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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

Together in Our Hope

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First Sunday of Advent

Week of November 29, 2020
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
(Isaiah 64:8, NRSV)

Devotion

Welcome to Advent! I'm not sure when God's clay has been more collectively fatigued, but here we are; and we are, despite our physical distance, together in our hope – our hope for our world, our hope for our faith, our hope for a meaningful and transformational Advent season.

We are all leading and contributing in uniquely challenging – some might say stunningly challenging – times. When problems seem insurmountable, give yourself grace, and then more grace, because whatever joyful noise (perfectly synchronized or not) we make to the Lord is pleasing in God's ear and is a lifeline for the singers and hearers.

Speaking as a layperson, there have been so many heavy emotions in the last eight months, I have sometimes resisted music because it makes me feel, and I have had all the feelings I could deal with on a daily basis. But music is woven so deeply into the preparation for the birth of Jesus that it cannot, and should not, ever be separated, and this music moves and stirs us – and when have we ever been more ready for a message of hope?

So let voices rise and music soar as the songs and scripture of Advent take us all by the hand and lead us back in time, forward into God's future, and fill us with the eternally renewing hope of Christ.

Prayer

O God, I am in need of you and I am in need of hope. Please open my eyes, ears, and heart to signs of hope and paths of becoming. I trust you; help me trust you more. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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God Is In Control

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Reign of Christ Sunday

Week of: November 22, 2020

Editor's note: For our devotions for the month of November, three teenagers will share their experiences during the pandemic and reflect on what they still find to be hopeful and grateful for in these challenging times. These devotions will not reflect the traditional Lectionary scriptures for each week, but we pray that they bring you hope and gratitude as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving.

 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
(Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

Devotion

We have experienced so many eventful things in our nation and in the world in 2020. Our everyday lives have been drastically impacted by this pandemic, and it seems that we live in an entirely different world now. Despite businesses, churches, and schools being closed, and activities and programs being canceled, cases continue to rise, which has made many people lose sight of the future.

Being in my last year of middle school in March, I had my year all planned out with activities, summer camps, friends to see over the summer, and preparation for going into high school. However, what started out as a small problem turned out to be much bigger than I ever thought it would be. Covid cases grew at such a pace and once it spread all around the country, I realized that my year would not go as I thought it would. Though knowing God will put an end to this, I, just like many people, still wonder how long this will last.

However, I gradually realized that God put a stop sign right in front of my busy life. This has given me more time in Bible study for growing a deeper relationship with God. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that I don't need to worry about how this pandemic is going to go or lose sight of the future because God is in control.

With all of the uncertainties that result from Covid, we should not be doubting what the future holds. God holds the future, and God's plan is perfect for us. Though hope may seem to be hard to find in these dark times, God has given us his words and full assurance. When we fix our eyes on God, we know we can enter into God's rest and see his perfect plan.

Prayer

Dear God, we thank you for everything that you have provided us in these dark times. Forgive us when we lose sight of you and your plans for our future. Help us to remember that you are in control of everything and will provide us hope.

Timothy L.Timothy L.
High school freshman
Dunlap, IL 

 

Photo by Josh Hild from Pexels.

 

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Unexpected Blessings

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 15, 2020

Editor's note: For our devotions for the month of November, three teenagers will share their experiences during the pandemic and reflect on what they still find to be hopeful and grateful for in these challenging times. These devotions will not reflect the traditional Lectionary scriptures for each week, but we pray that they bring you hope and gratitude as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving.

 

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
(1 Peter 5:10, NIV)

Devotion

This scripture brings me comfort in a time like this because God is reassuring us that through our struggles, no matter how big or small, God will replenish our focus and strength. I imagine almost everyone, no matter if you are a student or working professional, feels drained and possibly even insecure during these challenging times. My family and friends have been a strong source of love and encouragement throughout my life, and I am grateful for their love and guidance as I grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. Yet during the past six months, as one school year ended with a graduation and a new year began in college, I discovered God provided a new and unexpected blessing.

I have been especially thankful for the educators who are teaching my classes this semester. They have done a much better job than I have in adjusting to the times we are facing. I have looked to them for direction and guidance in my education, and they have been there to support and encourage me. However, there has been one thing missing in my first year in college – the opportunity to collaborate with others in some artistic capacity. This all changed last month when my college's jazz band invited me to join them for weekly rehearsals, and I could not have been more excited. For me, the ability to return to making music with others, even in a different format, has given me hope and restored my soul. I now have a way to be expressive again using the talents that God has given me. 

In this pandemic filled with social distancing and isolation, I have discovered that God is blessing me with supportive teachers, new friends, new opportunities, and new ways to collaborate with others despite all we must do to be safe. Take a look at your situation. How is God blessing you in the midst of this suffering and discomfort?

Prayer

Dear Lord, no words can express how thankful we are for receiving your blessings. Thank you for protection and for bringing healing to those who have faced trouble. We know you are on our side every step of our journey, and we pray that you will restore us and keep us steadfast in doing your will. Amen.

Ben KrumpeBen Krumpe
Freshman, Illinois Central College
East Peoria, IL 

 

Photo by Christoph Schütz from Pixabay.

 

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Making Things Good

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Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 8, 2020

Editor's note: For our devotions for the month of November, three high school students will share their experiences during the pandemic and reflect on what they still find to be hopeful and grateful for in these challenging times. These devotions will not reflect the traditional Lectionary scriptures for each week, but we pray that they bring you hope and gratitude as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving.

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28, NIV)

Devotion

2020. This year was supposed to be an awesome junior year of high school. I was supposed to have a bunch of challenging classes, hang out with my friends, get my license, participate in extracurriculars, and more. Well, things didn't exactly turn out as expected.

2020 completely defied expectations. It’s easy to complain and view this year as a major disappointment, but this passage in Romans tells us that God has a plan and is working things out for the good of those who love him.

This year, everyone's struggling with many disappointments, challenges, and questions. Instead of responding with complaining, as Christians, we are called to look for God at work and be thankful. It's really hard to be grateful sometimes, but the Bible also tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. I need to ask myself often: How is God working this for my good? "This" can be a lot of different things, from social distancing to remote learning! Once I ask that question, it's easier for me to rejoice in my situation. Sometimes, we don't know the answer. But, we know that God has promised he is working, and when he makes a promise, he never breaks it. Whenever we don't know, all we need to do is ask.

We need to be careful because this verse doesn't mean that everything is good or that God works all things for the good we think we deserve. We need to understand that as Christians, God has given us a promise that even though things may be rough here on earth, there will be good. We can stand firmly on that promise. So when you start to question the rough patches in life, I challenge you, instead of complaining, choose gratefulness, and ask, "How is God working 'this' for my good?"

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for working things for my good. Forgive me for the times when I complain and for when I ignore the work you are doing in the situations that surround me every day. Please teach me to look for how you are working in this world, and help me to choose thankfulness. Amen.

AmeliaAmelia
High school junior
Washington, IL 

 

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels.

 

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These Things Happen

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All Saints' Day / Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 1, 2020
Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.
(Revelation 7:11, NRSV)

Devotion

As a teenager, I had the opportunity to perform Handel's Messiah with my church choir. After almost an entire year of preparing for this Easter concert, a packed church gathered. The concert was going very well until the very last number. "Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain" includes a complicated section that quotes Revelation 7:12, "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God!"

Well, the worst thing happened! Something went wrong between the choir and the orchestra. It was a mess. The choir director desperately tried to bring us back together, but eventually, she just gave us a big wave of her hand stopping the music. She took a breath, turned around to the audience, and said, "Sometimes, these things happen." We started again and went on to a triumphant end. I remember feeling so embarrassed for her, but years later, I see amazing humility.

It would be easy to sing the Messiah and take the glory for ourselves. After all, we worked very hard, but the glory belongs to God. Being a Christian can sometimes feel like a lot of work and things can get messy. Sometimes, these things happen. Perhaps we should stop what we are doing and humble ourselves before God, then start again, confident in the God who created us and redeemed us. When the triumphant end arrives, we will fall before the throne and worship.

Prayer

God of heaven, today we stop and hit the restart button. As we start again, remind us that we are yours and you are our shepherd. All glory and honor are yours now and forever, Amen.

Kelli MullinixKelli Mullinix
Associate Pastor / Contemporary Worship Leader
First United Methodist Church
Hendersonvile, NC 

 

Photo: André Thomas conducts the Adult Choir during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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Is This Working?

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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 25, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands – O prosper the work of our hands!
(Psalm 90:14-17, NRSV)

Devotion

I find myself afflicted by the artistic curse known as "jack of all trades, master of none." A little music here, a little graphic design there, and a mountain of video production over these last six months have contributed to the feeling that "the work of my hands" may not mean much after the music is heard and forgotten, the graphic viewed and discarded, and the video stream silenced and archived. Even when I venture into wood and metalwork, I know these tangible pieces will eventually decay and be forgotten.

So much art made for worship can feel utilitarian and disposable after it has been viewed, performed, or consumed. The constant churn of weekly church sometimes leaves me wondering what will endure after the service is over. This week's Psalm reminds me that God stretches well beyond anything that has and ever will exist – as far back as we can collectively remember, as far forward as our collective minds are able to imagine. While our human place in this vastness of God is like the quickness of a dream or the frailness of grass, the work we accomplish with our hands can find meaning through the satisfying steadfast love of God that renews itself each and every morning.

If you, like I, wonder if the things we make actually make a difference, this Psalm encourages us to rejoice and be glad in the work God has already done, is doing, and will continue to do, even through the work of our hands.

Prayer

Eternal God, you have set eternity in our hearts and mortality in our hands. Give us the wisdom, grace, and steadfast love to unite your eternity and our mortality for the coming of your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Isaac GaffDr. Isaac Gaff
Managing Director of Worship and Creative Arts
Calvary United Methodist Church
Normal, IL 

 

Photo: Eddie Huss plays the organ at Waynesville First UMC during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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Called to Lead

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 18, 2020
Scripture: Exodus 33:12-23

"If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people." The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
(Exodus 33:13-14, NIV)

Devotion

I have a terrifying suspicion that when church gets back to "normal," rather than picking up in the same way, I'll be starting over. Many of my volunteers are aging, have tasted the sweet fruit of commitment-free Sundays and will be stepping away. Some of my choir members feel they have lost their voices after months of not singing regularly. The usher ministry will never look the same. In every facet of worship ministry, there are big changes ahead.

During this pandemic, our jobs as worship artists have fundamentally changed. Instead of working with my ensembles on blend, tone, and diction, I'm coaching them on how to record and submit video projects! Our media team's skills in visual worship presentation have shifted to editing software and online collaboration platforms. Church has left the building.

In this week’s text, Moses is on the precipice of some really hard leadership days. He says to God, "You have been telling me to lead these people," and Moses is not sure what that looks like. God is still calling us to lead these people — our people. We lead them to find their voices again, help folks transition into new volunteer ministries, and hone our (new!) skills. In the midst of great change and challenge, God gives Moses a promise: "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." I pray that we find God's rest, but more — that through these difficult days, we will continue to experience God's presence as we are shaped into new worship artists and leaders for the people we are called to lead.

Prayer

God of all gifts, thank you for the gifts of artistry and leadership you have instilled in us. Send your presence with us as we navigate new art forms and new ways of leading your people. Grant us your peace and holy inspiration! May Christ shine in all our endeavors. Amen.

Laurin Daniels AllredLaurin Daniels Allred
Director of Music Ministries & Worship Arts
Muir's Chapel United Methodist Church
Greensboro, NC 

 

Photo: Danny Lyons leads a rehearsal of the Advanced Handbell ensemble during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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Make Fresh My Heart

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 11, 2020
Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV)

Devotion

Throughout my life when I have felt anxious, I have always been able to find peace by making music. I find that peace alone in an empty room with just a piano or in worship singing a hymn or an anthem. I must admit, not having communal singing has left me quite anxious in the last few months. I know I am not alone in this sentiment.

I find solace each time I read the words to Robert Lowry's hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?" The hymn reassures me saying "no storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" I am reminded that no matter my anxieties and stresses, God is still creating the song. For the time being, that song might look a bit different, but we have the comfort of knowing God is in control.

In the last stanza of the hymn, the text states "the peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing, all things are mine since I am his, how can I keep from singing?" A fresh heart, a fresh purpose, a fresh song to sing to the Lord. There are so many ways to continue the song. Will you continue to sing with me? How can we keep from singing?

Prayer

God, grant us your peace from all of the worry and anxiety in our lives. Help us to continue to sing our song and give thanksgiving to you as we find fresh new ways to show your love. Amen.

Tony SaneTony Sane
Director of Music
Myers Memorial United Methodist Church
Gastonia, NC 

 

Photo: The Young Adult Choir sings during Evening Prayer held in Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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God's Creation

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost / World Communion Sunday

Week of: October 4, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 19

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
(Psalm 19:1, NRSV)

Devotion

The first six verses of Psalm 19 state that the heavenly bodies are proof that a powerful, creative God exists. The heavens are God's unfailing evidence that God's truth exists always – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The first verse points out the two areas where God has chosen to reveal God's self. "The heavens" refer to what appears in the sky about "the firmament," meaning the expanse of God's creation.

As worship leaders, we know well the beloved hymn, "How Great Thou Art" (#77, United Methodist Hymnal). Verse 1, in particular, speaks well to this truth.

The writer of this hymn (which was first a poem), Carl G. Boberg, was unforgettably inspired, after walking home from church services near Kronobäck, Sweden, and listening to the calm melodies of church bells ringing. A sudden, violent storm ("rolling thunder") got Boberg's attention, and then just as suddenly as it had made its appearance, it subsided to a peaceful calm which Boberg observed over Mönsterås Bay.

In the storm and darkness that is our world right now, we should, with faith, look forward to the peaceful calm that God alone will provide. We just need to be focused on God's love and magnificent creation, and when doubts and fears arise, look to God's handiwork in the heavens and stars for peace. God's presence and protection are always present and will provide comfort to God's children. In response to the wonders of God's creation and promise to us, we worship, singing about "how great Thou art," referring to God's unfathomable greatness. God's law and the work of God's hands are perfect. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Only in darkness can you see the stars." Let us all continue to look up to the heavens for our refuge and strength to carry on in God's name.

Prayer

Dear God, continue to inspire us through your creation in heaven and on earth to live, love, and create in the midst of the storm. Let our souls sing, "my God, how great Thou art," to gain the peace that passes all understanding. In the words of Psalm 19:14, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

Debbie JailletteDebbie Jaillette
Director of Music
St. Luke United Methodist Church
Lancaster, SC 

 

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger from Pexels.

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Leaning In

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 27, 2020
Scripture: Philippians 2:1-13

God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out (God’s) good purposes.
(Philippians 2:13, CEB)

Devotion

In this unprecedented time, I am certainly not the only one asking: How do we offer effective, relevant worship experiences? We are all in an off-the-map place. Funny, it's somehow comforting in knowing that we are all in this together, and there is solidarity.

Our church continues to provide virtual worship, complete with virtual choir pieces and artwork. It is tempting to feel stuck by the nearly overwhelming amount of work that goes into this new way to worship each week, but let's turn a corner here. We are each uniquely enabled, by our Creator God, to both want to work and live out the work at hand.

Take a moment today to connect with that ember, that calling which God placed in your soul for ministry. This is the "want." It is God-given. Perhaps then, take another moment to be still and permit the Spirit of God to reveal ways to creatively "live out" the work ahead. Surprising ideas may come to mind! Lean into this uninhibited creativity.

OK. Let's listen, and then, let's get to work.

Prayer

Holy Spirit, think through us until your ideas become our ideas. Amen.

Janna PetersonJanna Peterson
Director of Music Ministries
Normal First UMC
Normal, IL 

 

Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli from Pexels.

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God Has a Plan

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 20, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples, that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 105:42-45, NRSV)

Devotion

Psalm 105 reminds us of God's work among the people from the time of Abraham through the delivery of his children into the Promised Land. It is a wonderful reminder to us of God's faithfulness to the Children of Israel, but also God's faithfulness to us today. When the Lord remembered his "holy promise" to Abraham, God brought out his people from the bondage of Egypt to the security of the Holy Land "that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws" (vs. 45). When the Lord makes a promise, he does whatever it takes to make it come true. God gives us reasons to praise him.

As pastors, church musicians, and worship artists, we work to praise God within the context of creating a meaningful worship experience. Every component of worship seeks to reach the heart of the worshipper, to enable God's voice to speak to the heart of those seeking a closer walk with Christ.

An important part of our worship experience is to offer our praise to God through singing. Singing is a vehicle by which God comes to us. Singing from the heart has always been a form of worship in which the Lord is pleased. A magical place is found! Every voice is welcome – every soul is encouraged to express itself and to be part of the sometimes mystical, sometimes whimsical immersion in the sound of voices.

Because of COVID-19, churches no longer reverberate with song; hymnals are neatly stacked and television screens project the order of worship. We cannot sing!

As a pastor/musician, I understand the importance of not singing during the pandemic.

Since COVID-19, our organist and I are playing the hymns on Sunday morning, the words are projected on the screen, but we do not sing. My inner soul wants to shout out, "I want to sing!"

Yet, I am reminded how the psalmist concludes his psalm about how God has a plan for all things by noting that after their suffering God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt with great wealth (vs. 44). God led them through the desert to the land he had promised them so that they could worship him and follow his commands. God will do likewise for us. Our voices will once again unite. We will sing again when the time is right, when COVID-19 is behind us. Until then, may our singing come from the depth of our hearts, knowing that God hears what mortals cannot!

Prayer

Dear Lord, prod our memory when we forget your miracles. Write them on our hearts and stir us to sing about your goodness from the depth of our souls. May every song we sing be a sacrifice of praise to your holy name. Amen.

Patti WiseRev. Patti Wise
Pastor
Batestown/Union Corner UMC
Danville, IL 

 

Photo: The worship altar at Batestown United Methodist Church on August 30, 2020. (Photo submitted by Patti Wise.)

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What's Your Opinion?

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 13, 2020
Scripture: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome the person who is weak in faith – but not in order to argue about differences of opinion ... Why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God.
(Romans 14:1, 10, CEB)

Devotion

Most of us have unlimited access to one another's opinions via social media, and there's the constant barrage of opinions coming through every news source related to health, politics, race, religion, and so on. Reinforcing it all are messages like, "Make your voice heard!" and "Your opinion matters!"

So, whose opinion wins out? To whom do we listen? Is it the loudest voice? The most popular opinion? The one that sounds closest to ours? What about the voices and opinions that go unheard? The ones that never get a hearing? Are they any less important, less valid?

Paul, in this passage from Romans, is talking to the church about judging and being judged, but ultimately it is about deciding who belongs at the table. How does Paul answer? All who confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead belong in the same worshipping family and at the same table.

So how do we get everyone to the same table? Right now, more importantly than sharing our opinions, we should be sharing our stories with one another. People who know one another's stories are more likely to feel connected to each other, and people who feel connected are more willing to sit together at the same table.

Prayer

Bind us together, Lord, with cords that cannot be broken. Amen.

Kevin PresleyKevin Presley
Financial and Personnel Coordinator, The Fellowship
Minister of Music and Worship, Emmanuel United Methodist Church
Memphis, TN 

 

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

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Give God Praise

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 30, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Go ahead and give God thanks for all the glorious things he has done! Go ahead and worship him! Tell everyone about his wonders! Let's sing his praises! Sing, and put all of his miracles to music! Shine and make your joyful boast in him, you lovers of God. Let's be happy and keep rejoicing no matter what. Seek more of his strength! Seek more of him! Let's always be seeking the light of his face. Don't you ever forget his miracles and marvels. Hold to your heart every judgment he has decreed.
(Psalm 105:1-5, The Passion Translation)

Devotion

Tucked away in rural Fayette County, TN, stands a wooden, open-air Tabernacle where for 127 years many families have gathered for a weeklong camp meeting in the heat of the summer. During the event, often called "Campground," family and friends move into cabins (with electricity, but no air conditioning!) and attend Morning Prayer, Bible Study, and Evening Church. I have been blessed to have married into this tradition. A few weeks ago my family packed up the car and headed to Campground for the last four days of the camp meeting.

One of the most holy moments while there was during the closing worship service on Sunday. The song that was sung was "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." As we sang about joining with nature in witness to God, a Golden Swamp Warbler swooped into the Tabernacle to feed her fledglings in the rafters. How remarkable it was that we were singing of joining with nature to praise God as this magnificent bird made her way through the church. I couldn't help but think of Matthew 6:26: "Look at the birds in the sky. They don't sow or harvest ... Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you worth more than they are?"

If this season of chaos has taught me anything, it is that God is with us always. In the midst of the chaos of my life, I have been reminded of God's presence and protection. Those few days of rest reminded me that God has this under control. In the midst of the chaos, go ahead and give God praise!

Prayer

God of all creation, of calm and storm, remind us often of your presence with us. When we are consumed by the chaos, send us gentle reminders of your care and compassion. May we seek more of you: your presence, your strength, your light. We give you all the praise! Amen.

Dakota HillDakota Hill
Publications and Media Coordinator, The Fellowship
Director of Music and Worship Arts, First United Methodist Church
Dyersburg, TN 

 

Photo: "Prothonotary warbler" by William H. Majoros is licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

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Living Sacrifices

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 23, 2020
Scripture: Romans 12:1-8

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
(Romans 12:1-2, New English Translation)

Devotion

Sacrifice is defined by Merriam-Webster as both "an act of offering to a deity something precious" and "destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else." Honestly, offering the gifts that God has given us is enjoyable – our voice or other musical instruments, our body in dance, our hands in creating or writing. We share and create familiar and new songs, artwork, movements, liturgies, and rejoice in God's gifting.

My Sunday morning practice is to arrive at church 30 minutes before call time. This is to ensure that I am truly ready for corporate worship – with my head and my heart. I may use the time to pray or read scripture but, most often, I sit at the piano and share the tunes going through my mind at that time. These "carved out" moments are special as they cause me to be more focused and ready to worship with my brothers and sisters. This is an effortless sacrifice.

The other definition of sacrifice involves destruction and surrender – things that are difficult and require more than just a few minutes of our time. This type of sacrifice is a choice. Honestly, it is often easier to just not make that choice. However, we are called to be "living sacrifices." We must allow God to change those things that need to be changed in us. We should even invite God to do so.

I challenge us to give our gifts and to surrender our lives fully to God so that we can become who God wants us to be.

Prayer

O holy God, please transform me. Please make me what you desire for me to be. Please illuminate any of my thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions that would not please you so that I can repent. I want to be alive, holy, and pleasing to you. I truly desire to do your will, not mine – even when it is difficult – because I want to live fully in your love. I praise your name and want to better serve you. Amen.

Peggy PrestonPeggy Preston
Chapter Coordinator, The Fellowship
Worship Arts Director, Aldersgate United Methodist Church
Nixa, MO 

 

Photo: Diane Combs plays the piano at Waynesville First UMC during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Striving Toward Unity

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 16, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
(Psalm 133:1, NRSV)

Devotion

When David wrote Psalm 133, the occasion might have been his coronation, when all Israel came together at Hebron after years of bloodshed and its elders anointed him as king. Many translations of this psalm begin with the exhortation "Behold," commanding us to take notice. Historically, Jewish pilgrims from all walks of life have sung this psalm when traveling to worship God at the high feasts in Jerusalem, and today it circulates as the popular Hine Ma Tov. Unity, the psalm tells us, is both good and pleasant – for not everything that is one is also the other. Its beneficial effects are as fragrant as oil and refreshing as dew.

We often confuse unity with homogeneity. One consequence of this is that the more we converse exclusively within like-minded groups, the more extreme our perspectives tend to become. Then we wonder why so much of contemporary socio-political discourse is incendiary, tribalistic, and ultimately wearying. Our shared identity as salt and light of the world must be grounded in common purpose to fulfill the Great Commission and not what Brené Brown calls "common-enemy intimacy" against an "other," however defined. The apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12 that as members within the body of Christ, we are not to disparage ourselves or one another: the eye cannot say to the hand or foot, "I have no need of you," nor the ear say, "I do not belong because I am not an eye." Imagine a pipe organ where the reed stops say to the flutes, "We have no need of you" or the strings say, "Because we are not couplers, we do not belong."

The art of orchestration may serve as a helpful metaphor for striving toward unity, whether as expressed in stop combinations on the organ, sound banks in a synthesizer, or players within a band or orchestra. Diverse elements need not be antagonists but rather complements to one another under skillful handling. We may extend the principle of harmonious blend into musical styles: under a "traditional" banner, service music may legitimately draw from a plurality of Christian worship traditions across the centuries including Jewish cantillation, Gregorian chant, Lutheran hymnody, shape-note singing, camp meeting revival, Spirituals and Black gospel, folk traditions from every nation, and multiple generations of praise and worship music – as long as these elements have as their purpose the augmenting of the message of the Word. One positive consequence of quarantine-impacted worship has been a sharing and cross-pollination of sermons and music offerings between churches across many communities which would otherwise have remained siloed.

The lesson of fraternal unity was not absorbed by David's sons. Indeed, unity is difficult to achieve and harder to maintain as it requires proactively sustained intention among a significant majority. It also requires no small degree of humility, for unity does not begin with us but with the One we serve who redeemed us. Its benefits, however, are beautiful and desirable to God, to us, and to our neighbors. In the words of H. Richard Niebuhr: "The road to unity is the road to repentance. It demands resolute turning away from all those loyalties to the lesser values of the self, the denomination, and the nation, which deny the inclusiveness of divine love."

Prayer

Almighty God, we turn to you and recognize that true unity can begin only with you. Renew our common purpose as we seek to follow the person and teaching of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose strong name we pray. Amen.

John OrfeDr. John Orfe
Organist
First United Methodist Church
Peoria, IL

 

Photo: Nathaniel Gumbs plays the organ at Waynesville First UMC during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Finding Praise in the Silence

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 9, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
(Psalm 105:1-3, NIV)

Devotion

Music and visual arts are sources of praise, rejoicing, and strength for both the creating musician or artist as well as the listener and viewer of the music and art. During these challenging times as corporate and congregational singing is quiet, our pews are empty, and worship is virtual, I find myself turning to the beauty around me.

Our sanctuaries provide peace in images such as the art of stained glass, a shining brass cross, or the simplicity of a lit candle. As musicians and artists, we are still creating as we record and produce online worship experiences. Within the process of creating we find God's wonders and proclaim God's name. As you look to the Lord for strength in the days ahead, continue to find ways to praise, sing, and give God the glory.

Prayer

Holy Creator, you have given us the ability to praise you through our music and art. We ask you to keep us focused in our craft so that the blessings of the beauty we create may be a source of strength for our communities. Amen.

Todd PettitDr. Todd Pettit
VDirector of Music & Worship Arts / Organist
Lafayette Park United Methodist Church
St. Louis, MO

 

Photo: A stained glass window is seen at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, MO.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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In It to Win It

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 2, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 32:22-31

The man said, "Let me go because the dawn is breaking." But Jacob said, "I won't let you go, until you bless me."
(Genesis 32:26, CEB)

Devotion

In an October 2013 article on the WWE Network's website, it is reported that 16-time WWE champion John Cena, "... will not accept anything other than a handshake. Not a fist pound, not a secret shake, he only accepts a handshake." Cena has a clear expectation with which to begin every wrestling match.

In this passage from Genesis, Jacob may not have the ability of Cena to pin his opponent, but he was nonetheless "in it to win it." Even after suffering a touch/strike, Jacob stayed in the wrestling match because he too had an expectation ... to receive God's blessing.

What wrestling match are you involved in within your ministry setting? With whom do you wrestle? Is this entanglement really worth your time/energy? Will outsiders observe your wrestling match as a righteous battle or a distraction? Will your match end with mutual respect, or will there be a winner and loser? Will your wrestling match produce fruit for the Kingdom?

In our different ministry settings, we will have wrestling matches. Be careful to discern whether the wrestling match is with God or someone else. If the match is with a colleague, volunteer, or the church, maybe we should step out of the ring. If we are wrestling with God, we should be "in it to win it." I suspect it will not be easy; in fact, we may get bruised in the match, but requesting and receiving a blessing from God will take us further in our ministry and advance the Kingdom.

Prayer

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bring my challenges to you, loving God. Teach me to know the difference between unnecessary wrestling matches and those that have an eternal impact. The next time we meet, know that I am coming with the expectation to receive your blessing before I let go. Amen.

Douglas GroganDouglas Grogan
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL 

 

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Labor Pains

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 26, 2020
Scripture: Romans 8:12-25 *

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
(Romans 8:22-25, NRSV)

Devotion

I first started to feel concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-February when it dominated the headlines. Then in March, when we shut down worship in the sanctuary, I began to worry about the future of our church. Can we survive a shut-down? When will we be able to worship together again? Will people come back? Initially, it was fear for the immediate future. Then the experts started explaining the potential elimination of choral music ... horrors! No choir! No congregational singing! How will the church survive?

Then I calmed down and started to look at ways to retain some of those musical "rituals" that have always been an integral part of worship in my church while accommodating all the changes that have to occur. It was then that I realized that this was similar to a pregnancy. At first, there is the initial fear of all the changes that are going to happen over which we basically have no control. Then came the creativity and desire to develop something new and exciting that would become our "new normal."

As the days passed, it was exhilarating to see the enthusiasm that our church staff has to bring this "new worship" to fruition! We started with podcasts, then Facebook streaming, to radio broadcasting, and finally to "drive-in" worship. It has been exciting to see staff members all find a creativity that they didn't realize that they had. I'll equate it to that nesting period that expectant moms go through. Now I realize even more the similarities to a pregnancy – first the fear and excitement, followed by labor pains requiring creativity and ingenuity, finally resulting in the birth of something more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.

Prayer

Dear God, help us continue to prepare for our "new normal." Let us share in the joyfulness of our expectancy, and give us the strength to deal with its birthing pains. Finally, let us rejoice in its full deliverance. Amen.

Shelia HuisShelia Huis
Michigan Chapter President
Green Street United Methodist Church
Hastings, MI 

 

* This scripture was the Epistle Reading for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (July 19, 2020).

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Taking Inventory

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 19, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24, NRSV)

Devotion

I have been reading Sensible Shoes: A Story About the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown. In it, the lives of four women converge in a spiritual journey class meeting six times over three months. The book allows readers to experience those classes with them and know the characters' struggles and thoughts.

Some serious questions arose each session: Who am I? What do I want? From where have I come? Where am I going? Where am I? Each question gave the reader ample time to search deep within themselves. I am sure we have all read and prayed the words in Psalm 139 countless times, but it is easy to decide to resist when Jesus takes us to a closed door in our hearts.

This time apart may be a good time to take inventory and sit with the same questions. Are you a zealous worker, who barely has a life beyond the church? Are you counseling people, endlessly supporting those around you? Are you working to achieve a high and noble goal? Are you feeling timid about your present circumstances? Are you suffering from burnout? All the more reason to dig deeper and journal your thoughts. If you are asking God to search your heart, be prepared to answer God's questions openly and honestly, and to listen as well. Sometimes the best intentions are masked by a deep need. Until we visit each room inside our hearts with God, we may never come to experience the joy and freedom that await us.

We are still on the journey. How about taking stock to see if, perhaps, there is a need to drop off a little baggage? Be sure to wear sensible shoes. This journey is involved.

Prayer

Oh God, you know me well. Help me to know myself the way you do. Shine your light in all the darker places, so your deep love can have its way within me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Jane WrightJane Wright
Michigan Chapter Board Member
Westwood United Methodist Church
Kalamazoo, MI 

 

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Cypress and Myrtle

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 12, 2020
Scripture: Isaiah 55:10-13

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
(Isaiah 55:13, NRSV)

Devotion

Over the years of my being blessed as a church musician and worship leader, many young adults have entered my life, frequently as incoming freshmen at a nearby university. Some are a bit "thorny" as they start out, clearly viewing their positions as vocalists, instrumentalists, dancers, worship leaders / developers as means to putting food on the table. Others are highly qualified, perhaps working on doctorates in a worship arts field. Sometimes, beginners model proprieties for more experienced leaders!

About one year in, it begins to happen. The commitment to God’s word sets in, reflected in the students' ways of speaking, looks on their faces as they sing, methods of reaching out to those with whom they sing or direct or otherwise interact. They commit to performing in extra, outside venues and do it with enthusiasm. They bring in other worship contributors.

When they approach graduation from the university, one can see joy on their faces as they interact with all those in the church community. Further, they vow to come back and sing, play, or direct. They leave for other church positions, but stay connected with all of us for numbers of years. Above that, they remain connected with God in many ways that are clearly demonstrated in how they write about their peers, colleagues, and students, as well as in the ways they perform. Those sometimes are the true tests of their transitioning from thorn to cypress, from briar to myrtle, as memorials to our LORD.

Prayer

Holy God, we thank you for the opportunities we have to follow and enact your word. Be with us as we grow and develop through our leadership roles to transition from the thorn to the cypress, from briar to myrtle. This we ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

Caryn WelterB. Caryn Welter
Director of Music and Worship
Lansing Central United Methodist Church
Lansing, MI 

 

Photo: Flowers and trees are seen outside Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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