One thing I learned from my mother, the hospice nurse, is that chaos never goes it alone. Chaos is seasonal, and the full moon has that reputation for a reason. Ask any emergency room nurse (ignore the ER doctors–they’re sweet, but only the nurses know what’s actually going on.)–nothing brings out the chaos and the outright weirdness like a full moon. Or the holiday season.
In the church, the same is true. Is it Christmas? Batten the hatches–the boiler will probably die. Is the bishop about to visit? Then your alb, which you always put back in the same place every time, will mysteriously vanish on you. Is it Holy Week? Then the copier will most certainly give up the ghost, just as you must print All The Bulletins in 2 days. And at least one parishioner will probably need a funeral by the time Easter-week is out.
People new to working in the church are unprepared for this phenomenon. Perhaps because it has few parallels (outside of a MASH unit, and there are few carryovers from the church to a MASH unit). A friend of mine was lamenting to me that he had plans for such an organized Holy Week–bulletins all printed 2 weeks ahead, services all planned, everything all finished–only to discover that the day before Maundy Thursday, the rector wanted to change the order of something. Cue the usual mad panic.
I’ve been working in churches now, in one way or another, for about 14 years. Here is what I’ve learned:
All Holy Weeks are stressful. All of them are chaotic. All of them will go sideways at one point or another. People, for whatever deep, primal reason, go through transition around these times.
You cannot prevent the chaos, you can only survive it.
And really, that’s pretty much the case for ministry in the Church as a whole. It’d be great if the Church could be predictable, if it could always act like it’s supposed to and hold to its boundaries and always conduct itself like a community of spiritually and emotionally mature adults.
It, however, doesn’t do that. And instead we’re left with what we have: an institution full of fallible people. People who frequently panic, and confuse brick walls for tunnels, and act out and reverse themselves, and fall apart, and do everything except what the gospel calls us to.
However, that’s also the glory of ministry. I, for one, have little interest in a predictable church, or a church where people always have things figured out.** I want the church to continue to be a haven for the confused, the restless, the broken, and the disenchanted. Church works best as a refugee camp, not as a country club.
To that point–St. Paul’s Holy Week started off a bit early, when a parishioner died suddenly and we hosted his (large. complex.) funeral. Everyone from all over Kansas City came. The choir he founded sang. The three foundations he started collected donations. The Roman Catholic priest his family insisted on led the rosary the night before, Fr. Stan and I did the service, and an ELCA pastor did the committal at the graveside. It was a gorgeous service, and went off beautifully, but behind the scenes, from a logistics standpoint, it was a waking anxiety dream. (Literally. The mayor and his entourage walked into the packed, standing room only church just as the opening hymn was starting. I HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT THIS.)
But what made me happiest was not when the deceased’s partner commented to us that it was the service he would have loved, and it wasn’t when wave after wave of Catholic Kansas Citians came up to receive communion from me. It was when I ran downstairs to stick a sign on our decrepit elevator declaring it broken. Our usher for the day greeted me, “Ok, Megan! I got it!”
It was Jack. Who started coming to our parish when he was sleeping on our front steps last summer, and now works in the food pantry, was baptized on Sunday, and is the proudest church usher in the history of ushers.
Who better to welcome the elite of Kansas City into the church than Jack?
Welcome to our messy camp here, friend. We got you.
**Full disclosure: I have to repeat this to myself each time the church makes me angry. Which is often.