Those of us who have been "churched" all our lives have undoubtedly witnessed a lot of unintended disruptions to church services. Here are a few from my experience. Enjoy.
· Every July my church produces a children's musical day camp. For each production week the platform area of the sanctuary is transformed into a theater set. We tuck away the pulpit furniture and fixtures, then return them to their normal place after the final performance.
One Sunday just after a production week, the ushers came to the front during the morning service to prepare to collect the offering. I noticed a panicked look on their faces when they suddenly realized the offering plates were not in their usual place. During the prayer, there was a frantic scramble as we searched, then thankfully found the plates tucked away on the floor near the organ.
Whew. All was well….or so I thought.
A minute or so later, there was a loud squeak of surprise from one of our youth sitting in the third pew of the congregation. As she put her offering in the collection plate, she suddenly noticed there were two or three spiders crawling around in it.
· In the early 70s I taught choral music in a South Georgia high school. I was also part-time music minister at a local Baptist church.
The school's music building was a mobile unit located far enough away from the main building that the band director and I couldn't hear the bell ring when classes changed. The clock in the unit was unreliable, so we relied on our wristwatches to keep our classes on time.
One day my wristwatch suddenly quit. I didn't have time to get it fixed right away, so I carried my small, wind-up alarm clock in my purse for a few days. (Those were the dark ages of technology.)
The next Sunday morning I parked my purse at the far left end of the front pew before the service. After conducting the choir anthem, I settled onto the far right end of the same pew to hear the sermon.
A few minutes after the pastor began preaching, a loud ringing noise emanated from the other end of my pew. I gasped as my head jerked left, my eyes riveting on my purse.
The pastor paused; everyone looked around. I was so embarrassed I couldn't move--besides, my purse was too far away to reach discretely. I just slumped in my seat and prayed for the alarm to wind down quickly. Finally, I had to announce, "It's my clock," and we all had a good laugh. (I suppose everyone wondered why I had a clock in my purse in the first place.)
· I'm told that when I was a small child in Mississippi, my mother, who was church organist, arrived late for worship one Sunday. In the midst of the gathering congregation, she hurried down the center aisle towards the organ. Only later did she realize that in her haste to put on her sheer, voile dress that morning, she'd forgotten to put on her slip.
· As a young college student I was singing Haydn's Creation with an oratorio chorus in Louisville's Southern Seminary Chapel.
We had finally reached the big, dramatic climax of the piece. The choir was singing fortissimo, the instruments were giving it their all and the conductor was gesturing furiously.
Suddenly, a few pages from the very end, the baton slipped out of the conductor's hand, bounced off the high ceiling of the chapel, and landed in the second row of the center pews with a force that would have skewered someone, had they been seated there. He kept on going, but I think even Haydn would have been "surprised" by this ending to his composition.
· A small-town Georgia church I served as minister of music had more than its share of colorful "characters." One of them was a crusty, outspoken, but dearly beloved deacon, the son of a well-known senator.
During one revival service, I was sitting with the choir in the loft; this deacon was sitting against the back wall of the sanctuary.
Midway through the sermon, I glanced up to see several rows of people towards the rear of the sanctuary nearly collapsing with stifled laughter.
Apparently when our nationally-respected guest preacher had made one of his stronger points, the elderly deacon commented loud enough for people around him to hear: "Oh, (expletive), I don't believe that!"
· During a lot of my growing-up years, my family did church-planting in the northeast. My dad was pastor of several small mission churches, and was used to babies whimpering and toddlers walking around during his sermons.
Only one thing came close to unnerving him while he preached--the jingle bell shoelace holders one mom put on her wandering toddler's shoes every Sunday.
· These next three incidents are not exactly humorous, but they certainly are memorable!
· Standing in the choir loft of a Kentucky church I heard a slight disturbance in the middle of the congregation. The worship leader continued leading the congregational hymn despite the commotion. Eventually, however, it became clear that a church member was having a heart attack, and everything stopped as we focused our attention on her emergency.
· Similarly, at a different Kentucky church, I was sitting in the congregation, listening to a guest preacher's sermon. Suddenly there was a loud noise in the back of the sanctuary, and the preacher's lapel mic went silent. The sound technician had collapsed onto the soundboard. The service was permanently interrupted as an ambulance crew came and wheeled him down the aisle on a stretcher.
· During my teen years at a Michigan church, my dad was in charge of a funeral for a young man who had died unexpectedly. As the service was about to begin, the mother was so distraught at her son's death she fainted into the open casket, her upper torso sprawling face-to-face with the deceased.
· When I was a small child, my dad held a student pastorate in rural Mississippi. In addition to preaching and pastoring, he also led the choir and congregational singing on Sunday mornings.
On Sunday evenings the gospel hymns were led by "Mr. Green," an elderly farmer with very questionable musical skills, but a willing spirit. I don't remember ever seeing him wear anything but overalls, even on Sundays.
He also wore ill-fitting dentures that often came loose when he spoke or sang. I was always fascinated by how, several times during each hymn, he would use the upbeat of his conducting pattern to scoop his dentures safely back into his mouth.
· Once, at a beautiful outdoor wedding in Kentucky, I watched as a strong breeze totally blew away the keyboardist's music during an important musical moment. (There's only so much improvising a musician can muster effectively at times like that.)
· One Christmas in Georgia, our sanctuary choir was to present their cantata. The plan was that after the big "ta-da" ending of the music, we would light candles, lower the lights, and everyone would sing carols together by candlelight.
Earlier, I had asked one of our older basses, a husky, tall fellow who usually stood at the end of the top row, to be in charge of turning off lights in the choir loft as the candles were being lit after the cantata. The wall light switch was several rows down and a few more feet away from where he stood.
Apparently he was very anxious about this "very important" responsibility, because during the big climax of the cantata--a page or so from the end--he suddenly broke rank, walked to the wall of the choir loft and put his hand on the light switch. I guess he wanted to be ready early for his big "part."
· In a Georgia church, I was sitting on the platform as my pastor was preaching his Sunday evening sermon. I noticed his young son being silly with another boy in the fourth pew of the congregation.
Repeatedly distracted by the boys' boisterous behavior, my pastor finally stopped his sermon abruptly, glared at his son and announced in his authority voice, "When you're finished, I'll continue."
The boys were mortified, but his son managed to have the last word. Upset, he suddenly jumped up and ran down the aisle towards his mother who was sitting further back, shouting, "I hate you, Daddy!" (Try preaching effectively after that.)
· I didn't actually witness these last two incidents myself, but the sources are two of my good friends:
· One of my former pastors told me that during one Lottie Moon Offering season at his church in the early 70s there were several plastic "candelabras" displayed adjacent to the choir railing. (Many of you remember those. They were often used for fundraisers, with each glass bulb lighted to represent a certain amount of money that was collected.)
During the announcements at the beginning of the morning service, he was giving the mission offering update. Unfortunately, as he stretched to light the last bulb he somehow lost his balance and fell completely over the rail into the choir loft. (It took a while after that to recover his dignity.)
· One of my former choir members told me that she was once invited to sing for a friend's funeral. During the service, as she was singing her solo, the apparently very despondent funeral director went into his office and shot himself.. (A couple of snarky comments came to my mind upon hearing that story, but I decided it was safer to remain silent.)
If every minister were to write down all the disruptions we’ve experienced during well-planned church services and submit them to a publisher, there would not be enough ink to print them all—and we would never stop chuckling.
For ministers, disruptions come with the territory—they are part of the fabric of congregational life.
Henri Nouwen once said, “My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work.”
If worship planners and other ministers look closely at the disruptions that invariably occur, we will discover a treasure trove of unique opportunities for ministry.
See you in worship this Sunday - Naomi