It was not long after I started serving my first parishes in rural South Dakota that someone approached me after worship one Sunday.
"You don't leave enough space," she told me. "When we are praying during worship, and naming people in our parish who need healing, and you invite us to pray silently for others..... you don't leave enough space for us to pray."
I don't think I was intentionally rushing through the time of silent prayer, but I've always been glad for her words. She taught me a lot, some things that you wouldn't think that I would need to learn, others that I think everyone needs to learn over and over.
She taught me the importance of leaving space.
Of course, I knew in my head that the time of intercessory prayer in Sunday worship was called "the Prayer of the Church", or "the prayers of the people". I knew in my head that it was not my prayer, but the church's prayer, that we were all praying together, and I had the privilege of saying it out loud. But the words of this woman reminded me that it is really true, that we really are praying together, and that when I make an invitation for people to remember those "we name in our hearts before you..." people are really naming names. We are not just going through the motions here. Just because this prayer is public, and sometimes seems a little formal, does not make it any less real.
One man told me recently that they always bring a list of people they are praying for with them to worship; they can bring the list out and name the names at the appropriate time. And he told me that their list is getting longer and longer.
"You should leave more space," I hear in my head, while he is talking. "You should leave more space for us to pray with you."
Of course, this is not just true about the time of silence during the prayers; it's true about all of worship, and other parts of our lives, too. And it's not just about silence. Leaving space is about trusting that God is working in the cracks and silent places and all of the spaces where we might think "Nothing is happening." It is trusting that God is working in our congregation, in the hearts of people, in our community, whether or not we can get an "Amen," when the action is silent or invisible to the eye.
Pastors are leaders, that's the truth: among the areas where we need to lead is in leaving space. We lift the cup, we break the bread, but it is God who inhabits us, God who breaks us, God who is making us, all of us, new.
In the midst of all the strategies and strategic planning, in the midst of the words and the actions, in the midst of the prayers and the songs and the silence, hear the judgment of God: "You need to leave more space."
Hear the grace of God, "for I am working among you."