Sunday, February 17, 2008

Reading 101

I have a distinct discomfort about reading at church.

This uneasiness is not unlike the uneasiness I grew to feel about singing alone in church even when I was a Lutheran. Used to be - many years ago now - that out of necessity I could serve as cantor for the psalm or serve as an assisting minister at worship "on the fly." If someone was needed at the last minute, I could step in - and I often did, with little or no reservation.

Then in my later Lutheran years I began to feel a bit self-conscious about it. If someone was needed to sing a thing for worship, before I'd just agree to do it I'd look around and see who else was there that could likely do a better job. I felt, after all, that it was important that our worship be as beautiful as it could be. It was an offering to God and for it we must only bring the best we have. So especially in my last years as a Lutheran, I did alot of begging off. When it came time to complete the annual "Time and Talent" forms, I stopped checking the boxes for "Lector" and "Assisting Minister" because there were oodles of folks in my parish who were completely capable and who did a fine job with these things. So, in those late-Lutheran years, I checked the boxes on those less visible roles: Altar Guild, baking Eucharistic bread, singing in the choir, serving on a committee, and bringing coffee hour refreshments.

Very shortly after I became Orthodox, my family arrived at church early one Sunday, as is our carry-over custom from Protestantism. DearHusband was off doing something important and our sons and I were lighting the candles in the church. Our priest came and asked me to read the Hours before the liturgy - I was horrified! What did I know about reading the hours - or reading anything for Orthodox worship? I was new here. I wormed my way out of it by politely declining, telling him that I'd hustle to find someone who knew what they were doing, and I promised that I'd get my questions about reading the Hours answered and be prepared to read them the next time he asked. The spirit was willing, but the flesh had absolutely no clue about how to do this right or well.

Shortly afterward, of course, I did read the hours at church, but I made sure I had someone who actually knew the whens and whats of what was to be read close by, so they could direct me to the material I was supposed to read. "That wasn't so hard," I thought as I finished. And of course it wasn't - there was barely anyone in the church when I started reading, and it wasn't until I was finished and liturgy was just about to begin that I turned to see that the church was actually getting pretty full.

Whenever I read at church (whether it's the epistle on a Sunday morning or a little tiny Aposticha verse on Saturday evening at Vespers), I always feel sort of intimidated and thrilled and humbled and nervous all at the same time, the combination of which sort of makes me kind of sick to my stomach for those couple of minutes. While they aren't bad minutes, necessarily, they make me look forward to the time when reading at church will be more natural for me, as it seems to be for most others who read at church. Perhaps it's OK to not get too comfortable with it. Still, it's a certain self-consciousness I'd like to overcome - hopefully this will happen in time.

So how does one work on becoming less self-conscious?


DebD said...

I'm afraid I won't be much help. I have found that I've become much more self-conscience in the last few years. I think part of my issue is that I'm in a much larger church than I am used to, but still, the thought of reading in church is quite frightening to me.

Mimi said...

I'm no help either, my voice trembles if I have to read the Psalms during Confessions. Your gift sounds wonderful!

-C said...

Not so wonderful, I'm afraid. The first time I read the Epistle at liturgy this past fall, YoungerSon told me in the car on the way home, "you picked a crummy note for the Prokeimenon, Mom." And in fact, I had. But I was so worried about other stuff for those moments that I couldn't worry also about how to fix it mid-reading.

And this past Sunday when I read for the second time, I don't think I did any better than the first time. But perhaps when I'm less self-conscious ...

Dixie said...

LOL! I thought you really meant "read"...not chant!

I have to "read" all the time mostly for vespers or other non-Sunday services--but I don't ever "chant". Our church is small and our attendence for other services than Sunday can be very low...sometimes only one or two other than the priest.

I think one learns through practice. In another year or'll be over your self-consciousness. (But I still don't like to read...not so much because of self consciousness but because it distracts me from the worship.)

-C said...

At our church, reading IS chanting! Our Thursday night Vespers service is likewise very small, and I often attend this service. Most everyone who comes actually reads/chants here, and this has been a blessing as far as just learning through doing goes.

You're probably right. In a year or two I'll look back at this post and laugh (hopefully).