When I was an acolyte as a child in my small United Methodist church in Pennsylvania, I had the privilege of lighting the altar candles that begin the worship service. Our cherubic faces would gleam as our pastor lit the wicks of our acolyte rods behind the small door that led into the sanctuary. He would then remind us of what he had taught us so well. “You are not just lighting candles out there,” he would say. “You are calling people to worship.”
I would take the arched, golden rod into my hand, wick lit and fire blazing, and step out of the door into the sanctuary.One by one, each candle I touched would blaze to life. The lighting of those three candles was, for me, the child’s equivalent of saying “Come. We have gathered to worship. Where, when can we go and meet with God? Here, and now. Let’s fix our gaze on God.”
The acolyte then has the further privilege of extinguishing those same candles, signifying the end of the gathered worship experience by symbolically saying “Our gathered time has concluded. Lift your eyes to your Help, and walk in the world as the worshipping people of God.” I may have been young, but because I had good teachers, I understood the importance of my job.
Since those early days, I have never looked back. My life, no matter how hard I’ve tried to run over these four decades, has continued to be about creating spaces within which ordinary people can meet with God.
As a worship leader of now 20+ years, I keep going back to the call of the acolyte. When my hammered dulcimer is blending with electronic keyboards, and the room is engaged in a great anthem, I remember why I do what I do because of those early moments – fire in hand and a waiting group ready to respond to God.
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