Palm Sunday 2010 (37)

Warning: Extroverted Priest

When Molly and I were doing pre-marital counseling, we took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. This is a personality test that is used in many professional settings, and one that is extremely helpful, I find. However, when we took it, we found that we were exact opposites on the test. Among our differences, I am an “off-the-charts” extrovert, which means I gain energy from being around people and process thoughts out loud, and Molly is an extreme introvert, which means she gains energy from being alone and quiet and processes internally. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but understanding the other is vital to making things work in a relationship. The counselor who administered the test to us said not to worry about these differences. “Instead,” she said, “you will eventually balance each other out.” The type indicator is not an either/or label, but suggests that we all fall along the spectrum between introvert and extrovert. Some folks straddle the line and can gain energy both with people and alone. Sometimes, when we spend a great deal of time with those who are opposite from us, we come a bit closer to the center of the spectrum.

Churches tend to fall along the spectrum depending on the clergy, the culture, and the congregation. St. Nicholas could be seen as an extroverted church because of our dedication to being warm and friendly. But compared to a church that has electric guitar and a drum kit, we may be considered much more introverted. We enjoy being around each other and we gain energy when more people are around. We also have many introverts in our midst who enjoy contemplation, silence, and inward processing. Our worship reflects both types, with periods of silence and also exuberant shouts of “Alleluia” and “AMEN,” with rousing contemporary anthems and reflective traditional hymns. Extroverted churches can be wrongly cast as shallow, not intellectual, or too charismatic, while introverted churches can be mistaken as snobby, aloof, or cold. Yet for a church to be healthy, I think, they need to strike a balance between the two.

Was Jesus extroverted or introverted? The Gospels certainly portray him as having strengths in both. He could speak to and seemingly gain energy from the crowds to which he preached, but also took many times to be in solitude and prayer. I think he modeled the balance.

St. Nicholas has grown because we have strengths in both areas. Our hospitality is certainly extroverted. When new people come to St. Nicholas, they tell me they are greeted warmly. This is certainly a good example of being extroverted. People also find strength in the quiet, contemplative moments of prayer in our worship. This is a good example of being introverted.

We fall out of balance when we’re either too extroverted or too introverted. Here’s a real-life example: Our narthex is small and cluttered as people enter for worship. This is a challenge. Often, people are greeting one another, which is wonderful. However, there are people in the nave preparing for worship who require silence. These people are often disturbed by the choir, acolytes, and yes, even the extroverted priest who is welcoming people at the door.

How can we be both introverted and extroverted in this instance? How can we be hospitable and warm, yet contemplative and reverent? Is there a balance?

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Silence is golden.

The Vestry and I discussed this recently and came up with a few suggestions:

1. At 10 minutes before the service, I will be gathering the Choir, the Acolytes, LEM, etc. in the Children’s SS room for a centering prayer. We need to do this anyway as we prepare to offer our own gifts in worship.

2. The doors to the nave will be closed at 10 minutes before the service. When the doors are closed, let that be a reminder that people are praying before the service and listening to the prelude that Sam has worked hard to prepare.

3. When you enter the nave, you may greet warmly those people you see and love, as long as they are not in the middle of prayer. Just do so quietly. Hold longer conversations until after the service.

4. As you are praying quietly, and someone (like me) is loud and boisterous, cut us some slack and know that we are only excited to see people join us in worship. Use that time to forgive us.

5. At quiet times in the service, like during the readings or the sermon (the times when people are seated or kneeling), try not to get up and leave to go to the bathroom or nursery. Of course, we all have emergencies, so if you gotta go, go. Also, if you have to get up and come back, wait a few minutes until there is an appropriate transition time when people are shifting to stand or kneel or sit. This helps those of us who are speaking or leading immensely. If you have children, take them to the bathroom before the service. An appropriate time to get a child out of the nursery for communion is when the communion hymn begins.

I’m proud to say that after 13 years of living with an introvert, I have found the value of contemplative quiet. Molly has learned how to navigate large crowds well. We have grown as individuals and as a couple expressly because of our differences. Overall, remember that we are all different (thanks be to God for that) and that our actions, even our best actions, affect other people. Introverts and extroverts are all welcome at St. Nicholas and we need to exemplify the gifts of both in order to compliment and balance each other out.

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