Liturgical Trainwreck

What haunts the dreams of a pastor? What gives a pastor a fitful sleep at night? I’ll come back to that. First I will say that when I was a waiter in Seward, NE at Valentino’s restaurant, I used to have nightmares about work. It would go something like this: I’m the only one working, it is closing time, and suddenly the whole restaurant is full. I have to serve everyone, and cook the food! Stressful!! I would have these every so often. If you think that is strange, now, even as an adult, I have dreams about being back in college, and realizing after several weeks that I have been forgetting to go to one or two of my classes. 

Okay, so, now back to the pastor thing. I have similar dreams–nightmares rather–about Sunday morning. In these nightmares which are really just stress dreams, any number of things can happen. In general, the service is a liturgical trainwreck. Either I am standing up there and can’t find my page in the Altar book, and it seems like I am flipping through pages for hours while everyone is waiting; or, I can’t get my vestments on, or I can’t find my vestments, or I can’t find my sermon text, and usually it is when a huge crowd of visitors happens to show up. These dreams seem to go on for hours. I grind my teeth, toss and turn, worrying and anxious about “many things” (after the manner of Martha, perhaps). The one thing I ought to be really worried about is the “one thing needful.” But I am so concerned about things going “just right” in my conduct of the service that I am haunted in my dreams about it going awry. Of course this never happens in real life. Or does it?

Yesterday my dreams became reality. The service was a liturgical trainwreck. Most people would probably say that they didn’t notice anything different, but in my eyes it was. From the very beginning I was a nervous wreck. We were going to process in during the opening hymn, which we haven’t done here much, so I was worried about that. As I’m standing in the back of the church, just as the pre-service music is beginning to come to an end, I realize that I forgot to put my sermon text on the pulpit! I had to run back to my study, grab it, and carry it up with me during the procession–huffing and puffing from being so darn out of shape.

Even before that it was stressful. Our wireless mic is on the fritz, so I spent about 5 minutes trying to get the stupid thing to work in the vestry. I never did get it to work, so I was worried about people being able to hear me on the video feed that is sent out to the nursing homes at 4 p.m. on Sundays. I had forgotten to mark my pages in the Altar Book, so I was flipping around the whole time trying to get to the right pages, and the pages on this Altar Book never, and I mean, NEVER stay down. I have to hold it with my hands all the time. I can’t stand these Altar books because of this very reason. They are TOO BIG! Preaching went okay, and so did the Sacrament. During the offering, I stood up at the altar like a fool for about 20 seconds before I realized that I had to get the offering plates for the ushers, who were standing patiently at the foot of the Chancel waiting. Then, after the Post-Communion Collect I announced to the congregation to remain standing for the closing hymn since we would process out, completely forgetting about the Benediction, which I then said, confusing everyone! It was just nuts. My mind just couldn’t handle it. But we got through it. The Word was preached, the Sacrament was given, and people were fed with Christ. But I take such pains to see to it that the service goes smoothly and when it doesn’t, it just irritates me to no end.

But now it is Monday, and I can relax for a bit. 🙂 I hope my brothers in the Ministry had a more relaxing day than I did.  


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Ph.D student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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5 Responses to Liturgical Trainwreck

  1. Chad Myers says:

    I can promise you that no one noticed. Or if they did, they saw one or two things, but dismissed it and haven’t thought of it since.

    Sleep easy tonight.

  2. To paraphrase the bumper sticker: “It happens.” As the website says: “LFMF: Learn From My Fail.” Here goes…

    Using the “Choral Mass” (DS5) a couple years ago, I forgot the Gospel Reading on Reformation Day. After the Hymn of the Day (which precedes the Gospel in DS5), I headed to the pulpit – just like we always do in the other services.

    Similarly, I once omitted the Bible reading in chapel (heading to the pulpit right after the office hymn).

    Once I forgot the Creed – since we were changing from DS1 to DS3 that week.

    Once it took me three times to chant the preface termination right, since it was not spelled out in the old altar book.

    Once I spilled half a flagon of (unconsecrated) wine on the altar.

    Once, I started reading from the wrong sermon (a page of the chapel sermon got left behind in the pulpit).

    Once, I left a table of communicants kneeling because I forgot to dismiss them.

    Once I began to dismiss communicants before giving them the Lord’s blood.

    At my ordination (upon taking over as celebrant), I forgot the little eucharistic prayer (from LW) before the Lord’s Prayer.

    But for the most part, I only screw something up really badly once. I guess these things make us more careful. I have had a froggy voice on many occasions, one time forcing me to speak the service. Hey, it happens.

    But as you have said beautifully, what really matters is Word and Sacrament. People are very forgiving of such “clerical errors.” I even crack jokes about them in the post-service announcements, and some of my members rib me about them.

    I would imagine every pastor has his share of “ecclesiastical fails” to tell.

    And I have also had those dreams of being enrolled in a class and realizing that I forgot to attend for weeks on end – and it is too late to drop the class. Sheer panic! What is up with that?

  3. We laymen praise God for faithful servants like you Pastor Beisel. God entered into His own Creation and continues to work through His servants, imperfect though they may be, using the created order to carry to us and be vessels of His good gifts.

  4. Bad Ice says:

    My dream used to be that I forgot to call the organist with the hymn #’s. Haven’t had one of those in awhile.

    Other worst dream….corn rows. Corn rows would pass me all night long back in my detasseling days. Dang I miss them.

  5. Carla says:

    I’ve had the “forgot to attend class” dream many times, too, but in my dream, I usually don’t realize it until the night before the class final. Those college years must really make an impression on us!

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