hesitate to make it clear to all of our congregants -- whatever their age -- that they should dress nicely for worship leadership roles.

My mother used to say, "You don't ask the family what everyone wants for dinner or you'll be in the kitchen all day. You tell them we're having spaghetti, and to be at the table by 6. Period."

Clergy, you have authority. Use it. If you get strong resistance or acting out, use it as an opportunity to do individual counseling about the need to move beyond rebellion against authority into an attitude of stewardship. We do not show respect for the act of worship by dressing so comfortably we could be mistaken for a pajama party.

Worship leaders who show up to church looking like a rumpled mess after having been clearly instructed to wear a shirt and slacks should be greeted with, "Good morning, Ted! I was really looking forward to your reading today, but you're not dressed for it. Do you mind if I ask Bill to stand in for you, and we'll put you on the schedule for next week?"

Asking "do you mind" allows the person in question to say whether or not they DO mind, and if they do, you can ask them if they would like to get together to talk about it. Meanwhile, hold your ground about the dress code for worship leaders. We will never move beyond sloppy and careless aesthetic if we don't set boundaries and stick by them.

In Unitarian Universalist churches, where the theology and the liturgy can already be so loosey-goosey, ill-dressed worship leaders just adds to the spirit of "anything goes." I think in a church with a higher liturgy, you can tolerate more rumpledness, even as you're working to change the culture.

You know your people. You know the ones who are acting out a juvenile rebellion with their t-shirts and need to be firmly guided to appropriate dress, and those who are just clueless and require only gentle recommendations.

A cheery e-mail to all Worship Associates with general housekeeping tips a few days before Sunday are also helpful. For example: "Greetings, Worship Associates. The last several Sundays have gone very well, and thank you! This is just a reminder to be sure to get to church by 9:30, check in with me if you're a chalice reader, and make sure you're through checking the sound system by 9:45. We've done a terrific job the past month making our worship services a more reverent occasion. Thank you for preparing spiritually before you arrive at church, and for putting more effort into your Sunday attire. Both of these forms of preparation help create the more special spirit we have been aiming for. Blessings, Rev. Powder Pigeon"

And now I'm going to be a bit harsh, but I mean it:
Anyone who throws fits or stops coming to church because his or her minister tells him to dress up a notch for leading worship is not committed to church life to begin with. It is our job to keep impressing upon our people that church life is not about preserving our comfort and self-image at all costs.

PeaceBang, really grateful for her snazzy congregants.


Blogger revabi said...

I don't think you are a big harsh at all. I think you are calling them to a higher standard as a worship leader.

12:39 PM  

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