I went to a business dinner last night. It was a big shindig for all the major non-profits in town. Since I work for a wonderful non-profit, I was there with a co-worker and one of our favorite volunteers. This particular volunteer is a believer, and the two of us have had many uplifting conversations about our shared faith.
Working for a non-profit, I have planned my fair share of big community events.
One challenge most non-profits face is the dreaded “invocation.” The invocation is that moment, usually before dinner is served, where a minister, priest, pastor, rabbi, or “religious” person gets up and offers some sort of thank you or welcome in a religious vein.
Everyone stays far, far way from the word “prayer.”
Most non-profits have core values that correspond with some part of their members’ faiths, beliefs, and guiding principles. But many times, in a community of multiple members, there is no one shared faith.
This is where the invocation process gets sticky.
I remember being at an event where the invocation was offered by a Unitarian minister who talked about “centering ourselves,” and “becoming one with ourselves.” (as opposed to becoming two with ourselves?).
I’m a Christian, so I couldn’t participate in the sentiment, but I respect people who have different faiths, so I listened intently and learned something from the experience.
The little old ladies behind me were furious! They were Catholic and listening to the “centering,” made them very angry toward the organization.
Most non-profits have learned to use safe middle-of-the-road religious persons – usually Lutheran or Methodist ministers. Occasionally, I have also encountered a Catholic priest giving an invocation.
In fact, one of the best invocation-ers I ever heard was Reverend John.
He wrote and read beautiful works of poetry that started the thanks at the crest of the moon and went to the sandy shore at the bottom of the sea. Listening to him was like hearing a great children’s book on tape.
Most religious officials offer a generic thank you to “heaven” and ask for an increased sense of community.
For most people, the invocation is just a quick pause before they can start tearing into whatever rubber chicken entrée is about to be served.
But, for those of us who actually do believe in something, it is often suspenseful to see how the invocation will be directed.
Last night, as my believer friend/volunteer and I bowed our heads, the pastor of Calvary (something, something) Church (okay, I WAS thinking about the chicken) came to the podium to give the invocation.
He started talking about a man.
A great and wonderful man who once hosted a dinner. As his guests clamored for him to begin the dinner, the man stood, tied an apron around his waist, and began to wash the feet of his guests.
My friend raised her head and looked at me across the table. Our eyes met. We knew where this was going.
Throughout the prayer (for indeed that’s what it was), the pastor talked about “this man.” He talked about how this man served, how all he ever did was in service of his father. He talked about how we should be like this man. He even said that we should do all things to the glory of God.
Near the end of the prayer, he had yet to say the man’s name. I was beginning to think he might chicken out – just let everyone assume it was a good man, a prophet, anyone – knowing what the Christians in the audience would assume.
As he closed the prayer, he asked all these things in the name of that man, the man who died on a cross for us, died willingly to serve His father.
The man…Jesus Christ.
He said our Lord’s name with power, strength, and unashamed conviction. A tingle went up my spine as those two explosive words rippled through the banquet hall like a thunder clap.
There was a slight, respectful pause, before people began talking and eating dinner.
My friend looked back at me, a smile on her lips. I smiled back.
For a moment, the clattering utensils dropped to the background, and I was looking at my sister. My sister in Christ, and we were smiling, genuinely joyful. Our brother had spoken our Father’s name and proclaimed His Glory to this great crowd of witnesses.
He had not taken the safe path, the wide path. He had risked his reputation and future speaking engagements to do the right thing.
His unselfish act sparkled like a diamond. He gave so much more than an invocation; he gave an offering. Of himself.
And he guaranteed I’ll never take another invocation for granted.