Worshipping as Presider

April 15, 2021
Screenshot of an online video meeting with various participants

When we lead worship each week, how do we worship? When we are the ones holding the space for others to experience the presence of God, when do we experience God’s presence? When we are unfolding the words of scripture for others, when do we find scripture unfolding in our own hearts? When we are presiding, how are we worshipping?

During the pandemic, our congregation has worshipped by Zoom on Sunday mornings. This has required a whole new set of skills and a whole new way of engaging worship as a worship leader. I have found it exhausting and have hated that moment when I must click “End Meeting for All.” I try to wait until everyone has left, but there are those like me who don’t want to leave, and so finally I have to do it. While I always feel somewhat depleted after worship, online worship has left me even more depleted and deflated.

I realize that not only am I missing the gathered in-person community that brings energy to the act of worship, but I am also missing the points in worship where I can sink into the mystical presence of God, the moments where I can worship. In leading online, even in team with my partner in ministry and in marriage, I am having to be always alert, always attentive to the technology. I don’t find the moments when I can let worship capture my spirit.

That got me thinking about the moments in worship where I naturally sink into the mystical. For me, it is during the music. When we sing hymns together, I feel the presence of God. When the choir or a soloist sings, or when the pianist plays the prelude or offertory, my spirit rests in the music and I worship. With online worship, those moments have been taken from me. We sing, but the singing via Zoom is me singing, with my husband playing keyboard. I hear no one else, though I do watch for moving lips in all the little pictures on my screen. Yet, there is not the power of the gathered community in song. I appreciate the musicians in our congregation who offer live or recorded music for our online worship, but I am usually so busy making sure that I have the right person muted or unmuted that I can’t just sink into the beauty of their offering. I’m sure that others are also longing to hear the gathered community sing, not just singing along in duet with my voice.

I asked some colleagues about the moments when they sink into worship, when they can encounter the divine presence even as the presiders of the service. One spoke of experiencing God’s presence as they offer the Prayers of the People. Another spoke of sinking into the mystical moments of worship as they preach, realizing that something greater is happening than the words they have crafted. Another found that mystical moment as they lit the Christ candle. All shared that good preparation allows them to worship even as they preside.

In pondering, I realized that the other time when I feel deeply engaged as a worshipper, not just as a worship leader, is in presiding at the table. There is such a sense of God’s spirit that enfolds me as I raise the bread and cup, and then hold the space for all to receive the elements.

I invite you to consider how you, as a worship leader, worship. Do you experience God’s presence as you hold the space for others to experience the divine presence of God? As you unfold the words of scripture for others, do you find it unfolding in your own heart? Or do your worship times come at other moments and places, in worship led by others, in the preparation for worship, or in your own personal prayer times?

It is an interesting question to consider how we, as worship leaders, worship. The experiences of worship during the pandemic have brought this need into greater focus, especially if we are missing the moments in worship that bring us into the mystical presence. We all need worship, that time when we know that we are held, enlivened, and inspired by the One in whom we live and move and have our being.