Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scary Thing #4

We're moving down the list of 10 Scary Things I Have Done Since My Husband Died, getting to the scarier . . . 

4. Became a lay reader at my church. 

I don’t know what divine Providence has kept me off the stage. I like the concept: you dress up, become someone else, tell a story. But innate shyness or unusual common sense saved me from what probably would have been yet another level of frustration and humiliation. 

In our own race, we all got ribbons: Gary, Dan, Bernie, Debby
Still, I’ve not been afraid to make a fool of myself. When Dan and I were runners, I was the first to sign up for a local footrace. I did OK, placing in my age group; after that we would both sign up and Dan would do really well, coming in first in his age group, and I would not embarrass us, earning a smaller medal for a slightly later arrival.

When women were finally, belatedly, invited to become lay readers at my church, I volunteered. It was owed to me, after all, but more important, I wanted to do it. All my life I had been aware of select men in the congregation who took turns, one or two of them every Sunday, to move smoothly, flawlessly, around the Episcopalian altar. They actually read very little but rather assisted the priest, handing him the wafers and the wine just when he needed them, standing in precisely the right place at exactly the right moment, in a silent liturgical dance. 

I like to dance, too, though I'm better as a runner, and I was taught as a girl to help, so I went ahead with this ministry, nerve-wracking as it proved to be. Even after training, my first few months on the altar were suffused with anxiety: I would touch something I shouldn’t, would not be where I was needed, would leave an unforgivable gap in time and space, would, finally, in my ignorance, spoil the sacred ritual for everyone. 

I forced myself to do it, rising at 5:30 to go over my notes for the 8 a.m. service, walking through it in my head, reminding myself that my church is full of friends and I hadn’t yet set my alb on fire with a candle or spilled red wine on the white summer frock of an elderly parishioner, as our chief lay reader says he once did. 

Still, instead of bring me closer to the Eucharist, not to mention God, lay readership first had me focused on the details, not the concept, a flaw I’ve suffered from in many areas of life. But when you’re closing the altar rail for communion, and the decorative end piece of the damned thing comes off in your hand, it’s hard to remain spiritual. 

Yet I stuck with it, once again surviving the risk of looking foolish. I pushed myself, got to the point where I could relax a tiny bit and focus on the prayers. Now at 5:30 a.m. I find a prayer that I will say during the service because, as a lay reader, I can do that. Ultimately, serving wasn’t so much learning a dance as a new language, moving over the months from inarticulate, to hearing my mistakes as I made them, to communicating. People say they like to listen to me; maybe they're just being nice. But when our rector told me that he appreciated celebrating the Eucharist with me as lay reader, it was, simply, one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my life. 


  1. So Deb, I'm a frequent Lector at the noon Mass at Holy Name, and I'm a Eucharistic Minister as well, and since I have been doing this for years, I no longer find it frightening. I find it helps before reading to ask the Holy Spirit to read through me....as Fr. Richard once told me, what's going on is prayer, not performance. Of course, he sings with the voice of a (tenor) angel, so he's not one to talk!

  2. Debby, I hope I'll eventually reach a comfort level as a lay reader. I still find it stressful but I also love doing it. Eventually I'll learn the dance well. It's encouraging to hear that you struggled as well - you seem totally in charge up there.