Saturday, 26 July 2008

Breaking the dream

A long-standing dream was finally broken this morning. Many clerical colleagues admit to sharing a similar dream to the one that has punctuated my sleep every so often over the past 24 years since my ordination, where I am standing in front of a congregation and unable to find my place in the service book. I flip through page after page and the place I want just cannot be found, and I am aware of dozens of eyes watching and waiting for me to lead the service, and I am unable to continue.

The psychological reason for this dream is simple – our task is to lead worship, and to be in control of where we are in the liturgy and what we are saying. This doesn’t negate the actions of the Holy Spirit who “blows where he wills”, but it is our regular Sunday function. Clearly there is a deep-seated anxiety about performing such a leadership role, and a fear that we will not be able to do it, leading to the dream where we cannot find our way.

Today one of our churches celebrated its Patronal Festival – a few days late but it’s the closest Sunday to 25th July, and I’m sure St James won’t mind one way or the other. This necessitated taking several different books – a full Lectionary for the readings, a book with Intercessions for the Feast, a putting a bookmark in the Common Worship service book next to the Collect for the Day.

So – I announced the Collect and flipped open the pages of the Lectionary. Unfortunately, I then realised that my particular edition does not have the Collect prayers printed in it. So I picked up the large Gospels book which has them in the back, but turning over the pages I couldn’t find it. I looked back in the Lectionary, but no joy. A dozen or so eyes were now looking at me, and I could feel the tension mounting.

Since turning 50 I have come to the conclusion that I no longer have to worry about what people think of me. If something goes wrong, then own up to it and deal with, rather than trying to save face. So I spoke about the dream, all the while trying to find the damn Collect prayer. I eventually found the bookmark, and re-announced the Collect, and as I started to say it, I realised that I had marked the traditional language version rather than the modern language text, so it jarred a bit with the Common Worship Rite A we were using.

Hopefully, I no longer have to worry about that dream. It’s done and over.

And here’s a coincidence – last Tuesday as I attended the noonday Mass in a small church in Norwich, the new deacon had a similar experience. He couldn’t find the intercessions for the Feast of Mary Magdalene. I remember thinking, “If you will use the Missal instead of Common Worship, or even the Book of Common Prayer, then that’s your own fault.”

Serves me right, I suppose.


  1. That must be a common clerical dream as I have it regularly myself, usually when I'm taking a funeral!
    As you say, if it happens in waking life it doesn't seem to matter now.
    Age and experience overcome any embarrasment.

  2. At last! It seems that it is not just me that has these dreams! My recurrent dream involves: (a)getting to the church hopelessly late; (b) trying in vain to find books and vestments, and (c) being rooted to the spot, dumbstruck while people look at me for something to say.

    (Actually this is a fair description of my waking ministry!!)

    I wonder if doctors, lawyers et(those who are expected to inspire trust) have the same dreams?

  3. Psychologist here.

    My dream that I've had 2 or 3 times: I am with a child I know is is being abused. And my dilemma is, what to do with the child? In the dream I never have quite the evidence to give the police. On the other hand I fear for the child's safety. And what to do? If I keep the child safe with me, I'll get arrested for kidnapping. But I can't just turn the kid loose either. What to do?

    I don't actually work with children! But I do work with people who have been abused as children. I think it's related to the fact that I was unable to save them when they were children. Or maybe it's just the agony God must feel.... in the face of abuse.

    Very interesting question here.

  4. My nightmare has always been to get to the words of institution in the Eucharist and say, "... take, eat, this is my... uh... uh."

    Sounds like you kept your sense of humor!

    A new deacon who read for me a couple Sundays ago accidentally read the following week's gospel. I didn't stop her because I didn't want her embarrassed. She caught herself, however, right in the middle of the reading, stopped, and quipped, "No, that's not right. That's next week. Now that you have a preview, you'll all want to come back next week to find out how it ends." We all had a great laugh!

  5. My dreams are much as Rural Rector's - the procession has started and I'm struggling to find my vestments. It usually happens in a strange church or the church of my childhood, with all those people who were stunned when I announced my call looking on with 'I told you so' looks! Once we processed out of the sacristy through a busy mall court, round and about trying to find the chancel, while the bishop grew ever more angry. sigh...
    rather like the ones I used to have about showing up for a final in college never having attended the class!

  6. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

    When will we ever learn? Since I do not lead worship (Thanks be to God!), I have not experienced judgment coming back at me in that context, but I most certainly have had it in other instances. That's not just a word for the sweet bye-and-bye. It's a word for the kingdom here and now.

    It seems we do dream our anxieties. Passing into my seventies has been absolutely liberating. Embarrassments cut much less deeply now I've had my threescore and ten plus.

    SR, I'm pleased that your embarrassing moments were not life-shattering events.

  7. Singers have that dream... mine includes Where is my vestment?(I seem to be in a slip instead of outer clothes, much less vestment), where is my music? (it is either at home on the piano or gone altogether), why are my vocal chords not working properly and why don't I know the hymns. Anxiety is what it is!

  8. Oh yes, I know that dream. I also know the real terror of not being able to find the place the service book. But sometimes it really appeals to the congregation that the priest is still a real live person who is fallible. I am greatful that Lutherans recognize that we are all saints and sinners at the same time!

  9. I'm not clergy but I've been a cantor and an LEM. I don't dream about the goofs. I make them. I've done the page shuffling - recently. I've tripped and spilled wine all over the altar floor tho I saved enough to finish the eucharist. I've gotten to the end of the reciting tone with no idea what note I'm supposed to sing next. Anyone who takes part in worship for any length of time surely has stories to tell. It's best to laugh and go on. Perhaps that would end the nightmares?

  10. --yeah, and my husband said I would not be a real priest until I had spilled the chalice all over the altar--which I have now done. And then when someone said (this past week) they were going to sue me because of a funeral liturgy I had scheduled at the widow's request --well then, I guess the ordination had finally took!

    I now have no fear of losing my place!

  11. Before we renewed our worship space and brought the altar down more to the congregation, it used to be at the very top of three steps; truly a "high" altar.

    Our joke used to be that were only two kinds of priests, those who have fallen off the altar... and those who will fall off the altar!

  12. Fr Craig reminds me of one fact I omitted: My dream always takes place in a specific church, St Stephen's in Worcester, England, where I was a teenager and my father was the Rector.

    Analysts advance

  13. I think someone, somewhere, could get a huge research grant for studying this.
    And whoever it is that does it, I want my cut!

  14. I was waiting for someone to give the naked dream. Any or all of the above, only stark, staring nude.

    I used to have one, when an undergrad, that I'd slept through an exam. One morning I went to my Greek exam to be told it had been written the day before. I actually got saved on that one -- there were only six of us in the class and the tutor intervened with the department head and said she knew none of us would cheat. But I was rattled and failed miserably anyway.

    Never had the dream again though.

  15. Oh yes, DP - been there, got the T-shirt. In fact, today, 3rd August I turn 56. Just 9 more years to retirement!

  16. Oh, and happy birthday! A couple of days late now, but heartfelt all the same. I am older than you, so I should be forgiven for reading this earlier and forgetting! :o)

  17. (Putting on purple stole)

    Your forgetfulness is forgiven Go in peace.

    (Takes off purple stole and returns to his mug of coffee ...)