The act of presiding within itself is nothing when separated from the people and relationships with and for which it is done. What does it say to a young couple embarking on marriage if the pastor only shows interest in how smoothly the service runs? The ritual itself becomes more important than those for whom it is being done. What is being communicated if the baby baptized or their parents and sponsors are left to make the next steps in the newly begun journey of faith without pastor or congregational members reaching out, encouraging, assisting, and supporting them? The words spoken over the child at the font are empty and easily forgotten if they aren’t made manifest in the community altogether helping to care for the newly baptized, rearing them in the faith. For a majority—both within and beyond the church—presiding is looked upon and believed to be the pastor’s primary, if not sole, job. In reality, presiding is only a fraction of what your pastor is trained and called to do. Given this prevalent misunderstanding alongside the chasmic disconnect I hear all too often between pastors upset about laity not respecting rituals and laity complaining about pastors not being invested in their daily lives, I wonder the affect this has on the church’s ministry and relevance.
This is something that’s been on my mind for awhile now—reignited each time I hear someone point out the disconnect. By no means am I suggesting throwing out the baby with the bath water, but rather we as ministers need to take a more honest look at how we approach presiding in the church and if it is being held hand-in-hand with building and nurturing relationships in Christ. We cannot hide behind our ornate vestments, pulpits and tables, or elaborate liturgies. Ministry does not happen in a vacuum—despite how sacredly sanitized we seek to make the church. It is more than just presiding; it is about being with people, it is about learning, listening, crying, rejoicing, laughing, cursing, praying—it is about truly living together, with and for one another. Perhaps it’s a silly question, but how do we take every day shared with those whom Christ has called us to serve and let our experiences and relationships together shape and enhance our pastoral presiding? Fitting with this season of Epiphany, maybe what I’m saying is that we clergy need to be more incarnational in our rites and rituals, in our presiding and pastoring. If we are to be the church not just in the world, but entirely for it, we need to look more critically and respond courageously to how we can do more than just preside.