Yesterday I led Morning Prayer at one of my churches. Before the service began, I was waiting in the wings with the choir and the Reader - waiting for the vicar to join us. I asked the others whether the vicar had arrived yet, and they said, 'Yes, but he is sitting in the congregation today. He's assessing you'.
Assessing me? That was surprising news to me - the vicar hadn't told me he was going to sit in the congregation and 'assess' me. I felt shocked and a bit betrayed! My knees began to shake and I became hot under the collar! I stammered my way through a vestry prayer, and we processed out. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing (and I was thankful for encouragement from the Reader)! This was the first time I had led Morning Prayer here, and the first service I was to lead on my own. I spotted the vicar in the congregation and he appeared to be making notes! I managed the service ok (it isn't a difficult one, really, is it?!), though I didn't feel relaxed at all. After the service I expressed my feelings to the vicar, and much to my relief he was as shocked as I was that he had been 'assessing' me! In reality, it had just been a joking comment made by the choir. He wasn't actually assessing me at all! He did bring me a cup of coffee 'to make amends', though, which works every time for me.
Later I reflected on how the prospect of 'being assessed' made me feel. It wasn't a comfortable feeling, but it was probably a beneficial experience after all, and one in which I have learned something. There will be things that will happen immediately prior to leading services that will catch us off guard and perhaps throw us off a bit. Someone will do or say something that causes us to wobble. But we must carry on. And really, the whole three years of curacy are an assessment of sorts. It's about learning how to worship and lead at the same time, and sometimes we just have to fly by the seat of our pants.
(Oh, and take the choir's comments with a pinch of salt...!)