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.

Vulnerable Worship

 

By J.C. Mitchell

                Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition we would gather at special times for our Christening, First Communions, and Confirmation Worship Celebrations.  I was intrigued by the inclusion of these rites in the United Methodist Church that enticed me toward the Protestant expression of the church.  The baptisms were quite similar to what I knew, but the whole congregation and visitors were included, and at Confirmation the faith stories where shared with everyone.  Of course communion was always open to be the first on the first Sunday of the Month. 

                Serving a UMC church later, I recall having a child visit the time I was bringing a class to observe and partake in communion.  This child had one parent that was Roman Catholic, so she mentioned afterwards it was her first communion.  The parent that brought her confirmed this, but made it clear it was great how she was included, and there were years of relationship with this church afterwards to confirm this sentiment.  I wanted it to be clear we celebrated what she thought as special, so her first correspondence from the church was a first communion card and a small inexpensive cross..

                All of our worship services can be, and perhaps should be, a celebration of life together, neighbors and strangers..  At Hope Church Boston (now Hope Central Church), this became a common occurrence when many people were getting married, especially when Marriage Equality was achieved first in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There were many couples that had been in committed relationships for years and when they wanted to tie the knot, they decided to do so during the regular worship service.  Mixed among those dressed up were people visiting the first—but not last—time.  What a way to celebrate an important act in the life of not just those two individuals but the whole church!  This is why I believe it became standard practice at that church to ordain those in-care, such as myself, during the regular service.  While similar to a typical service, I was honored not just as the one ordained, but as the church universal celebrating the acceptance of an individual into such service. 

                Now I am serving a congregation that will call you a younger adult if you are 79 or younger. We even sold our building because the reality of the situation and our understanding of the Gospel has made it possible to free up funds for ministries and charities, locally and globally.  They did not stop worshiping together and have found a home in an elementary school’s multi-purpose room, not unlike the cafeteria they worshiped in as younger adults before the building of the complex we sold.  It becomes sacred space conveniently at the sacred time, with good flat access.

                We had a beloved man in this church who was in his mid-nineties who had no children with his wife, who had passed on a few years prior.  When he passed away, there was not a family asking me to find a church to borrow or rent for a memorial service.  I could tell that honoring his life was important for the church family, so I suggested we do a memorial for him during our typical Sunday morning service.  We even sent the invitation to some of his cousins who after the service thanked me greatly, and among those gathered were close friends and even the woman that just starting attending.  It fulfilled our need to memorialize our brother in Christ.

                Now we have done two more like this in the Multi-Purpose room, and others have mentioned how wonderfully apropos it was to incorporate the memorials into our typical services, and that they planned on such services in the future.  Of course, there is certainly some convenience for my congregants where travel is more difficult, and even though the church we borrow is lovely, it is not the space we gather in.  Of course this saves money as well, but I think there is something more to this practice, as Hope Church did with some marriages and most ordinations, including the life of the church within the typical service, which includes death as well.

How does our typical worship reflect the life we know as the church body?  Do we uphold mourning and celebration?  Do we celebrate the diversity of life within the uniqueness of our situations?  Does our typical worship service draw us into deeper vulnerability with not only our known members, but the visitor and even the stranger? 

 


World Cup, Patriotism, and the Language of Faith

By Rev. Mindi

I’m sure I’m not the only pastor uneasy about the Sunday closest to July 4th. Our Christian faith gets convoluted with civil religion and the separation of church and state goes out the window—even in most American Baptist churches I know, where we spout the words of Roger Williams in our Baptist history classes but place the flag prominently on the left hand side of the chancel. Every church I have served has had the American flag in the sanctuary. On the other hand, every church I have visited in a country other than the U.S. has not had their country’s flag in the sanctuary.

It’s a tricky thing to maneuver as a pastor. Do we sing patriotic hymns or not? If we say God Bless America, do we also say God Bless Afghanistan, Algeria, and Australia? Ideally, I would do none of it, and try hard to remember that we pray for Christ’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  I would rather that we remember that all people are God’s children, no matter our citizenship or documentation in worldly nations. I would not have the flag in the sanctuary if it was up to me—but it is not.

At the same time, I am writing this right after the USA vs. Belgium World Cup game, in which the USA games have been watched more than any other sporting event in recent memory in the United States. People from all religious backgrounds, all ethnicities, all political views, have been rooting together, and more interestingly, getting caught up in the entire World Cup fever. The World Cup has been a place where national pride, the language of faith (“I Believe That We Will Win”) and the energy of millions has been funneled together. And while the United States did not advance, the game was well-played and there is a sense of being part of a global community, even if it is limited through this sporting event and its fans (temporary or loyal to soccer/futbol).

Patriotism in and of itself is not a bad thing at all, but when we convolute our love of God and our love of country together, we end up with flags draped on the cross, and forget that our God is the God who created all of us, and we forget that the United States has more than just Christians as citizens and participants. We shove God and the United States into the same box.

While many pastors I know will not even mention Independence Day on Sunday, for those of us who cannot get away from some sort of patriotic display, let us open the boxes completely. Let us pray for God to bless America, along with Afghanistan through Zimbabwe. May we show the same sense of pride of being citizens of the reign of God. And may we learn a lesson from the World Cup—our language of faith—“I Believe that We”—can also be adapted to suggest faith and trust in other human beings, and that we are stronger together. 

Cultivating Call

By Rev. Mindi

When I was thirteen, I felt the call to ministry. I was sitting in my grandfather’s church, listening to him preach, and I felt something in me say “This will be you someday.” And I never looked back.

When I told my pastor about my call a few months later, my pastor made sure to include me in worship leadership.  At first it was simply reading Scripture, but by the time I was fifteen I was preaching a sermon at least once or twice a year. I helped with Communion, I led liturgy and prayers.  After I was baptized, I was made a member of our Deacon Board (this happens when you are in a small church startup with about twenty members!) When I was in college, the pastor of the church I attended invited me to preach. The first time he was present; after that, he invited me as pulpit supply on occasion.

These experiences helped build me up and prepare me for ministry long before I attended seminary. And when I was serving in my first church as an associate minister, we established our first Youth Sunday in a long, long time. But I knew that Youth Sunday wasn’t going to cut it. Only once a year? Only one time for the youth to share their gifts for ministry? So I began to establish, with the help of the senior minister, a training program for youth starting in middle school to help in the worship service. And we began by reading Scripture to the congregation, and worked our way into other areas of the service. 

At my second church, where I served as Senior Pastor, I did the same—but I also invited youth to preach and not just on Youth Sunday. And when she turned sixteen, I invited her to come on pastoral visits with me (but I always received permission first from the homebound member). She also eventually was invited to serve on the church board.

In both churches, there was one youth who began to feel a call to ministry and felt uplifted, supported and encouraged in that call, just as I had felt many years ago.

What are we doing in our churches to support young people in the call to ministry? What are we doing to help laity of all ages feel supported in their call to ministry?

All too often, worship is led by the pastor, and even if laity are involved, it is simply for things such as taking the offering or serving Communion, or maybe reading Scripture. The number one complaint I hear from pastors when I ask them how laity participate in worship is that the laity are not trained to read Scripture or to lead in worship. But that is our job. If we are not involving the laity in our worship services (and of course I am speaking from a Free Church congregation with no set liturgy other than what was created by tradition within this particular congregation), we are failing to raise up the next generation of leaders.

In my current congregation, no one has come forward to me to express an interest in professional ministry—yet. But that does not mean I do not provide those opportunities, as much as possible, by inviting others to participate and serve. I also provide training, once a year, on reading Scripture out loud, what the Prayer of Invocation is and what it means to call people into worship. An 85-year-old woman in my church, who attended the training but had no interest in actually leading it, said to me “I never knew what the word Invocation really meant until now. Now I know what it is we are doing.” Sometimes, in the Free Church tradition, we have done a poor job of educating within our communities on what it is worship means, what is liturgy, and what it is we are doing.

We need to do better. Think of ways you can involve others in leadership, and ways we can educate our congregations on what worship is, but we also need to find ways of encouraging and lifting up those within our congregations who may be gifted for ministry. It is not enough to bless them and send them on their way to seminary; we must begin cultivating that call now.

What is Holy?

By Rev. Mindi

I’m writing on Tuesday of Holy Week, forgetting that a) it’s Tuesday and b) that it’s Holy Week all too often today. I have gone from volunteering at a neighborhood school to preparing for a PTA meeting tonight and in the meantime making signs for our Easter Egg hunt. After I write this, I’ll be helping to stuff about two thousand eggs for Saturday.  I keep thinking that Thursday night is one night I don’t have meetings this week. I have forgotten it is Maundy Thursday, as it is not my current church’s practice to observe Maundy Thursday. I also keep thinking I have a free day on Friday and can take my day off, forgetting that I do have a 6:30 p.m. Good Friday service. All I can think about is this damn egg hunt on Saturday (note: it was my idea this year).  Oh yeah, and on Sunday I’m supposed to celebrate the Resurrection.

Holy Week? What is so darn holy about this week? It’s just like any other week, except with more things to do and I have a fuller scheduled than I anticipated. But it wasn’t always this way. When I first entered professional ministry, I loved the pace of Holy Week. I loved the joy and wonder and the premonition that something different was going to happen on Palm Sunday. I treasured the quiet contemplation along with the preparations that took place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I always felt like I had time to be ready. Thursday’s service was met with darkness, fear, and still hope. Friday was often a day to be gathered with other Christian brothers and sisters in ecumenical services. Saturday was a day of rest. There were no egg hunts then—they were saved for Sunday morning.

There was a pace that brought peace to me, as a pastor, as a Christian, as a human being. That was before I was juggling services with my husband or had a child or became involved in other community activities. Now, Holy Week seems to have lost its holiness for me.

Or is that I am just out of touch with what is holy? Was it just another week back then? Was it just another gathering of friends and family sharing the Passover meal, but then words were shared that were different, actions that went along with those words that turned bread and wine into symbols of remembrance? Was it just another time like so many that happen to the incarcerated today, when a friend betrayed a friend, the authorities arrested an innocent man, and there was a hasty trial? Was it just another death, just another funeral, just another day of mourning and rest?

I wonder if Holy Week felt very holy to Peter, James, John, Judas, Thomas, Mary, Susanna, Joanna, and others. Even Jesus.

It probably didn’t feel holy until they began to remember. Maybe it was on that Saturday when they couldn’t believe that just twenty-four hours before their friend was alive and now dead. Maybe it was when they shared their mid-day meal that they remembered it was just a couple of days ago they had shared the Passover meal together, broke bread and shared the cup with Jesus. Maybe it was on that Saturday night that they remembered it was just six days before when they entered Jerusalem and people were shouting “Hosanna!” Maybe it was only after they got through it that it seemed holy, special, set apart. Memories that they wanted to preserve and never, ever, ever forget.

Or maybe it wasn’t until after they found the tomb empty, after the angels spoke to them, after they saw Christ, after, after, after—maybe it wasn’t until the mourning and crying were done that they were able to rejoice and see how holy the last week had been—how death had died, how sin had died, how love had prevailed.

Maybe for those of us who are church leaders, clergy, lay, committed volunteers—maybe we find the holiness in the looking back, in the memories of washing each other’s feet and the extinguishing of candle flame, in the haunting echoes of “Were You There?” that ring through our head, and in the darkness we leave on Good Friday and the dark cloths we hang on the cross. Maybe we find the holiness in the picking up of broken plastic eggs on Saturdays (or the joy of finding an unfound egg hours after the hunt is over and the kids are gone). Maybe we find the holiness in the living out of these memories, year after year after year, of that time so long ago, when Jesus’ closest friends may have had a hard time finding the holy in the ordinary.

May you find the holy in this week, in whatever act of remembrance, and remember that sometimes the holy moments are found after the week is done.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

By Rev. Mindi

As you probably know, Christmas doesn’t begin until December 25th, but it doesn’t end there, either. In the Christian tradition, Christmas lasts twelve days (December 25th through January 5th), and then we celebrate Epiphany on January 6th. However, most of our American/Western culture started celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and the trees and decorations are down on December 26th. Most radio stations stop playing Christmas music on December 25th, and the Christmas specials and movies end their airtime on TV that day as well.  Satellite radio will at least go through New Year’s Eve and most businesses will keep their decorations up until then, but that’s it.  Most people do not know about the Twelve Days of Christmas besides the song.

Advent is a wonderful season, and Advent calendars for children are a great way to learn about waiting for Christmas. Advent devotionals are a great way for families or just adults to spend time reflecting on what the Incarnation means to them. Many churches write their own Advent devotionals with activities to do as a family during this season. But after December 25th, there is nothing.

Seeing how, at least in the United States, most children are out of school for two weeks (almost the entire Christmas season itself), I am proposing we do more to acknowledge and celebrate the twelve days of Christmas.  I will be writing a devotional with activities for families—both children and adults—to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and to spend time together. Plus, let’s face it—the novelty of new toys wears off in a few days and the whole second week of vacation can be spent counting down the hours and minutes until school starts again (at least from a parent’s point of view).  As a parent of a child with special needs, the break in routine and regular schedules can also be difficult to navigate—one or two days is fine; two weeks seems like two months.

And while this is a great idea to take up time while school is out, it’s more than that—this can be a time to acknowledge, celebrate and respond to the Incarnation in our very homes and daily lives. The Incarnation gets swept away in the cultural celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Even in the life of the church, the first Sunday of Christmas is often a Sunday with low attendance, carol-sings, guest preachers or other special activities. The following Sunday is often Epiphany Sunday or looking at the New Year. We end up missing the Incarnation that we waited all Advent to celebrate.

So I will be putting together a Twelve Days of Christmas Calendar on my website, http://rev-o-lution.org, along with some activities before Christmas to help prepare (and to take up those few days of no school before Christmas) and will conclude with Epiphany.

In the meantime, think of how you might mark the Incarnation rather than just recycling your wrapping paper (although that is a good idea). Celebrate the Incarnation not just in worship on Christmas Eve, but in your daily practice. Don't let Christmas be overshadowed by the busy-ness of Advent. As tired as we clergy may be, we also need to remember God's entry into this world in a new way. We all too easily let Christmas fade away after December 25th. I hope we don't this time.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

A Spiritual Routine

By Rev. Mindi

This post originally appeared on Edge Pieces, the blog for Open Gathering, a new Disciples of Christ Church plant on July 9th, 2013. It has been adapted slightly for [D]mergent for a wider audience.

One of the concerns I have as a pastor, and a parent of a child with special needs, is bringing spirituality into AJ’s daily life. As for many parents, church can be hard work. Sometimes people at church do not understand and can make church an unwelcoming place for those with special needs, who cannot sit still or stay silent. Sometimes sensory issues make it difficult to attend worship, and sometimes the older buildings are not fully accessible to those who have mobility needs. Traditional church, because it is only once a week and not every day like school or other activities, and it is not primarily focused on a specific person like once-a-week therapy sessions are, can be difficult to add into one’s weekly routine. We know many families for whom going to church is such a struggle, they do not even bother.

While I am at Open Gathering now, I also serve a small church in Burien, WA.  AJ goes to church most Sunday mornings with me to Burien Community Church. When I was not serving as a pastor when we lived in Oklahoma, I was able to sit with him and try to help him understand the order of service—now we stand, now we sing, now we sit quietly and pray, etc. Routine for many children with special needs is important, and in many of our church worship services, we can establish a routine more easily as the service usually follows the same format every Sunday.  I no longer am able to sit with AJ every Sunday morning as I am pastoring a church now, but I still try to help him understand the routine.  Because I cannot sit with him, sometimes he only understands the greeting time, and I let him use his iPad to stay quiet in the pew until the Children’s Message.  But he understands the routine: he puts the iPad down and comes to sit next to me on the chancel steps.  Then after the prayer, he can run down the aisle to the back and go downstairs for Children’s Church at my church in Burien.

But at home, spirituality is just as important. We try to model that God is in our lives everywhere, not just at church. Church is often just one day a week, and while we may be at the building during the week at other times, we do not have the same routine there.  So at home, we at least say prayers every night, something I have been doing with AJ since he moved from a crib to a bed. We read a book, and I try to read a child’s prayer book or baby Bible as the last story, then I say a simple prayer but fold his hands as well, and I close my eyes. Then I tuck him in.

During Advent, we began a routine of lighting the Advent Candles at home every night and doing a short reading and prayer. We did this at the dinner table so AJ was already sitting. We made sure the TV was off and no other distractions were on. It was a nice ritual of quiet time and reflection for our family during the Advent Season, but it also introduced something new for AJ. While I’m sure he didn’t understand the complete significance of it, he seemed to enjoy us sitting together and lighting candles.

Routine is important for many children with special needs. Establishing a spiritual routine, just like establishing a hygiene routine or any other practice takes practice.  Some families say grace before meals, and that is another wonderful (and traditional) way to introduce spiritual practice in the home.

At Open Gathering, what makes us unique is that we have made worship even more accessible for those used to routine because, while doing emergent-style worship, we have kept the same routine every time we gather: Music, Wondering, Table.  During Music we sing five or six songs from our songbook, songs that become familiar (we usually do two or three that we did the week before).  At Wondering, all are invited to come sit near the table for the Story—in which the Bible Lesson is shared in a Montessori-style storytelling. As part of the Wondering, we also do Work, in which we respond to the story. One can do Work by sharing one’s perspectives on the Bible lesson in a dialogue-sermon (often many of the adults do this in a corner of our shared space), or by staying put at the table and responding with art, crafts, and play. Then we all return to the Table for prayer, offering, and communion. We end by singing our benediction song together “Peace Before Us.”

Because our routine is simple and not a long list in a printed bulletin, Open Gathering is more readily accessible to those with special needs because it becomes familiar more quickly. We also have fewer “rules.” People are invited to dance and move as needed or desired during the Music time. During the Wondering time, we are invited to sit closer for the story, then during work we can sit or stand or move about as necessary.  We gather at the Table again for the end. We are invited to pray together, sometimes to sit together, but we are also invited to be ourselves.

***** 

Church leaders, there are many different ways to do worship. Perhaps you can inspire others to begin a spiritual routine at home, establishing a semblance of spiritual life that works for them and their family’s unique needs.  Perhaps there are families who simply are not able to attend worship due to unique needs or work schedules, but maybe there is still a way to reach out and include others by inviting them to begin a spiritual routine at home.