The Fellowship Blogs

The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

Unbound and Abounding

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 13, 2019
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:8-15

Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David. This is my good news. This is the reason I'm suffering to the point that I'm in prison like a common criminal. But God's word cannot be imprisoned.
(2 Timothy 2:8-9, CEB)

Devotion

I don't know about you, but Paul's words to his beloved Timothy do my heart a world of good. Heaven knows that the majority of us do not suffer to the point of being incarcerated for the sake of the gospel, but I'm certain we could all recall a time when our efforts to share the message of salvation through Christ Jesus became fettered. Virtual chains shackled the limbs of our creativity, afflicting the heart of our artist ministry.

Budget cuts unravel the new shepherd costumes for the drama department. An outbreak of the flu wipes out your children's presentation for Mother's Day. Your grand plans for a dazzling Pentecost celebration go up in flames because "we've never done it that way before." We strive to rejoice while enduring these blows to our efforts and egos, but we do not sense an up-building of character or hope! (Romans 5:4)

This is when Paul's good news steps in; our God, who cannot be bound by time or space, will likewise not be confined by any human hindrance. God's word cannot be imprisoned, so our perseverance in God's word is not in vain. Granted, the fruits of our labors may not ripen as we first expected. In fact, we may think we planted apples but find kumquats growing instead! Still God's promised faithfulness is immutable and God's message of salvation is "off the chain."

Prayer

Almighty and ever-present God, we give thanks for your faithfulness and the strength you lend us as we persevere in our art for your sake. Help us to present ourselves as "tried-and-true" workers, never ashamed of your message nor overwhelmed by adversity. We humbly ask these things in the name of your suffering servant, Jesus. Amen.

Beth HolzhemerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Traditional Music and Worship
First United Methodist Church
Hopkinsville, KY

Photo: Amy Valdez Barker preaches at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City as part of The Fellowship's 2019 Convocation, "A Place at the Table." (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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A Continuum of Faith

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost / World Communion Sunday

Week of: October 6, 2019
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

I'm reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I'm sure that this faith is also inside you. Because of this, I'm reminding you to revive God's gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn't give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
(2 Timothy 1:5-7, CEB)

Devotion

In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul celebrates the exemplary lives of faith lived by Lois and Eunice, Timothy's grandmother and mother, then exhorts Timothy to prepare himself for the challenges of his future ministry. As worship leaders, we can step into Timothy's sandals and look to both the past and future to strengthen our spiritual leadership.

It is a sweet thing to call to mind those persons who have been like Paul, Lois, or Eunice for us — spiritual parents and grandparents, some by blood and others by adoption through Christ — who have laid literal and figurative hands upon us to commission our way forward. We hold fast to their sound teachings; we keep our feet pointed toward the future.

Filled with a spirit of boldness and love we give thanks for the joys of passionate sacred artistry in worship in a world culture very different from that of our foremothers and forefathers in faith. We honor them and our holy calling by bridging the span between generations and continuing to nurture those who may someday call us "God-parents."

Prayer

Thank you, God, for our spiritual parents and grandparents who established in us a foundation of authentic faith. Open our eyes and hearts to recognize those in our lives with whom you are calling us to seek to be in relationship. By the power of the Holy Spirit, bind up our world with cords of familial love and help our community on earth better reflect your heavenly kingdom. We ask this in the great name of Jesus. Amen.

Beth HolzhemerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Traditional Music and Worship
First United Methodist Church
Hopkinsville, KY

Photo: Dancers from multiple generations participate in the dance program at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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The Good Fight

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 29, 2019
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.
(1 Timothy 6:11b-12a, NRSV)

Devotion

This week’s reading reminds me that being a Christian isn’t always easy. Sometimes we are asked to turn the other cheek or play the role of peacemaker in a difficult situation. At other times, we are called to fight the good fight of faith.

As we struggle with our political and religious institutions, there are moments when we need to fight the good fight. Thankfully, Paul gives us guidelines: in our disagreements, we should pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

God never promised we would be free from disagreement, nor were we promised we would be able to easily and quickly solve our differences. Yet, as Christ followers, if we model the character attributes that Paul shared with Timothy, we might be able to bring others to the table to work through our disagreements. When we depart from the table we are able to do so in love, rather than righteous indignation towards the other person(s).

Prayer

God of truth and justice, give us the wisdom and clarity of heart to know when we need to fight the good fight. In our disagreements, strengthen our resolve to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. May we be models in the church and in the secular world of how to have healthy engagement when we disagree. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: The 2019 Convocation worship team leads “Canticle of the Turning” during worship on Tuesday evening at Church of the Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Changing Lives

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 22, 2019
Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

... who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:4, NRSV)

Devotion

I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit working within our worship arts leads to changed lives — lives that want to follow Jesus. Scripture reminds us that petitions and prayers are to be made for all, not just for people who think like we do. As the number of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ declines and our churches see reduced numbers, we as worship artists have the wonderful privilege of connecting artists with a faith community.

May we actively seek to invite people outside the walls of our church to be a part of our worship ministries. Could we begin with small steps in the form of temporary commitments that allow others to experience our worship communities and presence of the Holy Spirit? We can provide the open door for a positive experience that breaks down human barriers and allows for the Holy Spirit to move.

Prayer

Lord God, challenge us to pray for the needs of others before we pray for ourselves. Empower us to be invitational and welcoming to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus. May our words and deeds reflect your grace and love to all so they may come to faith in you. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Flags and streamers are waved during the closing hymn of opening worship at Convocation 2019, held at St. James UMC in Kansas City. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Missing Pieces

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 15, 2019
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost."
(Luke 15:9, NRSV)

Devotion

This summer when I was visiting my family, I had the opportunity to be “Uncle Doug” and play games with my nephew. At one point he became agitated because he was missing a game piece, even though the piece was not necessary for playing the game. The game stopped while he looked everywhere until he could find the piece. Once he located it and the game was complete, his smile returned and we could continue having fun.

At times it can be easy for me to shrug off the missing pieces or individuals serving in particular aspects of ministries because I am focused on the bigger picture. Yet, if I truly seek to live my life as a good shepherd or like the woman with the lost coin, I will pause and be mindful of and search for those who are missing or have fallen away from the ministries I oversee. Then, I can rejoice when that person reconnects with the church.

I pray that in those moments when I am the one who is lost, I may be sensitive to those individuals who seek to find me and help me return to the Good Shepherd.

Prayer

God of second chances, thank you for pausing the game to come and find me when I go astray. Thank you for rejoicing upon my return. Remind me that my ministry should focus on others and not on the programming of the church. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Children participate in a song during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Wonderfully Made

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 8, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
(Psalm 139:14a, NRSV)

Devotion

This psalm reminds us that we are wonderfully made by God. We have the joyful responsibility to praise the Almighty using the talents with which God gifted us at our birth.

As members of worship leadership teams, we seek to find the best dancers, musicians, writers, speakers, and visual artists to share in our worship services. Yet, do we seek to involve those who are still developing their talent? Do we seek to involve those who have an unusual or unconventional gift?

God knows those in our church with talents that are untapped or even ignored. Maybe it is time for us to look around to see the beautiful gift-sets which surround us. I believe that when we, as the Church, seek to involve all ages and all abilities in our acts of worship, God will smile as our worship and praise ascend to heaven.

Prayer

Creating and Loving God, thank you for the talents you have blessed us with as worship leaders in your Church. Open our eyes to see those around us who are waiting to be asked to use their God-given talents and gifts as offerings of praise to you in our worship communities. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Dancers perform during the Thursday afternoon dance program at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Incomplete Wells

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 1, 2019
Scripture: Jeremiah 2:4-13

… for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2:13, NRSV)

Devotion

One of my greatest fears used to be disappointing my parents or my mentors. As worship artists, I believe we all find ourselves desiring our worship services to go “as we have planned” so we do not disappoint others.

It is easy to fall into that temptation without asking, “Where is God? What is God saying in this passage of scripture? How is the Spirit leading in my church?”

When we begin to dig our own cisterns and do things our way, we will find ourselves serving with a sense of incompleteness, eventually leading to disappointment. However, when we follow the Spirit’s leading, we will drink and serve from the overflowing abundance of living water found in wells that are without blemish.

Prayer

Loving God, when we go astray and start to drink from the incomplete wells we have dug, lead us back to your deep and overflowing water. Remind us to seek your will and to rely on you and not on our own understanding. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Hycliff Soler dances during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Grace

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 25, 2019
Scripture: Luke 13:10-17

When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
(Luke 13:13, NRSV)

Devotion

In reading the 13th chapter of Luke, when Jesus healed the woman on the sabbath, I am reminded of Jesus’ radical grace. A woman showed up at the synagogue in need of healing. It does not mention that Jesus gave consideration to who she was, what happened to her, where she came from ... or provide any other detail. Jesus saw someone in need and his grace-filled response was to heal her.

Jesus also seemed to disregard sabbath law, which put him at odds with the religious leaders. He pointed out to them the inconsistencies in the law that would allow consideration of the needs of one group but not another group. Apparently, it was okay to tend to the needs of animals on the sabbath, but not humans. For Jesus, however, grace is available for all.

In our worship planning, we must not get so engrossed in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it, leading us to neglect to offer grace to those in need. We must not be like the religious leaders at the synagogue who were more concerned about observing the law than helping people. Instead, we must be ever-mindful that our calling as worship artists is to help facilitate experiences for hurt people to be healed and offer praise, and for God's grace to be extended to them.

Prayer

Gracious God, let us be ever-mindful that all we do is for your glory. Amen.

Sherri Wood-PoweThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pastor, Oak Chapel UMC
Chair, Baltimore-Washington Conference Worship Team
Silver Spring, MD

Photo: Congregants partake in communion at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Disappointment

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 18, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard ...
(Isaiah 5:1, NRSV)

Devotion

The opening of this pericope in the 5th chapter of Isaiah presents itself as a love song. The writer begins by speaking of the many things his beloved did to care for his vineyard to promote growth and a fruitful harvest, but was met with disappointment. Not only were his expectations unfulfilled, but he also faced judgment for this perceived failure.

This text reminds us that things will not always work as we plan. There will be times when we are faced with disappointment. There will be times when we labor, expecting the results to be a fruitful harvest, but end up with an unproductive yield. While this does not seem fair, we continue to labor, knowing that we do not labor in vain.

Thus, we continue to preach, to pray, to sing, and to worship knowing that in due season, our vineyard will flourish.

Prayer

Lord, in the midst of disappointments, let us remember that we do not labor in vain. We know you see our good works. Let that knowledge propel us to continue in our calling, especially when others want to judge us as failures. Amen.

Sherri Wood-PoweThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pastor, Oak Chapel UMC
Chair, Baltimore-Washington Conference Worship Team
Silver Spring, MD

Photo: A dramatic portrayal of scripture as seen during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Faith Exemplified

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 11, 2019
Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Devotion

Blind faith seems like an oxymoron. Faith in and of itself is blind, so we don’t need to say “blind faith.” Faith requires us to believe in that which we cannot see. In faith, we have full assurance that all we hope for will come to pass, if we are in the will of God.

As worship artists, we strive to create worship, believing that the Spirit of the Lord will reign in the service. We expect that persons who attend worship and are fully engaged will encounter God in a transformative way.

Each week, we want to offer hope through worship. Our worship celebrates a God of hope who transcends despair, who gives light in darkness, peace in chaos, and love instead of hate. We must give persons attending worship something in which to look forward, to believe. If our hope is merely put in that which we can see, we become disenchanted and depressed. Instead, we live in hope, believing the promises of God.

Prayer

God, help us not only to live in faith, but also to be examples of faith in all we say and do. Our hope is fixed in our ability to believe that which we cannot see. Let us see with eyes of faith. Amen.

Sherri Wood-PoweThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pastor, Oak Chapel UMC
Chair, Baltimore-Washington Conference Worship Team
Silver Spring, MD

Photo: Members of the dance ensemble perform at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Give Thanks to the Lord

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 4, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 107:1-9, 43

Let those who are wise give heed to these things and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
(Psalm 107:43, NRSV)

Devotion

The psalm for this week is a psalm of thanksgiving. It is believed to be composed for use in special thanksgiving rituals. These rituals gave an opportunity for the redeemed of the Lord to celebrate their redemption by offering thanks to God and sharing their testimony with others.

Psalm 107 provides several instances in which the people have been redeemed, but our pericope only covers persons who have been rescued from wandering in the desert, hungry and thirsty. The Lord redeemed them and now it is time for them to offer thanksgiving.

In our worship services, people come in need of redemption and seek to give thanks for having received it. Everyone shows up at a different place with a different situation. As worship planners, we must make space for everyone. Sometimes, it is as simple as providing a time to share joys and concerns; other times, our rituals need to be more involved.

It is important that we come together as a community or congregation to share God’s movement in our lives, reminding others that God’s redemption is for all. Just as God brought one person out of the desert, God will also bring out others.

Prayer

Almighty God, we give thanks for your steadfast love and for redeeming us. Help us to facilitate worship encounters with opportunities to share testimony of your goodness and redemption. Amen.

Sherri Wood-PoweThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pastor, Oak Chapel UMC
Chair, Baltimore-Washington Conference Worship Team
Silver Spring, MD

Photo: Congregants hold hands prior to receiving Communion during Friday worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Remember, Reconnect, Revitalize

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 28, 2019
Scripture: Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)

You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well-constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out. Quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.
(Colossians 2:6-7, The Message)

Devotion

One of the beautiful sources of revitalization in our practice of discipleship is remembering and reconnecting with the beginning of our lives as Christ-followers.

When and how did you first encounter the Living Christ? Where were you? What did you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? How did you feel? What did you think? What did you do?

Did you receive this encounter as a gift? How did you respond? Did you experience it more in your mind, your heart, your physical being, or your innermost soul?

Since then, how have you deeply rooted yourself in Christ Jesus? What daily, weekly, seasonal practices have helped you sink your roots deeply into the ground of your being?

How have you constructed your life upon Christ? Have you made decisions for the way you spend your time, money, energy, even your vocation, based on your encounter with the Living Christ?

Are there ways in which your everyday "yes" to the tasks related to your life as a worship arts leader embody "living it"?

Prayer

Living Christ, let my living spill over into thanksgiving to you. Amen.  

Leigh Anne TaylorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
President, The Fellowship
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
Lynchburg District Revitalization Coordinator
Lynchburg, VA

Photo: The labyrinth next to Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska is seen during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Only One Thing

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 21, 2019
Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.
(Luke 10:41-42, NRSV)

Devotion

When we can stay connected to God/Love in all our tasks as worship arts leaders, whether it's mental, emotional or physical work, we more fully inhabit God/Love in our soul. Staying connected to love is liberating, healing and holy work … and over time, it transforms us into Christian disciples and changes our leadership.

Choosing to connect with God/Love in our daily tasks as worship arts leaders reflects the choice of sister Mary.

Neglecting to connect reflects the choice of sister Martha, who was too worried and distracted by her to-do list to make that connection, even when the Lord of Love was, quite literally, staring her in the face.

I don’t think Jesus means to shame us if we resemble Martha or honor us if we resemble Mary. I think we're meant to see ourselves reflected in the choices and activity of both of these dear friends of Jesus.

What's one thing you can do (or stop doing) throughout the day to refresh your focus on Jesus, to connect with God/Love as you go about the daily tasks of your work as a worship artist? What's one thing you can do (or stop doing) to let go of worry and distraction?

Can you hear Jesus speak your name gently, lovingly, helping you focus?

Prayer

Being with you, Loving Jesus, is the one thing that is necessary. Help me to let go of the rest. Amen.  

Leigh Anne TaylorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
President-Elect, The Fellowship
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
Lynchburg District Revitalization Coordinator
Lynchburg, VA

Photo: The Lake Junaluska Cross is seen after an afternoon rain at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Transformed People

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 14, 2019
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
(Luke 10:27, NRSV)

Devotion

For worship arts leaders, there are three stages to the rhythm to our work:

  • We study scripture and discern how best to express it using resources of our art forms;
  • we teach our worship artists to employ their gifts to express that message; and
  • we set people free in the act of worship to express their love for God and neighbor.

Each stage of our work contains within it a beautiful invitation to employ our entire being – mind, heart, body – to express our love for God and neighbor.

When we can stay connected to God/Love in all our doing with our mind, heart and body, we more fully inhabit God/Love in our being – in our soul. It’s whole-making, liberating, healing and holy work.

The inherent beauty of staying connected to God/Love in each stage of our work is that over time, we become transformed. And as Father Richard Rohr says, “transformed people transform people.”

This is how worship artists make disciples.

Prayer

“God, I don’t really know what it means to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and my neighbor as myself, but I’m willing to give it a try. Amen.” *

* My prayer of dedication at age 15.  

Leigh Anne TaylorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
President-Elect, The Fellowship
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
Lynchburg District Revitalization Coordinator
Lynchburg, VA

Photo: A dramatic portrayal of the story of Nicodemus as found in John 3:1-21 during a morning worship service at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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A Spirit of Gentleness

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 7, 2019
Scripture: Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.
(Galatians 6:1, NRSV)

Devotion

Paul writes these words to the church in Galatia to teach them how to live together in Christian community. The rest of the passage seems to caution against pride, being judgmental, and being driven by ego. Paul encourages humility, patience and gentleness.

I've always thought that there is no better example of Christian community than a worship arts group. Whether we come together to sing, dance, play instruments, or create art, we create Christian community each time we rehearse or offer our gifts in worship.

How we treat one another when we are together makes all the difference. Most especially, how we as leaders treat our participants when we make corrections makes all the difference. When we lead with a spirit of gentleness, we have the power to set people "free to serve the Lord with joy." When our leadership is hindered by pride, a judgmental attitude, or our own ego needs, we also have the power to harm or even destroy Christian community.

How can we learn to lead like Paul suggests?

Prayer

Gentle Spirit, live in me. By your mercy, let me live and lead in you. Let all I do and say honor and restore the beloved souls that you have entrusted me to lead. Amen.  

Leigh Anne TaylorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
President-Elect, The Fellowship
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
Lynchburg District Revitalization Coordinator
Lynchburg, VA

Photo: Sylvia Bryant leads dancers in a workshop on “Dancing the Spirituals” during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.(Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Plowing Straight

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Third Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: June 30, 2019
Scripture: Luke 9:51-62

Jesus said … "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
(Luke 9:62, NRSV)

Devotion

The words of an African American spiritual speak to the scripture for this Sunday:

“You done lost your track; can’t plow straight and keep a-lookin’ back.
Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

People who tend the earth, those with large equipment in vast fields of crops or those of us who plant small gardens, will attest that planting in straight rows takes concentration and focus and attention to the task at hand. Taking our eyes or mind off our work, looking to see how our neighbor’s garden is growing, resenting those who have more help in the field, or using shortcuts in preparing the soil distracts us from our task and risks destroying the very thing we hope to accomplish. 

So it is with our ministry in the worship arts. We can and should be inspired by and learn from others in ministry, but when we “look back” at a church with better sound production equipment (and the people to run it) or a music program with more children in the choirs or a clergy colleague in a more influential pulpit, we are distracted and can lose our track. If we are looking back, we may plow right over the tender shoots growing from seeds we have planted. 

Plowing straight means paying attention to the ministry at hand, to the unique call God has given us, to the surprising opportunities in sight. So hold on, plow straight, and do not be distracted.

Prayer

O God of planting and of harvest,
you have called us to ministry in your garden.
Keep our hands on the tools of our work and our eyes on the straight track;
that we may be faithful in our labor, even as your faithfulness brings fruit in due season.
Through Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God forever. Amen.  

Barbara Day MillerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Associate Dean Emerita for Worship and Music
Associate Professor Emerita in the Practice of Liturgy and Music
Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Atlanta, GA

Photo: Flowers are seen outside Lambuth Inn at Lake Junaluska during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Thirsting

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: June 23, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 42 and 43

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
(Psalm 42:1-2, NRSV)

Devotion

On any given morning we can look out the window at our house and see the resident herd of about 10 deer crossing from one side of the hill where they spend the night, to the far side of the hill and the flowing river where they spend the day. They move deliberately, calmly, a few fawns leaping, along the same path every day, a patterned behavior that keeps them alive. They move toward water instinctively, drawn by their daily thirst. As the night falls, they move up from the river and back to their sheltered place of rest.

The psalms are filled with images of life-giving water: streams of living water, still waters, trees planted near the water, deserts turned into pools of water. Conversely, there are vivid descriptions of the absence of water: a dry and weary land where there is no water, grass that withers, chaff blown in the wind. The psalmist knows we are like the deer, thirsting daily, needing God’s renewing water.

In the patterns of our busy lives — rehearsing, writing, creating, researching, caring for others — we often neglect our own need for water. We are thirsty, longing for flowing water, for spiritual refreshment. In this season, let us move deliberately, daily, to the source of life-giving water.

Prayer

Even as we thirst for you, O God, you lead us to the water of Life.
Bring us daily to this river of refreshment;
give us a drink of your renewing spirit;
that we may find ourselves energized anew for the ministry in which you lead us,
through Christ who is Living Water. Amen.  

Barbara Day MillerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Associate Dean Emerita for Worship and Music
Associate Professor Emerita in the Practice of Liturgy and Music
Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Atlanta, GA

Photo: The Rev. Barbara Day Miller pours the baptismal waters during a worship service at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Wonder

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Trinity Sunday / First Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: June 16, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 8

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.
(Psalm 8:1a, 3-5, NRSV)

Devotion

A church in my community has a yearly “Week of Wonder” as part of its children’s ministry. It’s a week of creative exploration, arts, story and song, a time of amazing discovery, and celebration of the creation. Psalm 8 is a daily call to wonder; it’s an invitation to spread our arms wide and embrace all that God has created.

As you are planning worship this summer, organizing “weeks of wonder”, writing sermons and prayers, allow time to set those tasks aside and look up and out at the world. Take a walk in the woods. Watch the sun set over the ocean. See the sun rise across the prairie. Sit outside in the evening and listen to the owls. Spend time with children who will point you to the wonder of the smallest insect, the most interesting turtle. Feel the rhythm of your own amazing breath.

Intentional moments of meditation outdoors can give us a deep sense of comfort and gratitude, remembering God’s care for us and the earth. We can also gain a sense of perspective and space, knowing that our work as worship artists is caught up in the creative work of God, who has crowned us, gifted us, and called us.

Prayer

O God of Creation,
how great is your name in all the earth!
The work of your hands is new every morning.
Recreate in us a sense of wonder,
that we might sing of your glory all our days;
through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.  

Barbara Day MillerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Associate Dean Emerita for Worship and Music
Associate Professor Emerita in the Practice of Liturgy and Music
Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Atlanta, GA

Photo: Lake Junaluska is seen during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. MWAW 2019, “Spirit of Wonder,” begins on June 23. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Multiple Languages

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Day of Pentecost

Week of: June 9, 2019
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

(The disciples) were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. … And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. ... (They said), "How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? ... In our own languages, we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."
(Acts 2:4, 6, 8, 11b, NRSV)

Devotion

The reading from Acts 2 is the familiar story of Pentecost, the experience of God’s Word reaching mind and heart in the places of deep understanding.

Translating and communicating the Good News into multiple languages is the holy work of worship artists. Through our liturgical leadership, we facilitate the hearing of the Word across differences of age, situation, culture, and life circumstance. Using languages — color and texture, sound and silence, movement and stillness, word and music — we bring multiple expressions of the biblical text to the gathered assembly who speak a variety of languages, both literal and metaphoric.

Our congregations have members whose heart language is aural — who long to hear God’s message of love in music and to respond in songs of praise and hymns of the spirit. There are those who hear most deeply through tactile or kinesthetic experience, moving to the table or the font, dancing, kneeling, touching. There are others who receive and respond to the Word through visual telling in banners, stained glass windows, or the architecture of the space itself. All these people long to hear and understand in their own language.

We are gifted with the languages of worship, the artistic tools of ministry. As we plan and lead, may we use the full range of liturgical expression to tell the Good News.

Prayer

O God, through the Spirit you spoke the first Word,
and the whole order came into being;
speak again through the arts we bring to worship,
that all might know and tell of your powerful and loving deeds,
in the name of Jesus, Word made flesh. Amen.  

Barbara Day MillerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Associate Dean Emerita for Worship and Music
Associate Professor Emerita in the Practice of Liturgy and Music
Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Atlanta, GA

Photo: Members of the dance ensemble assist in the recession of the worship elements during closing worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Completely One

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

Week of: June 2, 2019
Scripture: John 17:20-26

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
(John 17:22-23, NRSV)

Devotion

The associate minister at our church, responsible for the needs of those who come seeking assistance, is the living embodiment of this text from Sunday’s Gospel lesson. In dealing with each situation, this servant of the Lord treats every individual with enormous dignity and grace and becomes the living word in Spirit and Truth. This servant of the Lord literally shares the glory given by God and becomes one with those he serves, making them one with God through the Spirit and in love.

The lesson for me as a worship artist is to treat those with whom I work and serve with the same dignity and grace: “I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one.” 

It is our shared hope that those we reach through our many worship arts – choir, brass ensemble, handbells, liturgical dance, youth and children’s music, steel drums – will know that we are sent by God and have shared God’s love through our many and varied gifts.

The hymn “Many Gifts, One Spirit” (UMH 114) by Al Carmines speaks to this in a beautiful way.

Prayer

God of one, God of all,
God of change, God of glory,
God of colors, God of signs ...
Fill us each with the overflowing Love of Christ,
and give us the courage and grace to share that love
with everyone we encounter along the way.
Thank you for your presence in our lives and in our world.
Use us to bring about your kingdom on this earth. Amen.  

Peter InfangerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Music Ministries
First United Methodist Church
Starkville, MS

Photo: The Intermediate II Handbell Choir rings during a Thursday afternoon concert at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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