Sometimes you feel like going to church--other Sundays seem best spent in bed under warm blankets without the messy intrusions of worship and fellowship, though many of them are yet spent in church. Moreover, there are times you don't feel like leading (or preaching in) church or chapel or morning prayer, because you're tired or weak or timid or fill in the blank. Leading Sunday morning worship at the Beaver County Jail this morning was somewhere in-between the two for me, and I take no credit for somehow transcending the plain I-don't-want-to-do-this-today mentality.
I was hanging out late with friends last night, first in one location and then at home, and when we decided to call it a night we moaned and gnashed our teeth because only then did we realize it was two in the morning. I kicked myself (fig.) because I knew I had to be at the jail at 8:30--Idiot! You put off bed again! At that point Sunday morning seemed best a time for blankets and shut-eye and all of those lovely things, not clothes and driving and inmates and worship officiating. I resigned myself to the bed and I can't swear one or the other whether I pleaded with God for mercy in the morning.
Yet mercy came. I awoke early and with a start--first because I was sleeping light and/or God is gracious and second because I still haven't changed my alarm clock since "fall back" and I had the terrible sensation of Oh no oh no oh no, I slept through the church service I was supposed to lead. But then I realized--to my great relief--that I hadn't, and rolled over and waited for the alarm.
It went off, I got up and got dressed and drove to the jail, praying halfheartedly for the morning with pleas of "Lord, have mercy" but still wrestling with clinging strands of sleepiness. I'm over the initial fear of speaking in front of groups, at least at the jail, Shepherd's Heart and in homiletics class. So I need grace in the area of trembling before God as I go to represent him to his people, because this morning I was more or less going to get the job done. That's a confession, of sorts, I guess. Point being, I wasn't nervous about going into lead, but I did feel the nagging absence of spiritual gravitas as I headed into the situation. Lord, have mercy, I prayed.
Dudley was waiting for me when we got there--he was the preacher for the morning--and we went in and got the chairs set up and waited for the guards to bring the inmates down. They arrived from all the various housing units in a group and we greeted them and shook their hands as they came in to sit down. An inmate named Thomas regularly handles the music for us, so we let him pick out the CDs and songs to begin the morning with. In that moment I had a flash of inspiration to begin with a prayer, even though it wasn't in our prepared liturgy or regular practice from what I could tell from Dudley's actions (he's a regular on Sunday mornings, I usually work at the jail during the week).
I stood before those men and I was totally in the moment. I felt the full weight of my role as their worship leader and said a prayer that came from beyond me. I didn't have it in my heart or on my mind and surprised myself with the passion and conviction and holy words I brought to that moment. I became conscious of the fact that God was giving me the words to say and demonstrating his love for these men by sidestepping my lack of preparation and giving them gospel truth. The rest of the service I was fully present, whether in song, or in liturgy or in praying one-on-one with inmates at the end. God showed up and made church happen this morning--I am so thankful its success didn't depend on me.