All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. (Psalm 22:27)
Only two major disagreements linger in my memory from my time growing up in my home congregation. The first was over smoking in the church. The second was over worship. Or rather how we should gather for worship.
One camp wanted quiet and prelude music, only. They wanted to be able to pray and prepare themselves for worship. The other camp wanted to connect with people they hadn’t seen all week. They wanted to be able to talk and greet people as their friends made their way into church. This is how they prepared for worship, by caring for their neighbor.
The disagreement eventually made it to the council.
I happened to be just out of college and of course, immediately got elected to council. As a daughter of the congregation, the long-timers came to me, “In the sanctuary, people need to be quiet. All that talking, I can’t hear God.” The newer, younger members came to me, too, “If you can’t connect with others, then what is worship for? Isn’t loving your neighbor part of worshiping God?”
The “quiet” advocates countered, “That is what fellowship time is for.” The “talkers” argued, “Everyone does not stay for fellowship or we are teaching Sunday School or serving fellowship, plus I want to know what is going on in their lives, so I can pray for them in worship.”
These, and similar arguments went around the council table, back and forth, until Duane spoke. Duane had been the church’s treasurer for as long as anyone could remember. He was the only one who could figure out how to keep the church going, even though we were always in the red. Duane didn’t often say much in meetings. But, what he said at this meeting, I have remembered.
I think I had just made a great point for silence before worship, when he looked at me and said, “You know what I do before worship? I stay after practicing the choir anthem and I take in everyone arriving. Give thanks for them. And, then I turn my focus on God — all my attention — and ask God to prepare me for worship. And, God does. The noise and anything else falls away.
A “but”, started to come to my lips. Then, Duane looked at me and said, “God is in the talking and God is in the silence. We see, experience, what we focus on.”
Duane was right. And, he is still right.
But, it is hard, with all the distractions and changes in our lives and challenges to always keep our focus on God. To practice centering our lives in Christ. Worship, we hope, is a place we can come to escape the noise, the change, the struggles and for at least an hour, experience God without distraction. Know God’s peace.
It is also hard to imagine anyone could experience God in a way different than we do. How in the world could Ruth possibly be experiencing God while she is yakking away about her granddaughter’s softball game? Or Susie, find God in pure silence? Or that style of music? Or without visual images and symbols? Or with the right words and order? Or ritual movement to help God’s story come alive?
But, then I hear and see Duane, sitting across from me. Inviting me to grow as a disciple of Christ. To consider radical hospitality for my noisy neighbors or the joy my neighbor is experiencing from an element of worship I do not and give thanks they are there. But also, consider where my focus lies, for that is what I will see. For God is in and under and through it all. So, during those times I feel distracted or it is hard to know God is here, I pray, God, turn my heart, mind, soul and strength toward you. For what I seek, I will find. In what I treasure, my heart will dwell. Amen.
Lori C. Morton is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Sandpoint. She can be reached at First Lutheran Church, 526 S. Olive Ave.; by phone at 208-263-2048; or online at, firstlutheransandpoint.org.