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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

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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Like a Child

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: July 5, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants ..."
(Matthew 11:25, NRSV)

Devotion

Do you remember when you first learned to play a musical instrument or to dance or draw? Remember how laboriously you worked, trying hard not to make any mistakes and not feeling at all confident of yourself?

In recent months, we have had to learn new skills as worship services have gone online. This week, many pastors will begin new appointments in congregations they may not meet in person for many weeks.

When challenges surround us and we do not know how everything is going to turn out, we worry and wonder what to do and hope that we are going to have the strength to survive somehow. We forget that we are God's babies and God does not expect us to solve our own problems. It is God's responsibility to care for God's children, to guide us through the darkness, and to give us the strength, the faith, the patience, and the courage that we need.

Jesus does not say we will never have problems. The tragedy is that so often we think we can do it ourselves, and like a 2-year-old trying to dress herself, we end up feeling frustrated and hopelessly entangled in a mess we ourselves have created.

We need to hear again Christ's gracious invitation to become like a child, to become even a helpless baby, completely dependent upon the gracious gifts of an ever-loving God.

Prayer

God our Father, you guide us and protect us like a loving parent. Lead us through these challenging days that we may faithfully serve you and the people you have committed to our care, through Jesus Christ, our teacher and example. Amen.

Buff CoeBuff Coe
Retired Elder
Michigan Conference of The UMC
Vicksburg, MI 

 

Photo: A child drums during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Embracing the Witness of God’s Love

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: June 28, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 89:1, NRSV)

Devotion

What is your story? In the age of the internet and Facebook, one can scroll through a social media profile and answer that question rather quickly. For others, it’s a private look through text messages and photos on your phone, emails sent, and memories of conversations shared. Yes, there is a story we are telling each day.

As my children’s worship arts ministry gathers through Zoom each Sunday afternoon, I’m often reminded that we as church musicians, pastors, and worship artists hold power to speak in ways others don’t. The story we lead others to share through music, the visual arts, the spoken word, drama, and dance leaves a lasting impression. It’s remembered.

The Holy Spirit is looking for her message bearer. Though many of us have put away the red paraments for now, the mission of Pentecost still resounds and calls to each of us. There are a thousand stories we can tell, but what is the witness that God has called you to proclaim for today?

Prayer

God of the story, may your steadfast love be the narrative I speak and live out this day. Where hate and fear divide, teach me to listen, learn, and grow in love. And above all, empower me to lead the people of my congregation to embrace a witness that is faithful to your story — a story of unbounded love for all.

Bodie GilbertBodie Gilbert
Pastor of Music and Worship
Westbury United Methodist Church
Houston, TX 

 

Photo: Magrey deVega preaches during morning worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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No Longer a Secret

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Third Sunday after Pentecost / Father's Day

Week of: June 21, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39

... nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
(Matthew 10:26-27, NRSV)

Devotion

Have you ever finished an email or a text and pushed send only to find out it was sent to the wrong person? Ugh. Sometimes an event like this can turn into a major pitfall, depending on what was said. As I used to share with my students, only say what you're OK with everyone hearing and knowing. In other words, don't put something in an email or text — and especially don't put anything on social media — that you want to keep secret or don't want to be proclaimed from the housetops!

For Christians, this is more than just regretful words or embarrassing photographs. It's about living a life that acknowledges belief and trust in God. When someone searches for you online, will they uncover that you're a Christian? Is your secret out? Are you bringing to light the injustices that God has whispered to you in the dark? In other words, are you speaking out alongside the voiceless, the marginalized, the disenfranchised?

Jesus reminds those first-century disciples, and us 21st-century disciples, that we are not to be afraid of what might harm our body. Rather, we should fear what would destroy our soul. Jesus reminds us that our words and our actions are to acknowledge the One who calls us to be hope for the hopeless — even when our foes are members of our own household, even our own faith community. Only when we are willing to risk everyone hearing and knowing what we believe will we be able to truly find our life's purpose.

Prayer

Whispering God,
     who encourages us and empowers us through the Spirit:
We are grateful that you value us more than many sparrows.
Nudge us so to speak truth
     even when we would prefer peace to a sword.
We take up the cross and follow the Christ,
     so that we may be found worthy of you.

Jacqueline ThompsonJacqueline Thompson
Ordained Elder, Iowa Conference
Burns UMC and St. John’s UMC
Des Moines, IA 

 

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Seeing With Our Hearts

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: June 14, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
(Matthew 9:36, CEB)

Devotion

Did Jesus see the crowd only with his eyes or with his heart as well? Did he prejudge, categorize, or label them? Jesus saw the crowd. He listened to them with his heart to discern their trouble and their helplessness. We need to follow his lead as we prepare experiences to inspire meaningful worship for all people.

This is even more important as we prepare online worship. We need to be ensuring that everyone sees their place at the table regardless of labels or categories put on them by others or by themselves. During “in-person” worship we strive to make sure words, music, and visuals are inclusive. That is magnified when we deliver worship experiences online with the visual component becoming even more prominent.

As we produce our virtual church videos each week, we should concentrate on how to magnify the words visually. We are able to use visuals that show all people regardless of any labels or differences.

Hopefully, by seeing and thinking with our hearts, we help all people to truly see that there is a loving place at the table for them.

Prayer

Dear God, help us learn to see all people by listening to them with our hearts. Give us the desire to include and inspire everyone. Amen.

Keith DyerKeith Dyer
Director of Music
College Heights United Methodist Church
Lakeland, FL 

 

Photo: Brian Combs speaks during closing worship of A Place at the Table, The Fellowship's Convocation held in Kansas City in July 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Now Go ...

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Trinity Sunday

Week of: June 7, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
(Matthew 28:19-20a, NRSV)

Devotion

As worship artists we share direction, knowledge, skill, and care to our congregations using the gifts and talents that God has given us. We are called to teach them about the One who loves us through music, scripture, dance, and readings. Lately I have been reminded that, while what we do hasn't changed, the way we do it has to be adapted.

Sitting at the keyboard in my makeshift recording studio for the past two months, I have felt lonely, sad, and even frightened. The planner in me has struggled as I have removed events from my calendar one by one. I have mourned the loss of connection with those I love. This is such an uncertain time for us all. At times, my prayers have been cries of desperation more than the attitude of gratitude I want to offer.

Matthew 28:19 reminds us to "go." Does this mean physical movement? Spiritual movement? I believe that it is telling us to take action. For me, it means to look outside myself and reach out to family, friends, and church relationships with love and support. A short note, phone call, text, or prayer for those I hold dear are ways I can "go."

Prayer

God, may we show your love to all we encounter each day. May we live our lives in such a way that others learn about you. May we obey your commands and live with total awareness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our daily walk. We love you and ask that you lead us as we "go." Amen.

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

 

Photo: A trio of stone arches marks the entrance to Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Inhaling Peace

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Day of Pentecost

Week of: May 31, 2020
Scripture: John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
(John 20:19, NRSV)

Devotion

As we come to the end of May 2020, those of us in worship leadership may find that we can really relate to the disciples in this scene. We may identify with being "locked in the house for fear," or with being somewhere between the "last days" of leading worship online and "the first days" of a new era of in-person worship, strictly modified by precautions for not spreading the novel coronavirus. Many of us are navigating the challenge of doing both.

Not unlike the disciples, we may be heartbroken at not being able to sing, yet anxious about following guidelines, exhausted by the required adaptations, and scared someone is going to get sick.

If there's anything we need right now, it's the peace that Jesus was breathing into his friends. You are his friend! Take a deep breath and let the peace of the Risen Christ fill you now.

Prayer

Risen Christ,

Breathing out, I release my fear. Inhaling, I receive your peace. Your peace renews my spirit.

Hallelujah! Amen.

Leigh Anne TaylorRev. Leigh Anne Taylor
President, The Fellowship
Revitalization Coordinator, Lynchburg District of the Virginia Conference
Lynchburg, VA 

 

Photo: A stained glass window featuring a dove as seen in Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Social Distancing

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Seventh Sunday of Easter / Ascension Sunday

Week of: May 24, 2020
Scripture: Luke 24:44-53

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures ... "You are witnesses to these things." ... While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
(Luke 24:45, 48, 51, NRSV)

Devotion

Social distancing still feels awkward, and yet it is unforgettable. It is the image of a daughter signing messages to her elderly mother through a hospital window. It is hearing seniors, as well as my own three-year-old daughter, struggle to understand the need to cancel church.

We encounter these same emotions and motives in the Ascension. The gospel spectrum fully captures the pathos of social distancing. For Mark, it is the simplicity and palpability of fear. In Matthew, we hear Jesus' draconian edict – GO! – in a tone that is, thankfully, offset by John's pastoral explanation that Jesus' leaving benefits us all.

Luke's concern, however, is the broader concept of witness, a vital transition from the gospel to Acts. The kind of social distancing that we see in Luke is painful, hard to understand, but ultimately restorative for our relationship with God. Here, Jesus opens our minds to scripture, avoiding both narrow prescriptions and obscure symbolism, temptations for Matthew’s and John's texts respectively.

The gospel's brilliance inhabits that simple word, open. By opening their minds and their hearts, Jesus empowers the disciples to preach a strange, new doctrine, yet one that, as Acts 17 affirms, is rooted in the everyday experience of life itself. There is no doubt – the experience that we have all shared recently has inspired us all to do things differently. Even still, more now than ever, we find ourselves deeply committed to the core values of the gospel – love, care, hospitality, and God's unfailing presence in our world.

Prayer

Great Physician, caretaker of our bodies and protector of our souls, through the work of Jesus Christ, you continue to heal our brokenness. By raising your Son in glory, you have restored all of creation to wholeness. Grant that as we dwell on earth below, we too may be instruments of healing, reconciliation, and peace through your holy gospel according to the example we have in our Savior. Amen.

Sam ChambersRev. Sam Chambers
Senior Pastor
Lone Oak United Methodist Church
Paducah, KY 

 

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The Music Minister

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 17, 2020
Scripture: Acts 17:22-31

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. ... For "In him we live and move and have our being."
(Acts 17:24-25, 28a, NRSV)

Devotion

Over the past few months, the worshipping life of many congregations throughout the world has been altered significantly. Many churches have embraced technology as a means to proclaim Christ to their members and anyone who wishes to view their live-streamed worship services. While live streaming worship is not new, it is a form of communication that many churches still hadn't embraced before this year.

The lectionary reading for this week reminds us that, "... the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands." The buildings in which we worship do not, nor will they ever contain Christ; Christ dwells within each of us. No matter where we are or how we worship, Christ is there with us. These words remind me that God's love has not been removed from me; God has not been taken from me as our worship has changed over the past few months. God is always present. Christ is always with us no matter where we worship.

As a musician, my ministry to my congregation has shifted. While I haven't been in weekly rehearsals getting ready for our corporate times of worship, I have been talking on the phone, texting and emailing all of the members in my music ministry making sure they are safe and know that God loves them. Our roles as musicians and worship artists are not bound by just music or the arts; we are called by God to minister to our congregations.

Prayer

Almighty God, creator and sustainer of the world, be with all of us, your children, as we continually seek new ways to share your love with the world around us. Give us receptive hearts to hear from you ... give us loving hearts to share your love with those around us, your children. Amen.

Kevin ChamberlainKevin B. Chamberlain
Minister of Music and Organist
Avenue United Methodist Church
Milford, DE 

 

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Talkative Rocks

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 10, 2020
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:2-10

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 2:4-5, NRSV)

Devotion

What a beautiful scripture this is, and yet how strangely abstract. How might you portray this scripture through your varied worship arts — especially as most of us are still creating worship experiences from our homes or recording in empty sanctuaries?

What would an altarscape look like if built around "living stones"? Would you use rocks covered with living moss? Would you display photographs of saints of your church who have built up your spiritual house? What about inviting your community to learn a simple dance routine in their homes for this scripture? Or how about filming a dramatic interpretation of different families in your church being built into a spiritual house?

In this season of Eastertide, part of me still somehow hears echoes of Palm Sunday in this scripture, when the rocks cry out to Jesus because of the pain and difficulty of being, well, rocks. I recall the Genesis story where mortals — or more literally earthlings — were made of dust (aka ground-up rocks) and received life from God's own breath. I feel a kinship with the psalmists who offered themselves as spiritual sacrifices to God through their emotional (sometimes melodramatic) song lyrics.

Today, may we find kinship with each other — with our fellow living, talkative rocks. May we support each other as we allow God to build God's spiritual houses, and may that be enough for today.

Prayer

Oh God, speak to us through these beautiful scripture passages, and reveal something new to us, so that we may in turn reveal something about you to our community through our worship arts. Amen and amen.

Rebecca Garrett PaceRebecca Garrett Pace
Director of Worship
White Rock United Methodist Church
Dallas, TX 

 

Photo: Small rocks are seen on a table outside Stuart Auditorium prior to Tuesday morning worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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The Work of the People

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 3, 2020
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
(Acts 2:46-47a, NRSV)

Devotion

From its beginning, the essence of Christian worship has been simultaneously dynamic and peculiar at best. Worship is known as "the work of the people" and is to be lived out beyond our time on Sunday mornings. It represents who we are as the Body of Christ. I find Acts 2:42-47 to be an incredible example of what that means.

Part of our role as worship leaders involves incorporating an intergenerational group of people to connect, network, and explore new possibilities. When we offer a well-rounded and diverse perspective of values, culture, art, and musical traditions, it has the capacity to build communities and transform lives.

I have found that when we live outside the "temple of our own familiar," our worship experiences are nurtured and sustained in meaningful ways. This requires us to move beyond our comfort zone; it is not something that takes place easily but has the opportunity to become a new way of being. Claiming both the homiletic as well as the liturgical moments represented in our worshipping community can speak to the true essence of our various cultures and help us navigate what "the work of the people" looks like and can move us beyond what we do into who we are.

Prayer

Gracious God, in the midst of life’s challenges, help us see the beauty in all of God's children coming together to do "the work of the people." Let us be beacons of your hope and love to others in all ways at all times. Amen.

Rev. Brittney StephanRev. Brittney Stephan
Associate Director for Multi-Cultural Vibrancy
Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church
Sterling Heights, MI 

 

Photo: Generations of worship leaders and members gather for the 150th anniversary celebration of Old North UMC in Evansville, IN.   (Photo by Daniel Craig.)

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