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Frustrated Pope Francis

At the recent Buskers’ Festival here, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. A busker put all the energy he could muster into his show. A crowd was gathered. But they gave little to no energy back. There was a bit of unenthusiastic clapping, and, yes, a little engagement. But, as the show progressed, the busker got more and more frustrated. For a while, I thought this was all part of his act, his style.

But, in the end, I realised his expressions of exasperation were genuine. He ended, after half an hour, without the usual call for money donations – basically just saying, well that’s the end of the show – I usually get more response – packed up, and walked off.

When buskers say, the more you, the gathered crowd, give to me, the busker, in terms of energy, the more I will be able to give back to you – that is not simply time-filling patter, a “liturgical” statement said only because it’s in the “Busker’s Missal”. The buskers’ patter that is used by most buskers (like the liturgical statements shared across time and communities) is the result of repeated reality worn smoothe with regular use.

The energy-given-energy-received statement is an important reality in presiding. And in preaching and teaching. Worship is not a passive reality – where the congregation passively consumes what the leader presents [movie-theater style]. Worship is a community engaging together. And making real connections is essential [addressing “each other” with heads in books or looking at screens is the opposite of what I am talking about here].

I have taught in contexts where people appear to have no real engagement with what is being explored. I have led services where someone appearing distracted in the gathered community becomes the source of my losing energy. I have preached where clearly I am not meeting where someone is really at – and it drains the vigour from my homily.

We never just sit in the pew. Even our silence is a community reality as we, together, are still. Full, conscious, and active participation in worship is the goal for all of us who gather.

What do you think?
What is your experience?
As worship leader?
As pew-sitter?

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6 thoughts on “Buskstration”

  1. Jonathan Streeter

    I lead multiple discussion groups each week (not in a religious setting) and I know for a fact that the meetings where people come in ready to engage (even if they are worried, upset, angry, etc) are MUCH more fun and energetic than meetings where people are silent and disengaged. In 16 years of practice I have learned that — like your busker — I can not inject energy into a crowd, I can only draw energy from them. I often wondered if this was the case with preaching … now I know!

    1. Yes, Jonathan. The flip side of this is the preaching tradition which monotonously reads from a full printed text, the preacher barely looking up to the community – if I’m in the pew, I feel: just send me the text by email and move on, please. Early in my ordained ministry, I had the experience of preaching where they still lived in the discovery-of-electricity age: in the evening, the switched off all the lights in the building except for a spotlight on the preacher. I had no idea if I was being heard by anyone – for all I knew, they had all sneaked out in the darkness! I did not know this was going to happen, and I said, when I preached, it would not happen again. I have lectured at tertiary levels and find the difficulty the tradition of no engagement. Blessings.

  2. Just to pick up on one little snippett… the heads in books bit; it strikes me that sometimes a serivce feelis like having a choreographed relationship with a book (most likely a reflection of what I’m actually doing or failing to do). Maybe time to put the book down, stumble along a bit but be present in the room. Jonathan.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. I try and push along the spectrum from liturgy-as-prescriptive to liturgy-as-descriptive. If you want to reflect further on this, I encourage you to look here – including the video. Blessings.

  3. While at church I till to be of service eg: if someone has fainted I will quietly attend to there needs. It happens often… Last Sunday at a church I attended, the worship leader was teaching the young children about temptation. She had a group of around 8 children aged between 3 and 4 sitting at a table at the front of the church and she was going to give them a marshmallow each with instructions if they didn’t eat it straight away they would recieve another.. She was having trouble opening the bag of marshmallows so seeing this I left my pew and offered to do it for her. Anyway at church Ialwayslook out for an opportunity to be involved somehow. Sometimes I’m told no your help is not needed. But mainly I’m thanked which gives me a sence on being involved. Blessing Ruth

  4. I’d agree with this, very much. Each Sunday I lead two services with approximately the same number of people but, of course, different people. I don’t use a manuscript for preaching and it is interesting to me how the sermons differ and sometimes go to different places depending on the congregation’s reactions and personalities.
    I often think it’s a shame most people are reading their prayer books during the eucharist; I am certain it would be even more powerful if they were.

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