As a priest, when I lead worship, I try not to cry. It’s not that there is anything wrong with crying in church. Sometimes tears seem the most appropriate form of worship. My concern is that I ugly-cry and I don’t want to distract my fellow worshippers from whatever the Spirit is doing in them with thoughts like, Is she okay? Mine are no shimmering, glistening, discreet tears. Mine accompany a red nose and red eyes and the need for a lot of kleenex. So, when I lead worship, I try to hold it together.
But there are a lot of good reasons to cry in church. Weeping can be a prayer of sorrow, joy, lament, hope, an authentic response to beauty, goodness, and God. There is no reason for embarrassment if we find ourselves crying in church.
In my current service in the church I don’t lead worship often. I miss celebrating, but I feel free to cry. I don’t cry all the time, but I embrace it when it happens. Something touches me deeply and before I have a cognitive experience, a thought that something is meaningful or appropriate or needs my attention, tears come and tell me this is so.
Very often tears come during hymns. A hymn can convey beauty, meaning, truth in a way that moves me deeply. Hymns also connect me to people who are a part of my life and those who have been a part of my life, but are now in the nearer presence of God. Sometimes I expect the tears to come (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” often makes me cry); sometimes tears come as a surprise or in response to a surprise. Just before we moved to South Africa I cried and sang through the final hymn in the church we attend when we’re in Scotland, “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” It wasn’t the hymn, it was the occasion, and leaving the familiar, as well as the truth in the hymn. Then, in the first chapel service at the College of Transfiguration, the hymn sung in English was “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” Same words, same tune, different accents. More tears. Great appreciation for the connection made by the singing of this hymn between home, new home, and being in Jesus wherever we go.
The last chapel service of the semester took place on Friday morning. Most of the students would be leaving after the service. I didn’t cry until the final hymn, “In Christ Alone.” It’s a hymn that is sung here with great gusto. It’s a hymn that was introduced to me and our former parish by Erik Apland, a talented musician, friend, and faithful disciple of Jesus, who died suddenly this fall. With deep appreciation I thought of Erik, of St. Anne’s, of the College of Transfiguration and our students leaving to begin ordained ministry or for their summer holiday and parish placements, and the truth of the hymn:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand.