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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

The Reliable Word

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Transfiguration Sunday

Week of: February 23, 2020
Scripture: 2 Peter 1:16-21

... if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.
(2 Peter 1:19, CEB)

Devotion

The second letter of Simon Peter, the Apostle Peter, stands as a clarion reminder of the "reliable," truth-full, prophetic word of Jesus the Christ.

Peter's words ring clear to all who doubt and to all who will listen and learn that the teaching and example of Jesus is like "a lamp shining in a dark place," illuminating the way to live lives worthy of being called a disciple of "God with us."

As Christian disciples, we have accepted the mandate to "proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ." We faithfully work to build a community of love and forgiveness, so that all persons may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in serving others. Then, together, we may walk in the way that leads to life, and by doing so, we become the "lamp" shining light in dark places.

As worship designers and worship leaders, we have the responsibility, calling, and passion to awaken senses in worship through seeing, hearing, moving, creating, and proclaiming — so that any who experience liturgy in our spaces might come to a deeper understanding of what it means in life to "do good, do no harm, and to stay in love with God."

Prayer

God of all creation, guide our choices and our steps along the path which leads to more authentic discipleship in the name of Jesus, your Son, and the one who is our saving grace. Amen.

Roger DowdyRoger Dowdy
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
CROSS-PATHS Ministries
Richmond, VA 

 

Photo: Dancers lift bowls and pitchers prior to a time of remembering our baptism during opening worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.      (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Making Things Right

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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Week of: February 16, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37

... if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5:23-24, CEB)

Devotion

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew has as its context Jesus' mountain-top sermon – offering a teaching message in which Jesus provides examples of "right-living" which extend well beyond the law and the prophets.

Jesus' mantra throughout these passages (Matthew 5, 6, & 7) is: "you have heard it said ... but I say to you …"

Jesus desires that those who follow him know the essence of the law, but are also equipped and prepared to go beyond "keeping" the Law in word only.

Jesus' followers are those who have absorbed the knowledge of what is "required" and then put that understanding into practice by mending relationships, extending mercy, and nurturing right relationships based on respect and forgiveness, fidelity and agape love. Worship is the place our faith communities begin this practice — may we listen for what Jesus is saying to us as we lead our worship arts teams.

Prayer

Christ Jesus, move us through your guiding Spirit into deeper living, deeper caring, more genuine service, and richer relationships so that God's Kin-dom can emerge on this earth in vital and dynamic ways. Amen.

Roger DowdyRoger Dowdy
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
CROSS-PATHS Ministries
Richmond, VA 

 

Photo: Dr. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James UMC in Kansas City, preaches during opening worship at "A Place at the Table," The Fellowship's 2019 Convocation.     (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Never Be Shaken

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Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Week of: February 9, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

Those who honor the Lord, who adore God's commandments, are truly happy! ... They shine in the dark for others who do right. They are merciful, compassionate, and righteous. Those who lend generously are good people — as are those who conduct their affairs with justice. Yes, these sorts of people will never be shaken ...
(Psalm 112:1, 4-6a, CEB [adapted])

Devotion

The assigned psalm for this Sunday serves as a confirming follow-up to last Sunday's Hebrew scripture from Micah 6 describing in simple terms three dimensions of right living: do good, do no harm, stay in love with God.

Psalm 112 reminds worshippers that all who are faithful in "right living" — showing mercy, compassion, generosity, and justice – these sorts of people will never be shaken!

This "interim" season of Ordinary Time (the sequence of Sundays after the 12 days of Christmas and before Lent begins) is an excellent time to assess one's own commitment to acts of kindness, mercy, and justice — looking also to those who are past and present examples for us in "right living."

The psalm-hymn for this Sunday offers worshippers the words to sing in affirmation of the blessings and assurances which come from living with Christ-like intentionality. Let all that you do in worship arts ministry be this praise!

Prayer

Jesus, our companion and life guide, open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to the ways in which you call us to serve the needs of both "stranger" and "neighbor" – prompted by your Holy Spirit to acts of compassion and mercy. Amen.

Roger DowdyRoger Dowdy
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
CROSS-PATHS Ministries
Richmond, VA 

 

Photo: Mark Miller conducts the Young Adult Choir during a Thursday evening concert at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.     (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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All That is Required

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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Week of: February 2, 2020
Scripture: Micah 6:1-8

[The One who is Holy] has told you, human one, what is good and what is required from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8, CEB [adapted])

Devotion

The late United Methodist Bishop Rueben Job brought Micah 6:8 alive to many readers when he offered Three Simple Rules *, a small volume published in 2007 — an adaptation and expose of John Wesley's writings on "human character" and "holiness of life."

Bishop Job's paraphrase of Wesley and the prophet Micah reads: "do no harm, do good, stay in love with God." It is true — these are three simple-sounding directives, but more challenging to live out than to hear.

Nationally and globally we live in an age of increasingly harmful words and actions, politicized verbal rancor, individual rancor turning into violent acts against humanity, and a global culture less and less grounded in the respective core values of the Abrahamic faith traditions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism.

Secular culture challenges worship designers in all areas of artistic expression to guide their worshipping communities toward a recognition of what constitutes "good" and "just," mercy and loving kindness, and humbleness. It requires prayerful, pastoral consideration of worship texts and music, monologues and dialogues, visualization, and drama (in combination) which can touch and awaken desensitized hearts and minds.

Prayer

God of justice, mercy, and humbleness, grant us increased awareness and wisdom through your Holy Spirit, so that we come to know and live out holiness of heart and life. Amen.

Roger DowdyRoger Dowdy
Deacon, The United Methodist Church
CROSS-PATHS Ministries
Richmond, VA 

 

* Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, Bishop Rueben Job, © 2007, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN.

Photo: Dancers interpret "A Litany of the Undoing of Creation" by John Bell at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.    (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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United in Purpose

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Third Sunday after Epiphany

Week of: January 26, 2020
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
(1 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV)

Devotion

"Worship Wars" — doesn't that sound like an oxymoron? Yet, it's something that can happen all too often in churches trying to provide different worship experiences to their faith communities. Traditional or contemporary, praise songs or hymns, robes or no robes, mics or no mics, slides or no slides — all of these stylistic tugs-of-war over which is better can get in the way of feeling "united in the same mind and the same purpose."

In this scripture, Paul calls us to "be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you." That's a pretty tall order considering the heated debates going on in our denomination — let alone the myriad of disagreements that can pop up at any given worship team, staff, or leadership council meeting! In our quest to be right, we can forget to listen to one another. In our fear of change, we can fail to appreciate the gift of new ideas. In our haste to leave behind outdated practices, we can lose the value of tradition. Our divisions can hinder our ability to be the Kin-dom people God is calling us to be.

When we get caught in a debate over which is better, we lose sight of the greater purpose: to bring others to Christ through a variety of worship experiences that resonate with the beautiful diversity of people we are called to serve. Keeping that purpose as our compass, we can navigate the challenges of collaboration and celebrate our differences, united in mind and spirit.

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for the many ways your Holy Spirit is heard and seen and felt when we come together to worship you. Help us to appreciate and celebrate our differences as we work together to further your Kin-dom on Earth. Amen.

Shannon WiseShannon Wise
Director of Music Ministries
Herndon United Methodist Church
Herndon, VA 

Photo: Members of the Young Adult Choir lead in Evening Prayer along with Mark Miller (right) at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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The Call of Worship

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Second Sunday after Epiphany

Week of: January 19, 2020
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:4-7, NRSV)

Devotion

I don't know that I truly understood the concept of spiritual gifts until I attended my first Fellowship Convocation. While I had certainly witnessed a variety of gifts being shared in worship, it wasn't until that first night in San Francisco that I began to realize what it really meant to be "one body with many parts" (1 Corinthians 12:12). How amazing to witness dancers moving as one, putting scripture into motion; voices soaring together, bringing texts to life; beautiful fabrics cascading into pools of candlelight, visually embodying the theme for the service. Each part of the body was represented, and working together they created a spirit-filled worship experience that was life-giving for all who were there.

Coming down from that mountaintop wasn't easy. I left feeling so inspired — but there were insufficient numbers in my choir to sing that special anthem I brought back. Our one-woman altar design "team" couldn't find others who shared her artistic passion. Members of the worship committee looked more than a little uneasy when the words "liturgical dance" were mentioned. It didn't take long before my Fellowship bubble was in serious danger of bursting.

And yet — the call of worship remained: to seek out spiritual gifts in others, and to find outlets for those gifts to be shared for the glory of Christ. Strengthened by The Fellowship and inspired by the gifts I had witnessed there, I knew I was in the right place: not on the mountaintop, but right where God was calling me to be.

Prayer

Thank you, God, for the vast array of gifts you have infused in each one of us and for the way we can create beautiful worship when working together. Open our eyes to recognize the gifts in others and provide them with the opportunity to serve you and your people. Amen.

Shannon WiseShannon Wise
Director of Music Ministries
Herndon United Methodist Church
Herndon, VA 

Photo: Dancers wave flags in opening worship at St. Luke's UMC in Kansas City during A Place at the Table, The Fellowship's 2019 Convocation.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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An Unbiased Front

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Baptism of the Lord

Week of: January 12, 2020
Scripture: Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all."
(Acts 10:34-36, NRSV)

Devotion

I always get a kick out of seeing my choir's reactions to the different anthems we sing in any given rehearsal. One member will smile and sway along as we sing through a gospel song while another will groan and say, "This isn't my style." One member will sing out with joy on a classical anthem while another will roll her eyes and say, "Too stuffy for me." For just about every piece we sing throughout the year, it's pretty much guaranteed that there will be at least one person who will love it and another who will plan to be absent on the morning that anthem is sung!

The diversity of the choir challenges me to be impartial and strive to present a wide variety of musical styles that will appeal to its various members. If I catered only to my own tastes, someone's musical soul might not be fed, and I would miss out on the chance to provide words or melodies that would enrich and inspire each individual.

In many ways, the choir is a microcosm of our faith communities and the wonderful variety of people we, as worship leaders, are called to serve. Whether it's leading a worship committee, a dance group, a music ensemble, or an artistic design group, we need to remember that "God shows no partiality," and God calls us to be unbiased as well — providing a rich variety of artistic experiences to feed the souls of a beautifully diverse population. What a great privilege!

Prayer

Dear God, help us to put aside our own biases so that we can allow your Holy Spirit to flow through us and out to all those we serve. Open our minds to the wonderful richness of variety in worship so that we can reach all who need to feel your presence. Amen.

Shannon WiseShannon Wise
Director of Music Ministries
Herndon United Methodist Church
Herndon, VA 

Photo: Pearl Shangkuan rehearses with the Chamber Choir at Waynesville First UMC during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Carriers of Light

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Second Sunday after Christmas / Epiphany of the Lord

Week of: January 5, 2020
Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6 *

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
(Isaiah 60:1, NIV)

Devotion

The beginning of January can be a tough time for many of us. After the breathless anticipation of Advent and the radiance of Christmas Eve worship have passed, the darkness of winter can settle in and threaten to dampen even the brightest of spirits. Yet the words of Isaiah call us to rise up and to let the glory of God shine through us. This is part of our deep and continued calling as worship leaders, musicians and artists, to be carriers of light to our congregations and our communities.

Whether we are directing a choral anthem, creating liturgy for worship, designing an altar display, choreographing a liturgical dance, or crafting a sermon, we have a unique opportunity each week to be vessels for God's light to the people we serve. In the midst of stressful workloads, busy family schedules and daily challenges, they come to worship to be renewed and reminded of the light of Christ that is present in their lives each and every day, not just during the Christmas season.

So, as Isaiah says, "Lift up your eyes and look about you." If we set aside time to reflect upon the blessings God has placed in our lives, we will be better able to proclaim God's praise to others. If we work to dispel the areas of darkness in our world, we will create space for God's radiance to shine through. Even in the darkest days of winter, we can all be carriers of light.

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for the Light you gave us through your son, Jesus Christ. Please help us to be open to that light. Allow your grace and peace to shine through us and out to all who need to feel your radiance and your joy. Amen.

Shannon WiseShannon Wise
Director of Music Ministries
Herndon United Methodist Church
Herndon, VA 

* Note: This reading comes from Epiphany of the Lord, for January 6.

Photo: Fellowship member Suzanne Cate leads a reading during Tuesday evening worship held at Church of the Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City during Convocation 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Joy to the World

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First Sunday after Christmas

Week of: December 29, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 96 *

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.
(Psalm 96:1-4a, NRSV)

Devotion

Psalm 96 has always been one of my favorites. It pulls out all the stops. This psalm is the full chancel choir, organ and orchestra with handbells, children and youth choir, dance troupe and processional banners, with assistance from the tech crew and a full congregation. (I hope I didn't leave anyone out!) Psalm 96 covers it all — not just the trees and forests but the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that fills them. How grand!

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel — God with us. We celebrate right here in this moment with chaos, with hunger and want, with devastation and loss, with poverty and bias. There's not a more appropriate song to sing at such a time. We sing this psalm of praise to a God who specifically will bring righteousness and equality, who will judge with equity, who will treat everyone as equal. Let us rejoice and be glad!

Prayerful Reflection:

While lighting the four candles of Advent again, along with the Christ candle, may we wander with our mind’s eye over the gathered house of God. These are living pillars of our temple: human saints giving structure, standing together as one body looking for a new song of praise — a new song for a new time in the church, a time of equity, a time for lifting the lowly, of filling the hungry with good things, of justice to the poor, of mercy, righteousness and unbounded welcome to all in love. May we sing this song of joy to all the world right now.

Grace Cox-JohnsonGrace Cox-Johnson
Director of Music, Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church, Raytown, MO
Artist in Residence, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, MO 

* Note: This Psalm reading comes from Nativity of the Lord - Proper I, for December 24-25.

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Darkness

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Week of: December 22, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. ... Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
(Psalm 80:3, 18, NRSV)

Devotion

Light four candles — you may need them!

This fourth week of Advent is often the darkest time before the light of Christmas and certainly can be the most stressful for worship leaders in the church. There are few expectations and demands put on us like the ones surrounding the Christmas season. It can be easy to find life overwhelming, to say the least.

These days can feel as though darkness has surrounded us: the colder weather, high demands, lack of funds, world chaos both in and beyond our borders. All of this can seem unfixable. It can seem as though our prayers go unheard. There is much to make us feel as though we've been given bitter tears to drink, yet we light our candles and wait.

It's not hard to find the darkness. It's always there just under the surface of all the commercial and media hype, buried behind human masks pretending that all is OK. This is the very loneliness, isolation, depression and devastation that Emmanuel comes to heal. Psalm 80 presents us with our real and specific need for God's salvation.

As worship leaders we must be mindful of this darkness; there are a lot of people in our communities that are even more left out and hungry during this time of year.

In worship we proclaim the alternate reality of a God whose well-lit world is life-giving! And as disciples of Jesus Christ — the one who came to bring us the Light — we know our call is to shine that light into even the gloomiest corners.

Prayerful Reflection:

We plead for restoration, for God's face to shine in our darkness and come as one of us. May we welcome the divine Light that brings holy restoration, that all may be one in God's love.

Grace Cox-JohnsonGrace Cox-Johnson
Director of Music, Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church, Raytown, MO
Artist in Residence, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, MO 

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Yes!

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Third Sunday of Advent

Week of: December 15, 2019
Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55

... my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
(Luke 1:47-50, NRSV)

Devotion

And yet she persisted.

In spite of her lowly station in life, in spite of her marginalization by culture and society, in spite of all the chaos, Mary says "yes." For her "yes," she is granted one of the greatest gifts of all time, to bear the very body of Jesus the Christ in her womb. She willingly holds the incarnation of God-with-us in her belly. Lifting that belly, she sings out one of the most victorious songs ever sung.

In the very act of saying "yes" to God's call, Mary knows that God has lifted the lowly. Mary knows that the hungry are being fed and that God's mercy is great. She sings in hope with assurance that God will fulfill the promises made to her ancestors.

This Sunday we light three candles, with the third being historically pink to celebrate Gaudete ["Rejoice ye"] Sunday. This week of Advent is often seen as a more joyful time as we look through the victorious eyes of Mary to the coming of God in human flesh. You could say that we have been granted liturgical license to fling our arms open with an abandoned shout of "yes"!

Prayerful Reflection:

May we say "yes" to God in spite of whatever station we find ourselves. May we seek with God to lift the marginalized, to feed the hungry, and to show mercy. In doing these actions, we join Mary on this journey of birthing God again on earth in this time and space, and we rejoice!

Grace Cox-JohnsonGrace Cox-Johnson
Director of Music, Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church, Raytown, MO
Artist in Residence, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, MO 

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God's Justice

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Second Sunday of Advent

Week of: December 8, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
(Psalm 72:4-5, NRSV)

Devotion

Lighting two candles and remembering we have John the Baptist waiting just outside the chancel, still unseen but smelly, we turn to portions of Psalm 72. As all psalms selected for this season are well-crafted and have many appropriate uses, in this context our focus is filtered by the coming incarnation of Emmanuel. In a moment, John the Baptizer will call for repentance, but in anticipation we sing to God for holy justice and righteousness for the poor, deliverance for the needy, and peace that abounds.

This prayer/song seems to offer possibilities of a broader perspective; might we even be so bold as to insert our own name in the Psalm? It could be an interesting exercise, for in doing so the focus shifts from who we are asking God to help, to our real hopes. This shift is especially important in light of the continuing preparations for Christ's coming.

What do our worship visuals proclaim about God's justice? Do our anthems and congregational songs offer a vehicle for repentance? Are we engaging in rituals that promote peace and justice?

Prayerful Reflection:

Could there be such a connection between John's call to repentance and the text of Psalm 72? Is there a lack of justice for the poor? Who is in need of "deliverance"? Does peace abound? The peace of Christ has no bounds but how do we find this justice?

"May [we] be like the rain that falls on mown grass, like showers that water the earth" (Psalm 72:6).

May we incarnate the Word of God in this time and space, that in very real ways, we may usher in God’s peace.

Grace Cox-JohnsonGrace Cox-Johnson
Director of Music, Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church, Raytown, MO
Artist in Residence, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, MO 

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A Plea for Peace

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First Sunday of Advent

Week of: December 1, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 122

"Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers." For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you." For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
(Psalm 122:7-9, NRSV)

Devotion

What a delight it is to begin a new Christian Year. It’s such a joy gathering together in worship, giving thanks and praise to the Holy One. We light one candle, centered on the beginning yet focused on the end of all time when Christ comes in final victory, when the lion lies down with the lamb, when anxiety ceases and all is at peace.

Psalm 122 leads us through majestic gates and thrones, a strong temple for God's people. In the midst of this grand stability is a call for something ethereal and elusive as a single flame, a plea for peace.

This time of year is easily lost to worry about ourselves, our families, and certainly our churches. "Can we get enough tenors?" "Where did we put the Advent wreath?" "How did I get all this done last year?" On and on it goes in our heads, voices of fear and failure, potentially stifling the joy this season can bring and robbing peace from those around us and throughout the world.

In the midst of this anxiety, the candle shines its message of peace, a flickering, dancing antidote to despair.

Prayerful Reflection:

Take a moment lighting the first candle, watching it burn, seeing it alive; in giving thanks and praise there is peace. In a moment of focus in thanksgiving for God's living house, the saints and sinners we meet in our day to day lives, our anxiety lessens, our hearts are touched with peace. This peace won't stop, but grows stronger as it is fed. Holding our candles higher we wait, wanting a greater peace for all humankind.

Grace Cox-JohnsonGrace Cox-Johnson
Director of Music, Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church, Raytown, MO
Artist in Residence, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, MO 

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Prepare Yourself

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Reign of Christ / Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 24, 2019
Scripture: Colossians 1:11-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him.
(Colossians 1:15-16, NRSV)

Devotion

You're on a rollercoaster, approaching that first hill at a slow crawl. You have this sickening anticipation in the pit of your stomach. You slowly inch over the top, revealing a gut-wrenching view of where you are heading before you plunge into a mind-numbing adrenaline rush. Your life revolves around church ministry and this week is your hill. You are inching your way to the top; December is in view. You are about to plummet into Advent and the weeks of programs, parties, and performances before Christmas are enough to make your head spin. It is a time of great joy but it can be a season of great stress as well.

Take time to stop the ride for a moment. Find a quiet corner in your world and focus on why you do what you do. This passage of Colossians describes Jesus on a cosmic level as the "first born of all creation." Yet, this God took on flesh and lived with us simply because we are loved beyond any love we ourselves can give. And Jesus has chosen you to tell his story. There is honor, humility, and joy in knowing that. As you begin this Christmas season, remember why you do what you do and who chose you to do it. Enjoy the ride!

Prayer

Glorious God, thank you for the opportunity and honor of telling the story of Jesus! Give me patience and strength and ignite the joy within me to inspire others to listen, know, and share the good news. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Brett HybergerBrett Hyberger
Director of Worship and Music Arts
Ooltewah United Methodist Church
Ooltewah, TN

Photo: A rainbow appears after a storm at Lake Junaluska during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Finding the Right

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Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 17, 2019
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
(2 Thessalonians 3:13, NRSV)

Devotion

One of the most difficult responsibilities of church leaders is removing a volunteer from a position in ministry. Volunteers are the backbone of the church, so we don't want to tell them that they need to step down, but sometimes it's a necessity for both the church and that person. Their talents may not fit well in a particular ministry. They may be distracted from their duties by major life events, burned out, or, frankly, causing conflict within the worship arts ministry or congregation.

None of these situations is easy and all of them require prayer and thought. For the most part, these events, though awkward, may in time reveal God's plan to take that volunteer in another direction. Sometimes congregants may find another ministry that allows their spiritual growth to flourish. We need to trust that God has a purpose and solution. It may not produce the outcome you expected, but it is always for God's purpose and your own good. Never shy away from doing what is right. Be ready to witness to what God will do through you.

Prayer

God, in my difficult decisions, help me not to shy away from what is right. Guide me to face awkward and uncomfortable situations with courage, love, patience, and wisdom. In the name of Christ. Amen.

Brett HybergerBrett Hyberger
Director of Worship and Music Arts
Ooltewah United Methodist Church
Ooltewah, TN

Photo: Dance clinician Stephanie Crockett raises her arms during a solo dance at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Making an Example

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Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 10, 2019
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
(2 Thessalonians 2:15, NRSV)

Devotion

If you asked me who were my favorite teachers in high school, I could give you many examples, but one name always springs to mind: Coach Shaw.

Coach Shaw embodied the characteristics you find in high school coaches: he was loud, rough around the edges, and didn't back down from anyone. Now, I'm no athlete, either then or now, so I don't remember Coach Shaw for his work on the ball field. However, I do remember being in Coach Shaw's World History class. I remember his famous mantra: "It's easy to pass my class ... if you do the work." That was true, and very few were foolish enough to cheat, because he would eat them alive!

But it wasn't fear that drove students like me to do the work. Using a combination of his hilarious jokes and his brash approach to world history, he taught his class with integrity and purpose. You wanted to learn from this man. He had a way of telling stories that made you want to go deeper, to know more about the world. Coach Shaw had a lasting and positive effect on my life.

The Thessalonians had Paul, and I had Coach Shaw; who has God placed in your life to shape you into a better person? Who has helped instill your beliefs and encourage you to continue to become what God intends for you to be? Are you that "Coach Shaw" to someone else in your life? What traditions and influences have you shared with others, especially those within your worship arts ministry?

Prayer

Thank you, loving God, for the people you have brought into my life who have led, shaped, and encouraged me to be the person you intended. Please lead me to be that same influence with others. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Brett HybergerBrett Hyberger
Director of Worship and Music Arts
Ooltewah United Methodist Church
Ooltewah, TN

Photo: Elementary choral clinician Amanda Craft teaches a young assistant how to conduct at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Boasting of Christ

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All Saints Sunday / Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 3, 2019
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.
(1 Thessalonians 1:4, NRSV)

Devotion

It means a lot when someone gives you a compliment, but it means just a little more when you hear that someone was boasting about you to someone else. It is a good sign when people are willing to share their positive opinions of you, your abilities, personality, and your thinking with others. They are genuinely thankful for the person you are, what you do, and how you do it.

According to Paul, the church of Thessalonica was winning. They weren't just growing in numbers, they were growing spiritually in faith and love as well, despite the hardships they faced. Paul used them as an example to the other churches he was shepherding and boasted about their "steadfastness and faith." It had to be a huge encouragement to the Thessalonians. It was also a template for the other churches to follow.

Let's take a different approach to this scripture. God is the epitome of steadfastness and faith. Like Paul bragging about the Thessalonians, do we compliment God to others? In our worship, in our planning, and in our daily lives do our actions brag of God's goodness? When you dance, sing, act, read, move, smile, and breathe does your being boast of God? What you do is a true gift from God, so using it to the best of your abilities is bragging on God's wondrous and amazing grace.

Prayer

Almighty God, may my actions boast of your greatness, and may that boasting encourage others to seek and know you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Brett HybergerBrett Hyberger
Director of Worship and Music Arts
Ooltewah United Methodist Church
Ooltewah, TN

Photo: Dancers rehearse prior to worship at St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City during The Fellowship's 2019 Convocation, "A Place at the Table." (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Waiting in Silence

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 27, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 65

God of Zion, to you even silence is praise. Promises made to you are kept —you listen to prayer — and all living things come to you.
(Psalm 65:1-2, CEB)

Devotion

The choir practices its rousing Sunday anthem with the orchestra. The liturgical dancers stomp and leap for joy. Tools bang and clatter as a new piece of worship art is installed. Lectors rehearse their readings aloud, and pastors rehearse their sermons for next week. The praise band rocks the sanctuary rafters. Children laugh and shriek with delight in the hallways of the church. The workroom copier hums along to the telephone's ringing, and traffic in and out of office doors creates a noisy ruckus. We talk, shout, pray, argue, sing, cry, and laugh.

Then the time comes when rehearsals are complete. Paint brushes are set aside. Vacuums return to closets and office machines are silenced. All is assembled and we are ready. A holy hush falls over our industry and our conversation. It is not an awkward silence, but the silence of anticipation. We await the arrival of the guest for whom we have been preparing so earnestly and with such profound love. God — our salvation, our security and our strength  — has been invited to be the object of our worship and we wait in breathless expectation of God's sure presence. Dumbstruck with wonder and awe, we reverently offer one last gift — our silence — which falls on God's ear as deafening praise.

Prayer

We come to you knowing that you listen even when our prayers are too deep for words. Receive our silence as praise and bring us close to you. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, because we wait for you. Amen.

Beth HolzhemerBeth R. Holzemer
Director of Traditional Music and Worship
First United Methodist Church
Hopkinsville, KY

Photo: The chancel area of Church of the Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City is prepared prior to worship during The Fellowship's 2019 Convocation, "A Place at the Table." Worship visuals were designed by Todd Pick. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Checking Answers

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 20, 2019
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 3:14-15, CEB)

Devotion

When I received my first mathematics textbook with an answer key, it only provided answers to the odd numbered problems. I still had to show my work, but that safety net helped build my skill and confidence to succeed on the other questions. Though a solid math student, I never failed to check the answers in the back of the book ... just to make sure. I had learned, but I wasn't convinced.

Paul reminds me: "You've learned your lessons but be sure to check your answers in the Book!" He challenges me to measure my beliefs against the standard of God's Word for assurance. Finding truth begs me to profess my conviction. My errors call me to repent and change. To paraphrase missiologist Paul G. Hiebert, we may hold on to our truths but our convictions hold on to us.

We encounter challenges to our artistic convictions from within and without. Is that song too secular? Is that skit too long? Is the drum too loud? Is the altar arrangement too abstract? When these challenges spring from a holy and loving heart space they merit our consideration. Ultimately, however, though we come from different disciplines, we share the same reference tool. Let us never forget to check our answers in the Book! 

Prayer

"Lord, your word is so pleasing to my taste buds — it's sweeter than honey in my mouth." *

Keep us returning time and again to your holy scripture that makes us wise and leads us to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is in his name that we entreat you. Amen.

* Psalm 119:103, CEB

Beth HolzhemerBeth R. Holzemer
Director of Traditional Music and Worship
First United Methodist Church
Hopkinsville, KY

Photo: A dancer recesses with the chancel bible at the end of closing worship of Music & Worship Arts Week 2018. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Unbound and Abounding

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

Devotion

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Beth HolzhemerBeth R. Holzemer
Director of Traditional Music and Worship
First United Methodist Church
Hopkinsville, KY

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

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