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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

Plowing Straight

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Third Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

Devotion

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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Thirsting

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

Devotion

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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Wonder

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Trinity Sunday / First Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: June 16, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 8

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

Devotion

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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Multiple Languages

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Day of Pentecost

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

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

Devotion

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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Completely One

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

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

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

Devotion

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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Love and Peace

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 26, 2019
Scripture: John 14:23-29

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you.
(John 14:26, NRSV)

Devotion

Fred Pratt Green’s wonderful hymn text, “Of All the Spirit’s Gifts to Me” (UMH 336) brought to mind Christopher Smart’s poem, “Jubilate Agno” set to music by Benjamin Britten under the title, “Rejoice in the Lamb.” Smart was a troubled person but seemed to be very much in tune with Jesus’ comforting words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Smart finds the Spirit in many places and in times both ancient and modern: 

   “Let Jakim bless God with the dance.” 
    The flowers are “great blessings and glorify God.” 
    The instruments – the shawm, cymbal, flute, bassoon, dulcimer, clarinet,
    trumpet and harp – put “the devils themselves at peace.” 

Fred Pratt Green’s text reminds us:

Of all the Spirit’s gifts to me, I pray that I may never cease
to take and treasure most these three: love, joy and peace.
The Spirit shows me love’s the root of every gift sent from above,
of every flower, of every fruit, that God is love.
Though what’s ahead is mystery, and life itself is ours on lease,
each day the Spirit says to me, “Go forth in peace!” *

Prayer

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me! Fill our arts with love and peace that we may chase away the ills of this life and find peace through all our arts. May we sing, dance, play and create, so filled with the peace of Christ that your presence in the world is evident to all. Amen.  

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

* © 1979 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Photo: Dancers raise their arms at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Christ's Love

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 19, 2019
Scripture: John 13:31-35

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
(John 13:34-35, NRSV)

Devotion

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson falls under the heading, “The New Commandment.” We find Jesus admonishing the disciples to love each other, even as they have been loved. Peter’s vision found in Acts 11 reminds us that this mutual love is for everyone.

Centuries ago, Samuel Crossman (1624-1683) penned these words: “My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me, Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.” A 21st century paraphrase of the text is found in the anthem by Pepper Choplin, “Your Love Will Be My Song.”

Listen to the anthem and follow the score as you reflect upon the text.

“Your love will be my song, Your gracious love to me ...”

As worship artists — dancers, singers, instrumentalists, visual creators, prayer leaders, preachers — we must seek ways to allow Christ’s love to flow through our arts to touch the lives of others, to share the love that comes from Christ with all to whom our lives connect.

Prayer

Loving God, fill our lives with the love of Christ and give us the courage and strength to share your love with everyone we meet. Cause us to sing, dance, play and create, so filled with the love of Christ that your presence in our lives is evident to all. Amen.  

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

Photo: The young adult choir rehearses in Memorial Chapel during Music & Worship Arts Week 2017. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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God's Guidance

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 12, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 23

He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
(Psalm 23:3, NRSV)

Devotion

A major theme in the Psalter is the path of righteousness. In fact, the Psalter opens with a comparison of the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous in Psalm 1. That theme sets the tone for the entire book of Psalms.

In the beloved Psalm 23, the path of righteousness appears again, reminding us that God is the one who leads us on such a path. When we follow this path, God leads us beside calming waters, walks with us through dark valleys, and prepares a table for us. The commitment to follow God means a lifetime of being in right relationship with God.

Marty Haugen's "Shepherd Me, O God" (TFWS 2058) is a gorgeous setting of this psalm. The poetry of the lyrics parallels the Psalm text perfectly. There is one line in the hymn that jumps out, though, as not having a direct parallel line within Psalm 23. For that reason, the end of verse two stands out: 

My spirit shall sing the music of your name.

While the Psalm refers to being on the path for God's name's sake, it does not use imagery of our spirits singing praise as the hymn text does. It is this lovely imagery that leads us in the direction of considering how God's guidance in our life causes us to sing songs of praise. How do our spirits sing the music of God's name? Do we keep that song to ourselves or do we share it with others?  How do we lead others to share the song through our varied arts?

Prayer

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life. Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul. You lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth. My spirit shall sing the music of your name! Amen.  

Rev. Taylor Driskill PaffordThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deacon in Full Connection
Associate Minister, Children, Youth and Families
Washington Street United Methodist Church
Columbia, SC

Photo: Memorial Chapel is seen on a sunny day during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Follow

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Third Sunday of Easter

Week of: May 5, 2019
Scripture: John 21:1-19

After this, he said to him, "Follow me."
(John 21:19, NRSV)

Devotion

The beautiful hymn tune and text by Cesareo Gabarain, "Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore" (UMH 344), is often paired with the stories of Jesus calling his disciples by the Sea of Galilee.

Lord, you have come to the lakeshore,
Looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;
You only asked me to follow humbly … *

We do not find this sung story of the calling of the first disciples in John's Gospel. Yet, a similar scene appears at the end of John's Gospel after Jesus' resurrection. In John 21, the disciples are fishing on the Sea of Tiberias when the resurrected Jesus appears to them for the third time. When Jesus calls them to cast their nets to the other side, Simon Peter recognizes the risen Christ. Jesus and Simon Peter have a conversation in which Jesus asks Simon Peter to care for his flock in his physical absence. His last command and call to Simon Peter is: "follow me." 

This story reminds us that our task as worship artists and disciples of Jesus Christ does not change after the resurrection. We are continually called to follow; yet we are also charged with caring for the people of God in the same way that Jesus cared for them in his life. As we lead worship through our varied arts, may we follow him and feed his sheep. 

Prayer

O Risen Christ, help us to follow you with uninhibited spirit. Grant that we might tend your sheep and feed your lambs as you, our Good Shepherd, did in your life. May we be your hands and feet in this time and place. Amen.  

Rev. Taylor Driskill PaffordThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deacon in Full Connection
Associate Minister, Children, Youth and Families
Washington Street United Methodist Church
Columbia, SC

* English translation: © 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House

Photo: Lake Junaluska is seen during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Thomas

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Second Sunday of Easter

Week of: April 28, 2019
Scripture: John 20:19-31

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.
(John 20:25, NRSV)

Devotion

One of the most famous depictions of “Doubting Thomas” in art is Caravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Looking at this artwork, I encourage you to reflect on Caravaggio's interpretation of this story. Notice Thomas' hands in Jesus' side. Look at who is guiding his hand into the wound. Observe the onlookers' faces.

Thomas gets a bad rap in some ways. Thomas was not there at Jesus' first appearance. He hears the story secondhand and perhaps thought the disciples were tricking him. Despite Thomas' doubting, Jesus comes to remove Thomas' doubt and to reassure him that the resurrection was real.

In scripture, Jesus tells Thomas to touch his wounds; yet, in Caravaggio's depiction, Jesus places Thomas' hand in his side. I imagine that Jesus' grasp alone would cause Thomas to no longer doubt; even so, Jesus affirms that he heard Thomas' doubts and allows him to touch his wounds.

The disciples' reaction to this moment between Thomas and Jesus is not in scripture. Yet, in Caravaggio's painting, we see two disciples looking on as if, perhaps, they also doubted. We can suppose that they were glad Thomas asked the question that begged an answer. Perhaps we can put ourselves in their shoes.

We were not among the disciples when Jesus appeared the first or second times. But Jesus offers us a blessing by saying, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." May we overcome our doubts and faithfully believe in the resurrected Christ as we empower God's people to lead worship through the arts.

Prayer

Living God, at times we are like Thomas, doubting your ability to perform miracles. In those times, give us Jesus, that we might be touched by his grace and love. Help us to believe without seeing, that our faith may be blessed by your Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Rev. Taylor Driskill PaffordThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deacon in Full Connection
Associate Minister, Children, Youth and Families
Washington Street United Methodist Church
Columbia, SC

Photo: Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54170. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio.jpg.

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The Green Blade

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Resurrection of the Lord

Week of: April 21, 2019
Scripture: John 20:1-18

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him …"
(John 20:15, NRSV)

Devotion

One of my favorite Easter hymns, which perhaps is slightly obscure and certainly underused, is "Now the Green Blade Riseth" (UMH 311). The poetic metaphor of Jesus' resurrection as a green blade rising from dead grain seems challenging, but a closer look draws us deeper into the larger biblical narrative.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been: 
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
(Hymnary.org)

In the Gospel text for Resurrection Sunday, Mary Magdalene mistakes the unknown man near the tomb for the gardener. Jesus appearing in a garden reminds us of the Garden of Eden, helping us to imagine the resurrection as a return to the goodness found in God's creation before humankind disrupts that goodness. The hymn text supports this imagery by comparing Jesus to a green blade of hope rising from the dead.

In this Easter season, may we see Jesus as that green blade, giving us hope in God's miraculous ability to make all things new. Poetry, song, dance, and visual imagery provide the gathered body the "instruments" to celebrate that Love lives again, not only in creation, but in each and every one of us. It is through the variety of arts in liturgy that worshippers are inspired to live in the love of Christ Jesus, that the whole of creation might be resurrected in goodness and in glory. 

Prayer

O Risen Christ, in your resurrection, may we see hope in newness. As you live again, help us to love again. Cause your love to grow in us so that others might come to know you and, in turn, live their lives in love and peace. Amen. 

Rev. Taylor Driskill PaffordThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deacon in Full Connection
Associate Minister, Children, Youth and Families
Washington Street United Methodist Church
Columbia, SC

Photo: The flowers outside Lambuth Inn at Lake Junaluska shimmer from the morning dew during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.​     (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Weary

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Palm / Passion Sunday

Week of: April 14, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
(Isaiah 50:4a, NRSV)

Devotion

We understand what it is like to be weary. After all, many of us will be leading worship in multiple services this week. We will move from waving branches to washing feet, from a communal meal to betrayal, from mockery to denial, from death to resurrection. Regardless of the many hours we will invest in leading worship, rehearsals, and preparation of worship space, we are not alone — God helps us. When nerves are short and tempers flare, God sustains us.

Here, in these moments, God may very well use the lives of worship artists to teach others who are weary. When a volunteer makes a biting comment about the paraments or the way a banner is hung, we can embrace their weariness. When a musician becomes snarky because they are singing or playing at their fourth worship service of the week, we can offer thanks for their willingness to serve. When our supervisor requests one more thing of us in the midst of an already busy week, we can empathize with their own stress level.

God will sustain us through the highs and lows of this week. God will not leave us or forsake us. Rather, God will guide us to model grace and mercy to our congregation. God will be with us, sustaining us as we sustain others. Thanks be to God for this promise and gift!

Prayer

God, send your Spirit to us this week. May it sustain and strengthen us, so that we might teach others, by our example, how to move from their own weariness to joy. Amen.  

Rev. Jay RegennitterThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
First United Methodist Church
Robinson, IL
Development Coordinator, The Fellowship

Photo: Members of the dance ensemble perform to "Behold the Wood of the Cross" at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.     (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Praise

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

Week of: April 7, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21

The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
(Isaiah 43:20-21, NRSV)

Devotion

The Old Testament readings for the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, offer up a familiar theme. Isaiah 43 follows this theme — God journeys with us. Isaiah reminds us that God has journeyed with Israel through the sea, the wilderness, and the desert. 

God has been with Israel, but God also will do a new thing. Isaiah's warning about not remembering the former things may be helpful, because Israel, when venturing into the unknown, often looked backward and longed for the past — even when the past was unhealthy. God reminds both them and us that God will be with us in the new thing that is being done. God will guide us through the wilderness and provide us with water when we need it.

The proper response to God's presence in our lives is praise. How do we teach people to praise through the arts, far beyond cursory praise? Isaiah reminds us that we were created to praise God (as does the Westminster Catechism). Can we ring with joyful hearts? Can our voices swell with thanksgiving? Can we dance with purpose and passion? To do so praises God with our lips and our lives and can inspire those in our congregations to do the same, celebrating God's presence and activity in the world.

Prayer

God, just as your creative Spirit hovered over the waters, may it move among us. May it cause us to express our thanks and praise to you, because you continue to remain faithful to us. Thanks be to you! Amen! 

Rev. Jay RegennitterThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
First United Methodist Church
Robinson, IL
Development Coordinator, The Fellowship

Photo:The choir sings Richard Smallwood's "Total Praise" during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Ritual

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 31, 2019
Scripture: Joshua 5:9-12

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
(Joshua 5:10, NRSV)

Devotion

The people of Israel waited a long time to reach the Promised Land. Even though they wandered in the wilderness for decades, as they entered Gilgal they still kept the Passover. There’s wisdom in ritual. When they arrived in the Promised Land, Israel could have easily dismissed God, but they didn't. Instead, they turned to ritual in the midst of unfamiliar territory.

Liturgy, at its best, grounds us when the church journeys into unfamiliar territory. People come to worship and find comfort in ritual when many other things in their lives change. It's worth noting, though, that Israel ate from the fruit of the land right after Passover – they could embrace change because they remained grounded in their relationship with God. The people's eating patterns changed because manna didn't remain a staple in their diet.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the decades-long debate about worship style. God and change are two constants in our lives. Our worship practices may have variation, but the God whom we worship remains the same. Change will inevitably happen — God does, time and again, do a new thing. Regardless of style, God will still show up when we gather to worship in spirit and in truth. Perhaps we can utilize liturgy AND the new thing God is doing simultaneously during our Lenten journey, resulting in a deeper experience of God.

Prayer

God, we thank you for what has been, what is, and what will be. Your transforming love will not leave us the same, so guide us to ground our lives and our ministries in you. Amen.

Rev. Jay RegennitterThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
First United Methodist Church
Robinson, IL
Development Coordinator, The Fellowship

Photo: A path alongside Lake Junaluska as seen during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Finding Hope

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Third Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 24, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV)

Devotion

I can't help but hear John Foley's "Come to the Water" when I read this passage from Isaiah. This particular part of Isaiah's prophecy speaks hope to those in exile. This passage suggests that sometimes, when we find ourselves in the midst of struggle, we cannot find hope. Yet here, Isaiah invites those who hunger and thirst for hope to come and partake, at no cost to them.

Of course, this passage uses the ordinary elements of bread and water as metaphors for hope. When we long for hope, we long for God. Our hope comes in the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Our hope comes from the One whose thoughts and ways are not our own.

How might a dramatic reading of this Scripture offer hope to someone in your congregation? I can imagine a liturgical dance paired with an arrangement of Foley's setting, complete with flowing fabric for water, or the creation of an altarscape with an abundance of food, helping people envision a future with hope. How might your worship arts ministry offer hope to someone this weekend? How might it introduce someone to God?

Prayer

Gracious God, you offer hope in abundance, but often in ways that we do not comprehend. Allow your thoughts and ways to invade our own. Use us and our ministries to offer hope to our congregations and communities. Amen.

Rev. Jay RegennitterThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
First United Methodist Church
Robinson, IL
Development Coordinator, The Fellowship

Photo: The waters of Lake Junaluska, as seen during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.     (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Bigger Than Us

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Second Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 17, 2019
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

The Lord brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
(Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV)

Devotion

Have you ever felt like Abram? Have you puzzled over how to accomplish what seemed to be impossible? Have you questioned whether the choir would ever internalize the soul of Siyahamba? Have you erased a sketch of a banner so many times that the paper was worn through? Have you tried to work through a difficult passage of music, never able to come up with a consistent fingering?

Granted, most of the time we are able to overcome these challenges, but we do understand some of what Abram felt when he wondered if he would ever have an heir.

Sometimes we need reminders of things that are bigger than us. God took Abram outside and showed him the sky, full of abundant stars. Something so vast and so big puts things in perspective. The same God who created the heavens and the earth creates an heir for Abram. That same God invites us to believe that God will see us through times that challenge, frustrate, and deflate our worship arts ministries. We do not work in a vacuum, but in tandem with the God who calls us to follow and trust. How might our attitudes and outlook toward our lives and ministries change if we remembered God's creative energy and presence?

Prayer

Creative God, you move in ways that we don’t always see or feel. Open our eyes to see you at work in our lives. Open our ears to feel your presence in our ministries. Open our hearts to trust where your Spirit leads us. Amen.

Rev. Jay RegennitterThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
First United Methodist Church
Robinson, IL
Development Coordinator, The Fellowship

Photo: Sunset in Evansville, IN, in July 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Prayer of Remembrance

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First Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 10, 2019
Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
(Deuteronomy 26:8-9, NRSV)

Devotion

The Israelites struggled with spiritual amnesia as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Deuteronomistic history suggests that Moses gave instruction to Israel about what they were to do when they entered the Promised Land. They should gather the first fruits and make an offering to God. With this offering came a specific prayer and response of remembrance.

Worship artists also experience spiritual amnesia and need to offer up a similar prayer of remembrance. After all, we have just entered into one of the busiest seasons of the Christian year. I imagine most of us are planning special arts displays, offering deeply meaningful musical experiences, and planning special services. The hefty workload we encounter during this time of year may cause us to forget that God's mighty hand has been at work; that God's power will strengthen us to do ministry; that God will see us through this Lenten journey.

Every rehearsal, every dance, every brushstroke provides an opportunity for us to become aware of God's provision, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God for the reminder that God moves in our lives and worship ministries!

Prayer

God of grace and God of glory, pour out your spirit on your servants. Remind us that you set out ahead of us, move behind us, hover over us, and undergird us to carry out your purposes in the world. Thank you for the constant reminders of your presence. Amen.

Rev. Jay RegennitterThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
First United Methodist Church
Robinson, IL
Development Coordinator, The Fellowship

Photo: Dancers participate in a reading during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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In the Clouds

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Transfiguration Sunday

Week of: March 3, 2019
Scripture: Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
(Luke 9:34-35, NRSV)

Devotion

At my last eye exam, the doctor asked me if I hit my head during the last year. I laughed, saying that I probably had hit it digging under the bottom shelf looking for fabric I needed for a visual display. In the midst of my joking, the doctor showed me a picture of my right eye. There was something akin to a small bite taken out of the back of my eye which causes a transition to blurred vision when I am tired. I am still unnerved when my vision is unexpectedly "clouded."

For worship artists, the transition to Lent is significant and we can get lost in the "cloud." How we approach sharing the scripture through music, visuals, dance, instruments, written word, and spoken word takes on an urgency. We can feel the fear of being lost, the clouds of stress and uncertainty seeping into us as we plan for the season. "Do I have the forces to pull this anthem off?" "Why can’t I find that one right word for the liturgy I am writing?" "Will the supplies I need get here in time?" "Why do I feel so empty this season?"

We too often want to stay at the mountaintop with Christ, but "clouds" will come. Do not be afraid! These clouds are places of transfiguration for ministry. From the midst of the cloud comes the voice of God, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him." This same voice calls to you saying, "You are my child. Open your life to me and you will be transformed into something even more beautiful."

God is with us in the clouds, on the mountains, and in the valleys of our ministry. Dance, sing, draw, paint, sew, and preach knowing that God is whispering to you in the midst of your transformation, "I love you. You are beautiful, gifted, and wonderfully made. I have chosen you."

Prayer

Speak to me loudly when I am lost in the clouds of life. Call me into this Lenten season full of the assurance that I am deeply loved by you. Whisper to me over and over, "Do not be afraid. Listen to my Son, my Chosen" and allow me to be transformed.

Rev. Debra TyreeThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Minister of Worship and Mission
Bellevue United Methodist Church
Nashville, TN

Photo: Clouds are seen above the mountains at Lake Junaluska during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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O Rest in the Lord

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Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Week of: February 24, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4, NRSV)

Devotion

Each time I read this week's lectionary psalm, I cannot help but think of the beautiful mezzo aria "O Rest in the Lord" from Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah. The aria quotes Psalm 37 in the following way: "O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart's desires. Commit thy way unto him, and trust in him, and fret not thyself because of evil doers."

If you are like me, waiting is very hard to do. I have always been impatient, hardly being able to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. As a church musician, I am always thinking ahead and planning for what will happen next. It seems that all worship artists live in a perpetual state of "what's to come." During the summer months we are planning for Christmas, and during the Advent season we are planning for Easter. The church year never stops, and as a result, neither do we.

Unfortunately, when we don't stop, we are missing out on opportunities to listen to and be in relationship with God. I once served with a minister who told his staff he didn't care what we accomplished in the course of a day, but that he expected us to find the time to be silent with God.

Are you finding time to share the desires of your heart with God? How might the worship of your church change if you found more time to rest in the Lord?

Prayer

Patient Lord, help us find the time to patiently wait for you. Grant us refuge and show us how to trust in you. Hear the desires of our hearts and inspire our mouths to utter wisdom. May we take delight in you and do good. Amen.

Justin AddingtonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Music & Worship
St. John's United Methodist Church
Rock Hill, SC

Photo: Cecilia Ford dances during morning worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Blest Are They

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Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Week of: February 17, 2019
Scripture: Luke 6:17-26

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.
(Luke 6:23a, NRSV)

Devotion

This Sunday's Gospel text contains a shortened version of the Beatitudes, some of the most beloved and oft-quoted verses of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Generally associated with funerals and memorial services, these statements put forth an example of faithful living, and grant assurance to Christ's followers.

Unique to Luke's Gospel, the four statements of hope are followed by four warnings, which mirror the blessings. The fourth statement on enduring the rejection and insults of others seems especially poignant for those of us who occasionally encounter difficult people in the church.

While the Beatitudes are counted among the most popular portions of Scripture, they also seem to be one of the most difficult for which to select corresponding music in worship. A quick search on Hymnary.org produces many obscure results. However, one well-known song from our modern-day repertoire rightly deserves consideration.

This song, "Blest Are They," is a gift to us from David Haas, a prolific composer of post-Vatican II liturgical music. His hymn sets the individual blessings in Matthew's version of the Beatitudes as verses, then ties them all together with the refrain, "Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the Kingdom of God!"

During those moments when it is easy for us to become discouraged in our work, let us rejoice in the fact that our God is faithful, and that we are blessed with an eternal promise.

Prayer

God of blessings, grant us laughter when we feel poor in spirit and are hungry for love. Comfort us when we weep for our hurting world and when we experience that hurt first-hand through the actions of others. Help us to rejoice in the knowledge that the Kingdom is ours, and that we will be filled with all goodness and joy. Amen.

Justin AddingtonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Music & Worship
St. John's United Methodist Church
Rock Hill, SC

Photo: Kaitlyn Wright and Taylor Edwards dance during the Youth Talent Show at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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