Oct 29 2013

The Heart of Worship

CannonI sit in a room full of scholars and students asking hard questions, searching for justice, and hungry to engage their faith in the world. The architecture in this room is wonderfully symbolic. We sing from hymnbooks. We read liturgy. The organ is our lead singer. Sometimes we have choirs in robes, sometimes a drumline, sometimes a string quartet, and sometimes a soloist. We follow the liturgical calendar for preaching. There is a pulpit. There are no fancy lights. No fog machines. The room is full of contemplative focus.

Now I sit in a large auditorium that seats 2,500 people. It is full of many different types of people with many different agendas. There’s a full band, a billboard sized projection screen, and a backdrop to the stage that’s of the same quality found at a major rock concert. The band sounds like a professional rock band. The lyrics are on the screen, not in your hand. There are lights, lots of lights. There is fog rolling from the stage. There is not a pulpit when the preacher preaches, just a round bar table and a plasma screen to his left. The room is full of energy.

Now I sit in a room in Venezuela that serves as a bar or event space during the week and a church on Sundays. The people gathered are hungry for worship to begin. There is no A/C, only fans blowing at full speed. There is a band but no fancy lights, no flat screen TVs, no fog, and no pulpit. The sound system is loud for sure, but not of any great quality. We are led by a band of students with one adult guiding them. The words are not in our hands nor on a screen, but in the hearts of the people. The room is full of anticipation.BuckheadThis past year has been a journey for me in the realm of corporate worship. My first year at Candler was one of interesting paradox. I attended a mainline Methodist seminary with a chapel service that, most weeks, was liturgy-driven, with an organ as our worship leader. Then I would attend non-denominational churches such as Passion City Church or Buckhead Church, where worship was more like a rock concert and liturgy was hard to find. My weekly worship experience was drastically different most of the time. Then this summer, I went down with World Methodist Evangelism Institute and worshiped in a small charismatic Venezuelan Methodist church. Each one of these uniquely different worship spaces was meaningful and wonderful.

So, worship.

Is this a matter of style? Is this a matter of theology? Is this a matter of liberal vs. conservative? Traditional vs. modern? Fundamental vs. progressive? Is this a matter of what is the right/best/most real/most personal/most collective way of worshiping?

Well, in short, yes. Of course it is, and it would be a lie to ignore all of those things when considering what worship means to us. I wonder though if we, in our modern church culture, couldn’t do more to learn and appreciate from one another.

I grew up in a church that had three worship environments: “contemporary” “modern” and “traditional.” Putting aside that these are slightly ambiguous terms, I found myself naturally being pulled towards the “modern” worship. As I grew older (I’m only 26 now), the traditional service began to eat me alive. Why is this even around anymore? Who really sings these songs and means them? Is there any Spirit found here? So needless to say, I would put myself in the camp of people that didn’t like a high liturgical or “traditional” worship setting.

VenezuelaThis year has changed me. Candler has stretched me. I have experienced an authentic encounter with God in so many different spaces and styles. Whether that be at Candler’s chapel services, Passion conferences, or small Venezuelan congregations.

I don’t think it is about style, or low-church vs. high-church, or any of that. I think it’s about the heart of the worship.

So it comes to this. It’s not how I worship, but whom I am worshiping. Am I worshiping style, or am I worshiping the God of all creation? And this God of all creation, doesn’t this God deserve and need to be worshiped in a multitude of ways? It’s really less about my style and more about my heart.

I have found this to be true: a community that is singing with its heart makes worship powerful. The community gathered in that space makes it powerful. Sure, what happens in the worship is important and should be done well, but style and liturgical preference will never trump the community gathered and the Spirit they bring to the space. So, whether I’m singing “Take Me As I Am,” “Your Love Never Fails,” or “La Creacion Hoy Canta,” if the community is worshiping as one, it is truly a moment that is special. The body unleashing its heart in true praise to God gives us worship. Give me that, in any style, and that is something I want to be a part of!

–Mark Kimbrough

Mark is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler.  From Springdale, Arkansas, he completed his undergraduate studies at The University of Arkansas.


Feb 3 2012

Pilgrim’s Progress…or to the Holy Land and Back Again

pil·grim/ˈpilgrəm/

Noun: a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of  religious devotion.

(Note: not a person who wore a funny hat and traveled on the Mayflower.)

 

Jennifer WyantAlmost three weeks ago, I walked a prayer labyrinth in Nazareth. I was trying to figure out what it meant to be more than just a tourist, more than just a traveler collecting memories for the scrapbook.

I knew how to be on a trip, but what I didn’t know was how to be on a pilgrimage.

I had joked with people before my trip to Israel with the WMEI[1] and 23 other seminarians that I was going to look for stones that Jesus had walked on, but in reality, I didn’t know if I would see any.

You see, seminarians can be a tad bit skeptical. We tend to question most everything we hear. I wanted to hear archaeological evidence on every sight. I wanted proof at every place that this was in fact the place where Jesus had been.

But then our tour guide, Wisam, a Palestinian Christian, spoke to us outside the Church of the Annunciation as we huddled together in the wind:

“It’s not that Jesus might have been here that makes this place holy. Jesus did not come to make stones holy. It’s the people who came here to worship over the centuries that makes this place holy. It’s the people. It’s the worship of God that turns this space into holy ground.”

Pilgrims for centuries had come searching for God in these places. And God had met them here. God had been meeting people here for thousands of years, and that made these places sacred ground.
And as I saw people crowded around the altar at the Garden of Gethsemane or taking the Eucharist in a church in Emmaus, I realized that it wasn’t about whether or not, it was this garden or the next garden over that Jesus physically prayed in or if it was that tomb or another tomb where they laid Jesus, it didn’t matter.

Because ultimately, Jesus wasn’t there anymore; he wasn’t in any of them. He is alive, meeting people on the long road home and in cold crowded churches, making them holy.

And so I went and walked in places where Jesus walked and maybe in some places where he didn’t. I walked around Israeli malls and refugee camps, past border fences and into the Dead Sea, along the Via Delarosa and the Sea of Galilee.

And I wondered what it meant to realize the reality of the resurrection and the gospel of Christ in a place that still knows so much hate and brokenness.

And as I walked around that prayer labyrinth, I realized that above all else,  no matter where following these footsteps led, I wanted to always walk in the places where Jesus walked, whether it be at a Palestinian refugee camp or back here among the halls of the CST[2].

And through all that, somehow I became a pilgrim.

- Jennifer Wyant


[1] World Methodist Evangelism Institute (http://www.wmei.ws/wordpress/)

[2] Candler School of Theology Building

Jennifer is a 2nd year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.


Jun 3 2011

Exploring the World’s Parish: An Indonesian Journey

The journeys God takes us on, and the unexpected pit stops along the way, are rarely ever dull, and rarer still are they purposeless. My recent trip to Indonesia with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute reminded me of this. Traveling with four fellow students, Candler professor Dr. Arun Jones, and a stellar team of Institute staff and volunteers, I spent ten days in capital city Jakarta learning about Christianity and ministry in the South Asian context. This was more than just an educational endeavor, however. In the truest sense of the word, travel itself is a process of self-refinement and personal growth.

This process began for me before we ever left Atlanta. I struggled with the conflicting desires of wanting to break out of my ordinary routine and wanting to stay safely within it. School had just ended for the summer and I craved the freedom of lazy evenings, fiction novels, and movie marathons. Instead, I was packing my bags for a seminar halfway across the world. A strange blend of emotions churned within me: the longing for adventure and new experiences mixed with an unsettling anxiety about traveling such a great distance and stepping so far outside my comfort zone.

Indonesia is about as far away in the world from Atlanta as you can go. However, after disembarking in Jakarta and spending ten days there, I came to discover that, in some ways, Indonesia is not so different from our fair southern state. In Indonesia, the air is just as heavy with humidity, the tea is just as sweet (though served piping hot!) and the hospitality is warm and welcoming. Our hosts made us feel right at home, even many thousands of miles away. For example, our host mother made us hamburgers and French fries for breakfast one morning! She also gifted one of us with a package of Kraft singles after he mused that he had been missing cheese. These seemingly small and somewhat quirky gifts of hospitality that brought a piece of America to Indonesia warmed our hearts as much as our later gifts of handmade traditional shawls that assured we would bring something of Indonesia back to America.

Many of my anxieties crumbled in the face of the overwhelming hospitality of my new Indonesian friends. What was left of my defenses toppled as I heard more and more ministry stories from local church leaders. There was the pastor who had baptized a young woman from a Muslim family who now has to mediate between her and her displeased father. Then there was the woman who is pastoring in an area devastated by a recent volcanic explosion; she loves and cares for her neighbors (physically and spiritually) without expecting anything in return. There was also the passionate young pastor with a skill for church planting who has his sights set next on the province of Papua. The challenges facing Indonesian pastors seem daunting to American Christians whose greatest fears in evangelism are embarrassment and rejection; Indonesian Christians work within a majority Muslim context in which Christianity is still considered taboo from its colonial associations. Yet these Methodist pastors are filled with God’s fire and minister to their communities with a zeal that would make John Wesley proud.

Before we left Atlanta, our group was asked to share what our greatest expectation was for the trip—our purpose in going. My answer was that, as an aspiring United Methodist minister, I have a responsibility to engage myself in the work of the global church. No Methodist pastor is an island, to borrow from Donne, and our connectional ties should extend beyond annual conference lines. To be a Methodist minister anywhere implies a bond with Methodist ministers everywhere. The struggles and triumphs of my Indonesian brothers and sisters should be mine, and mine theirs. I found this to be overwhelmingly the case; my greatest teachers were the pastors in my Wesley group (a small group of intimate sharing and accountability) during the seminar. They candidly shared the stories of their ministries and exposed their own vulnerabilities and challenges. Not only will I always remember them in my prayers, but I will remember them also during my studies of preparation for ministry. They are my ‘on-the-ground’ teachers, the ones who have shown me what passion for ministry looks like.

There are great things happening in Indonesia. And it is amazing how God can use a powerful tide of faith in a distant country to impact the singular faith journey of this one seminary student. With one more year of school before me and the looming question of “what’s next?” pressing ever closer, there are as many challenging months before me as there are behind. But I have been renewed in the living remembrance of what ministry is all about: living a passionate, infectious life of discipleship. It has taken a journey away from the familiarity of home to show me how to renew the faithfulness of my life and service. Our home environments can easily become all too comfortable so that even the most stretching of callings—that of the pastor—can ease into dull routine and habit. I thank God for the education that takes us outside of ourselves and shows us the bigger picture in which and towards which we are working: the very kingdom of God on earth.

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 3rd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.