There as a dear lady at Grace Church, back when Grace met in a mausoleum, who brought altar flowers every Saturday night. She picked them from her garden or she gathered them as wildflowers, and always they were beautifully arranged. They brightened up the mausoleum and it was her role in our worship. She just took it upon herself, but that act was a sweet sacrifice that brought the work of the people a little closer to the altar.
One thing about Church Planting, whether in the mausoleum, or now in the elder care home, was that there was no way to just farm out the little details of church to “church supply” companies. There are too many things that just have to be hands-on because we’re making it up as we go along.
Its been remarked lately, that our culture is far removed from our food. We don’t know where it comes from, or in many cases what’s in it. But the same is true with the stuff of our worship. Bread and wine just appear, because someone dropped by the church supply store and bought it. Flowers show up like magic, and even special holiday flowers are merely an opportunity to pop a designated five bucks (ten? I don’t even know) in the plate with a special note, and poof! they appear.
How many of the non-ordained readers know who buys the altar bread or where, who arranged the flowers or even what brand of wine is used at the altar?
In church planting, it can’t be that way. Sometimes the wine actually comes from someone’s cupboard (like the Sunday both father and I forgot to bring the wine and one of the residents darted (well, they don’t really dart, but you get the idea) back to his apartment and brought back a bit of his favorite table wine. The guy that saved the day was on top of the world… moreover, he got the opportunity to offer what he had to the worship of Jesus.
In the Old Testament, God didn’t designate someone to run out and pick up a few groceries so that the people could worship. The people themselves provided the stuff of worship. Animals for sacrifice became the festal meal between God and man. They knew where their sacrifices came from. It was the opportunity for man to rely on God, thank God, and take an active role in worship. It was another way to keep elegant worship from becoming performance art.
I posted recently that bread at St. Elizabeth’s comes from my kitchen. A parish member brought our most recent bottle of wine. Last time we needed candles, two members of the parish showed up with candles (so we’re set for a while in that area). We don’t have people whose ministry is to run to the church supply one-stop shop. Most of our folks don’t get out much at all. But its good and healthy that the things of worship are brought in by whoever is able to get to the wine shop, or whoever has an oven to make bread. The altar guild lady is a resident, so is the guy that co-ordinates the readers. The musicians are parish volunteers.
There aren’t many of us at St. Elizabeth’s but the percentage of us who participate in the nitty-gritty of worship is high.
And I’m thinking about all of this, because lately the altar flowers are coming from my garden. After all, the residents don’t have gardens. In fact, they love to divvy up the flowers and take them home afterward. And I think that’s pleasing to Jesus, in the same way that sacrificial meals in the Old Testament meant that no one went hungry, that food wash shared among the community. Its not a sacrifice if I bring flowers for the altar and then take them home with me at the end of the day, that’s just driving flowers around town. It is a sacrifice if I choose the best of my garden to give to Jesus and then as his representative let the folks who need a little outdoorsy-ness and cheer take those flowers home.