If there was ONE song I wish I could have written, it would be Sunday Morning Coming Down.
To me, it is the perfect song, with the best combination of pathos and humor, tragedy and comedy. It is so inexorably and sensate Southern as it oozes culture with it’s “cleanest dirty shirt”, the smell of chicken frying, and the sound of soulful songs sung. I know about all three, but it took a genius like Kris Kristofferson to write it into a poem/song. My envy is only outrun by my admiration. It is a perfect song.
My Sunday mornings have changed. Used to be, they were full, getting up early, shower, dressing, coffee on the way out, early church, more coffee, children and family church, teaching a class, getting to “big” church, shaking hands at the door, going home to collapse. That was my Sunday morning.
Actually, I would begin my Sunday morning with a “quiet time” of meditation, at least twenty minutes, followed by my Anglican duty of Morning Prayer, which through the years proved to “center” me for my hectic day, reminding me of why I was putting myself through this shotgun of activity.
I enjoyed the drive to the church house, listening to music that got me moving, maybe the above song, the Indigo Girls, Bruce, or Willie. My eclectic taste would sometimes spin me off-center. By the time, I reached the church, more coffee was consumed, and classical music like Ralph Vaughan Williams, Barber, or Handel would settle me down. Music is my drug of choice.
Getting ready for Sunday.
And then I would start. I would lean into the morning and not look up. Between keeping my sermon points straight, remembering the announcements, trying to be cheery after someone complained about the heat or the cooling system, and being garrulously social to folks who just wanted to touch and be touched, Sunday drained me of the juice that animated me. After shaking that last hand, I could leave for the sanctity of my bear’s den. Tip: always wait for an invitation into a bear’s den.
I am an enigma for most folks in that I play an extrovert on TV but I am natively an introvert. It literally sucks the life out of me to be in front and among people, but it was my job. My good friend and colleague, Gray Temple, once told me to inform your congregation as to your introverted nature, and then they will cut you some slack. I did. They did not. I did the best I could, but being a priest is an extrovert’s game, and I drew a tough hand. I did that work for over twenty-five years, some would say successfully, but it was a high price to pay. I paid it.
These days, Sundays mean I can spend most of the time in the cave. Did you get my tip?
Sunday mornings now!
I begin with coffee in a relaxed mode, still having my time of meditation, followed by my habitual and cherished Morning Prayer. But then. I am focused for three hours on the Zoom screen, watching worship from a variety of venues.
I begin with Christ Church here on my island of St. Simons. It starts at 9:15 with gorgeous music and images befitting the island it issues forth from. Kathleen Turner is a talented musician who has scrambled to deal with choirs that are separated by space, and sometimes time. It is remarkable the sound she is able to produce to support the liturgy.
Christ Church had been streaming the service for years before the pandemic so it had a leg up as the shift to cyber worship happened. The Rector, the Rev. Tom Purdy, is media savvy and I think he enjoys the process of production. He is assisted in the technology by Parish Administrator, Glenn Queener, who has a musician’s background, and it shows. They not only have high production values but they have shown remarkable creativity and humor which keeps me interested and expectant, which after all these years, is surprising.
I actually have fantasized about doing such a production myself, utilizing the brilliance of my former choirmaster, Keith Weber, producing an ecclesial Prairie Home Companion liturgy, but it was not to be. It is no small blessing in the coincidence that the capacity for Zoom was timed perfectly for this pandemic. Had this COVID sheltering happened in the 90’s, we would simply not have been able to have any semblance of a worship experience. It would have been a much more bleak midwinter! For that happy coincidence, we should give thanks.
After watching Christ Church, I shift to the worship from Brooklyn, New York. It’s the service from New Life Cathedral, a black Pentecostal church. I know the Executive Pastor there, and have been thrilled to see incredibly well-produced music and video that would rival most musical television shows I have seen. I confess that I love the lively music, which would be characterized in my Episcopal circles as “praise” music, which is to say, it has a distinctive beat that gets you moving. As Dick Clark, or better Don Cornelius would say, “You can dance to it!” I enjoy the spirited prayers led by one of the ministers and most times, the Archbishop of this group, Bishop Rochford, renders a spirited sermon that was assuring in such precarious times.
Finally at 11:15, I go to the Zoom worship of an Episcopal parish across the causeway in Brunswick, Georgia. This is a historic black Episcopal parish, also of the Diocese of Georgia, St. Athanasius. The Rector is a young black man from Augusta, freshly educated at the Episcopal seminary outside of D.C. in Virginia, the Rev. DeWayne Cope. Father Cope, as the parishioners call him, is a fine preacher and does a good job in leading the church, gathered on a Zoom page that resembles an extended Brady Bunch family or Hollywood Squares. I keep looking for Paul Lynde,
I have enjoyed listening in, eavesdropping, on their community kibbitz prior to the beginning of the liturgy. Lots of community information is shared along with a homey heaping of neighborly care. At precisely 11:15, Father Cope calls the church to quiet, to center, beginning the common prayer. It has been a mix of Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist, but each time it has been a powerful sense of community for me, even if via a monitor on my desk.
I have joked with Father Cope that it feels like it could be a production of Tyler Perry’s version of Madea Goes to COVID Church. It’s odd to see members in video squares, visually, and at times, vocally interacting with one another. But this proves to me that creative people can get it done with a will and a prayer.
Sunday mornings in my world are no longer “coming down”, as in the song, but coming “ON”, when the worship of God’s people gathered is transmitted through cyberspace to my bear’s den. I miss the touch, the handshakes, the hugs, the tactile human element. But, worship happens, and community gathers and connects. Miraculous?
Colleagues of mine in the “church biz” wonder if the convenience of not having to dress up, drive to a church, will put the gathering in person in jeopardy. I sure as hell would not take that bet. We humans need the intimacy of a gathering, much like ancients circled round a fire to ward off the threatening darkness. As they say, we’ll be back.
While we have learned some new tricks in terms of how to connect with people “bound” at home, which we should not forget, I am certain that people still long for that circle of humanity that reminds us of a presence that transcends our isolated selves. I did, have, and will take that bet.
See you on Sunday. Got to get to work on a new song: Sunday Morning Tuning In. Blessings, y’all!