Tuesday, May 06, 2008

General Conference Wrap-up Reflections: Worship

Worship at General Conference was a wonderful gift, a highlight in the midst of such long and stress-filled days. The worship leaders were Mark Miller and Marcia McFee. Mark was the director of the seminary choir while I was at Drew, and his role has since expanded to include more and more teaching responsibility at the seminary as well. I don't think I ever found my worship life so fulfilling as when I was at Drew, so naturally, I was quite looking forward to worship at General Conference.

We opened worship, naturally, with "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing," and "And Are We Yet Alive?" I like all kinds of music in worship, including some good old traditional hymns, and there's nothing like thousands of people singing "O For a Thousand Tongues."

Worship standouts throughout the week:

The service (Thursday?) where the communion liturgy was woven throughout the whole worship service. The bishops (throughout conference) sat on the floor, surrounding the body of delegate. This in itself was very powerful. This configuration for this interspersed setting of communion was particularly powerful.

Thursday was the episcopal address and the bishops' presentation on the four areas of focus and the seven vision pathways. My notes here are blurry and hard to distinguish into different section, but here are some short quotes - "[the church has] a diminished capacity to offer hope for the world . . . applying political solutions to relational differences." "Decline. Distraction. Division." "In the name of God, we do hard to one another. Our own need deafens us to the needs of others." "Not getting our own way, but giving ourselves away." John Wesley in The Character of a Methodist, "For opinions, for terms, let us not destroy the work of God." A quote like - "We put a man on the moon. We can have a poverty free world. We just need the mind to do it." "Go where the people are." "Connectionalism is not the enemy but a means of grace." Everybody says they would be happy, have enough, if they had "about 20% more." Scarcity mindset.

A great story was told about stopping at some children's kool-aid stand and the children anxiously hurrying the purchaser along. When asked about it, the kids responded that they only had the one cup to use over and over. Do we, the church, act like we only have one cup? When we are full, our purpose is to be emptied. When we are empty, our purpose is to be filled. We are the cup - God fills us, we pour out.

The first Young People's Address was fantastic. "My theology does not stand in the way of who you are." Multi-media, multi-sensory. Dynamic and excellent.

Excellent sermons were given by:
Bishop Hutchinson - telling a story about telling his son, "When the preacher gives the call to come forward, don't move." "Today, I'm asking you to move. Or, more clearly, to let yourself be moved."

Bishop Mark Hanson, ELCA - "nostalgia needs to be pruned so we can bear fruit." Pruned of our power and privilege. Computers have a root command with simple starting program, but if unplugged, the root command remains inactive on its hard disk. We have a root command: love one another. But unplugged from the vine, remains inactive.

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, especially excellent - Some are seeking to be more open. Some are seeking to be more pure. Both can be good - more hospitality, or more holy as emphases. When we seek to be more hospitable, the danger is that you can lose the identity of what holds you together. When you seek to be more holy, the danger is being so inward looking as to be idolatrous. Ask Jesus to remember you when he comes into his kingdom. What does it mean for Jesus to remember us?

Musical standouts:
"For Every Mountain," by Kurt Carr, sung at Friday morning worship - awesome.
As previously mentioned, "Sanctuary," set to Dave Matthews Band's "Crash."
"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," arranged by Gustav Holst. Would be perfect on Christmas Eve I think.

Mark's ability to play the right song at the right time is such a gift. Music can be so powerful and so healing when you have the right thing just when it is needed. Mark has a special talent for that - leading with humor and grace and heart.

*photo source
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