public worship

In the Room Where It Happens: Public Moments of Worship

By Rev. Mindi

It’s probably been twenty years since I last joined in a public singing of Handel’s Messiah. I was part of a community choir, and we invited the audience to join us on the Hallelujah Chorus. In this particular instance, our choir stepped down from the risers and interspersed ourselves among the people, singing our harmonies among those singing the melody, helping our neighbors find their places in the sheet music so they could sing along. It was a moving moment of joining voices, professional and amateur, to sing this magnificent opus. And it was a public act of worship, of joining our voices to sing these notes and text that portrayed such a moment of praise.

I know that many churches still offer public singings of Messiah around the holidays, but the opportunity to find such moments outside of the church are rare. A few years ago, when flash mobs were the rage, I remember watching the video over and over again of the people singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the middle of a mall, from where they were sitting and standing.

I call these moments of worship because the focus is not on the individual. In these moments, the focus has turned outward. It has turned into a moment of joining together with other voices to make something greater than ourselves.

I have felt these moments of public worship in other spaces. During the 2000’s, attending U2 concerts often felt like acts of worship. I remember during the Vertigo tour, singing Yahweh at the end of the concert, where one by one the instruments stopped until all that was left was our voices on the chorus and the sound of Larry’s hands on the bongo’s. At other times, singing 40 at the end of the concerts was our public moment of joining together. In both cases, those words led us to singing a song of praise to God.

However, it was on the 360 tour, in singing Walk On, that I began crying, when Burmese refugees came forth wearing masks depicting the face of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political prisoner who was finally released soon after that tour after fifteen years of house arrest under the military regime. It was a moment of solidarity, a moment of understanding the plight of the Burmese people. Of course, we paid $45 plus Ticketmaster fees to join in that moment, so I understand the skepticism of others, and I have heard the criticism of using Aung San Suu Kyi to sell concert tickets. But I also know that U2 have worked hard to share the message of the Burmese people during Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest, and made their struggle known to the world.

I wasn’t expecting to find this moment of public worship at Emerald City ComiCon this year in Seattle. Of course, being a fan of Hamilton and singing those songs at the top of my lungs in my car sometimes feels like a moment of worship. I am sure for those who have attended the musical there is an understanding of a greater story being told. But at ComiCon, there was a Hamilton Sing Along, and In the Room Where It Happens, it happened.

Sure, we started off with, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence…” and you know the rest. We sang songs with colorful language that we would never sing in church.

But we also sang Wait For It: 

Death doesn’t discriminate

Between the sinners and the saints

It takes and it takes and it takes

And we keep living anyway

We rise and we fall and we break

And we make our mistakes

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive

When everyone who loves me has died

I’m willing to wait for it

I’m willing to wait for it…

 In that moment of singing those familiar lyrics, there was a sense of knowing our own mortality, that we all have one shot at this life, and that the best we can do is to come together and try to find enjoyment when we can.

When I looked around the room, there was a moment that surprised me. There were children in the room who knew every singing word without having to look at the power point. There were people dressed up as Spider Man and others as zombies who sang the harmony on Satisfied. It was ComiCon, after all. But it felt like worship. It felt like church.

We didn’t get to sing It’s Quiet Uptown, with the lyrics, “There’s a grace too powerful to name,” but I felt that message in all of our joyous singing, in the raised fists during The World Turned Upside Down, in our insistence that we were not throwing away our shot. And when we sang Rise Up, one by one, people began to rise up together. We began to join not only our voices but our bodies in this movement. I felt a connection to the turmoil that is happening right now in the United States people, one by one, stood up and sang.

To me, it transported me back to that moment twenty years ago, singing the Hallelujah Chorus. We were naming a powerful moment, singing our praise as a people, and while we want a revolution, in that moment, we had a revelation. Hallelujah. Rise Up.

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life."

By Rev. Mindi

I was sad when David Bowie died, and Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey. Each death made me reflect on their contribution to culture and society.

But Prince’s death is still rattling me. Maybe because it was so unexpected. Maybe because he was younger than the other three, although not by much. Perhaps, because, as a late Gen-Xer, his music was the soundtrack of my childhood in the 80’s.

It’s more than that. Prince was an artist that couldn’t be captured in a single genre, an activist through music and art. A hell of a guitar player—one of the best. And someone who celebrated sexuality and faith, writing “Sexy MF” and “The Cross.” Prince transcended social and musical boundaries.

And while I was sad on Thursday, it was the public singing of “Purple Rain” and the purple tributes across the world that got to me. Public mourning is something that brings us together, that unites us.

We have had too many communal tragedies in the last fifteen years, from 9/11 to Sandy Hook, to Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and beyond, in which we gather in our sadness, but we are also angry. We grieve and we demand justice. We cry out to God and to each other as to how this could have happened again.

With Prince’s death, for now, we simply mourn. And while we ask why and what happened, and we experienced at first the shock and numbness that comes with a sudden death, we are also free to grieve together, and to celebrate his life. The public celebrations and singing, even the thousands of purple balloons outside of Paisley Park, point to a life well lived, something worthy of admiration, and grief at its brevity.

What we’ve learned since Thursday is that we need to collectively grieve, and Prince has given us the freedom to do that, without the anger and shame that has come from so many other collective memorials in the last fifteen years. Think of all the roadside memorials after car accidents and school shootings. Even when we have come together, it has been incredibly tragic, our feelings of grief meshed with cries for justice. We need a public mourning that frees us to grieve, as well as to celebrate, life.

Maybe that’s why so many churches posted the opening lyrics from “Let’s Go Crazy” on their sign boards. But better yet, we ought to have invited folks to public singings of “Purple Rain,” or at the very least, “The Cross.” Because the church needs to be joining in, if not leading, in collective mourning and celebrating life, death and resurrection.

Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You're on your own.