I helped lead services last night for the sixth time. It was very different from all the others. We were in the synagogue, rather than the church, and each seat was filled--800, give or take. I led there once before, on the second morning of Rosh Hashanah, which was intense, incredible, and scripted. Shabbat is not; it changes from week to week. The prayers and their order never vary, but the energy from the people in the sanctuary does. It seems to be thrown at the bima with the force of a fastball, a large package of calm, excitement, or distress, hurled from the back row, landing at our feet.
At first all the people seemed very far away. The service began quietly; I felt like I needed to whisper in the microphone. I could hear and see everyone moving around, but their feet on the carpet was muffled. In the church, even when it's not filled, you can hear yourself singing, and people walking around, as the sound bounces off the stone walls. Maybe that's why the service can't build as dramatically, or start as softly, as in the synagogue.
We did a slightly different version of the Lecha Dodi tune, and I got it wrong. The rabbi sang along, off mic, and I found my place. I don't think anyone else noticed, but I felt bad that I had made a mistake. Then the dancing began--all that joy! No one was far away now. The crowd was like an embrace; I forget to worry, and just sang.
The rabbi leaned over right before the last verse and whispered, "We're going to face the Ark after Barchu, and stay that way until Kiddush. I hope this is OK." "Sure," I answered, and laughed, "and thank you for letting me know!" They started this practice at the synagogue--but not the church--about a year ago. It changes the leaders of the service into members of the congregation, all praying in the same direction. From my perspective as a congregant, it means I must focus on the words and their sound, and the Ark in front where I know they reside, because there's no rabbi to watch and distract me with his expression, movement, or shoes. (I loved the shoe choices of one of the previous rabbinic fellows. And felt guilty every time I found myself wondering when she got those red boots instead of thinking about Kabbalat Shabbat.)