So I stepped up to the microphone…fortunately it was on, or it wouldn’t have been much of a story.

I led worship at my church yesterday. That is the first time I’ve done that in a long, long time. Years. I haven’t even played on a praise team since a random thing I did at the college when I still worked there…and that was probably a year before I left.

I didn’t tell too many people I was doing that. I didn’t want to make it a big deal, because I knew I was rusty and that it might be weird…and I know a couple of people might’ve shown up if they’d have known I was doing it. When I’m not totally confident of what I’m doing, the fewer friends in the crowd, the better–especially in a worship setting. It’s my natural inclination to try to impress my friends, and that’s not what worship is supposed to be. I’m more likely to give myself over to the actual moment if I’m not “performing” for anyone. And that’s important to me.

I think it went okay.

I woke up in a really bad mood. I think my body had gotten used to sleeping in on Sundays. (Our meetings had been pretty much relegated to Wednesdays thusfar, with monthly Sunday services. Yesterday was the start of WEEKLY services on Sundays.) I’m not a pleasant person in the morning anyway (seriously…don’t talk to me before 9), but yesterday I woke up with my stomach aching a little bit and a mild headache and I just wasn’t in the mood to be awake. That kind of thing is why I sometimes appreciate a 30 minute drive to my location. I get to crank up the music, focus on nothing, and chase away some of the bad thoughts. Sunday morning drives are particularly good for that, since traffic is so light.

I had never been to the building before. I left a little early, but should’ve left earlier, because it was downtown, and I am by far the WORST city-driver I know. I got off the highway and immediately got lost. Had to call someone at the church to get directions. (It was right by Crown Candy. I knew that, and I know where Crown Candy is, and I STILL couldn’t find it, because my sense of direction is THAT bad!) For some reason, being lost didn’t add to my bad mood—possibly because I saw it coming—but it did set in a mild panic because now I wasn’t just lost, I was also LATE.

I finally made it to the building. My friend Brandon was kind enough to go outside and stand by it and wave at me when I came up to the place. (I think I’d actually passed it earlier. I was looking for something more like a big, sprawling community center, but it was more like a shop-front.) Once there, I unloaded my equipment, or at least some of it. In my typical way, I majorly over-packed. I didn’t quite know what to expect, so I prepared for several possible situations. Short version — should’ve just gone with the “small and simple” plan. 🙂

The room we were in (which was rented, by the way) was sort of loft-ish, but wasn’t actually a loft. It was very nice, actually. I like it, and I can see really getting used to it. (Though, as a heavy guy, the chairs in the place worried me because I don’t think they’re built for a man of my…uhh…carriage.) It was a very modern place, but also celebrated its St. Louis heritage, with photos all along the walls showing what the neighborhood USED to look like before the recent restorations that have gone on in that area. My only real complaint (and it’s barely that) is that in making it a visually and functionally versatile room, they didn’t do much to prepare the room for a variety of “sound” issues. It’s basically a concrete floor, drywall, and an open ceiling. Sounds a little bit like a gym—boomy and lots of bright tone reflections off the roof. Not ideal, but I’ve played worse…the trick is to use the nature of the room to your advantage and let it serve as a sort of natural high-end reverb while cutting the lows. So I did what I could to compensate for it, and we were off and running. (At this point, I was thankful that I thought ahead to change my strings the day before, so I’d have a nice, crisp tone.)

The service was set up differently than most. The congregation (which somehow seems an inappropriately inflated word since we’re not really “church” people…but rather people who go to church) were all sat around circular tables in groups of 6-8. I led them in singing, “Nothing but the Blood” and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Their energy prompted me to say in-between verses, “You guys are actually clapping on beat! That’s amazing!” The song ended and Lucas (an old college friend who kind of runs the show—and who I was very glad to see again for the first time in a very long time) stepped up to begin delivering the first half of the message.

We all sat around our tables and Lucas told us a little bit about John (who wrote the Gospel of John and the books of 1-3 John). Then he asked us a couple of discussion questions where we just sat and chatted at our tables about (1) what’s going on in our lives—good and/or bad and (2) what is our favorite story about Jesus. Most of his message was spent with him not talking, and us in the room talking to each other. There was no guided aspect to that. If someone wanted to say something wildly inappropriate or ridiculously off topic, there was no minister or elder sitting at their table to tell them differently. There were no wrong answers and no incorrect doctrines…it was just people talking about Jesus. And that’s kind of what church should be.

After that (or possibly during, I don’t quite recall), Kendra (who also does some music with the church) shared a story about how she has been friends with an atheist for several years and how the friendship has led the atheist to come to think that there HAS to be something out there more than hopelessness…which is pretty amazing. Kendra’s a very nice person that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting once or twice before, and I’m glad we’re both working on the same side.

Brandon, who had previously flagged me down as I floundered to find the building, was up next to talk about John some more and lead us into communion. I came up and played a little bit behind what he was saying and as we began to settle into communion, I told the group that I was just going to play for a little while and they can collect their thoughts and pray together and get their communion. After a few seconds, people started getting up and going over to grab a chunk of bread and dip it in the juice, then returned to their seats—and I saw a few praying with one another very fervently.

After a suitable time, I told the group that after hearing their stories that morning and thinking about Jesus, I would definitely need their help singing roundabout verse two, because I knew my voice would be breaking, and we sang “It is Well with My Soul.” Then it was pretty much just down to me to play and sing and we continued with a favorite of mine among the choruses called “Praise Adonai” and ended with “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” I played some slightly different arrangements, picking up the pace of the end of “It is Well” and the whole of “What a Friend.” Then Brandon came up and closed us out.

After the service, I milled about and began tear-down of my gear and whatnot… That’s the part where I feel strange. It’s all over and now I know I’m either going to hear from people—meaning it went well—or I will not hear from anyone—meaning I tanked. Fortunately, lots of people were very kind and talked to me at great length about what I was doing that they really liked, and a couple of people sent me Facebook messages and e-mails later, which was particularly nice. Those who speak to you immediately are always appreciated, but those that are still thinking about it later really make you feel like you did something right. (And I hope none of that sounds like it was ego-related—that’s not how I view worship.)

I particularly enjoyed speaking with a gentleman named Randy, who reminded me of an older and also younger version of myself. Also a guitar player. Also a bass player. Also a banjo player (but five-string). I’d spoken with him a little before the service because he liked how my guitar looked, so we talked shop a little, as strangers. After the service, he literally embraced me as a friend and said, “That’s what they mean when they say musicians pray twice.” (In case you don’t follow, that’s an old saying among church/spiritual musicians, meaning that we pray for the service before it starts, but then we also pray as we’re performing, because we are performing for God alone.) That was quite a compliment, and one I will carry with me for some time. And after the fact, a friend from my Wednesday night group told me that she’d had her Mennonite parents with her that morning and they’d commented that they appreciated how in tune I was with what I was doing (no pun intended). So that was very nice as well. And the kindness of the people there who were previously strangers to me just served to confirm that old “a friend you haven’t met” cliché. I look forward to a long time of building these new friendships.

…and the whole time, I was in frayed jeans, cowboy boots, and a Johnny Cash shirt. And no one cared about that at all.