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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

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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Standing Still, Looking Sad

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Third Sunday of Easter

Week of: April 26, 2020
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35

"And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
(Luke 24:17-18, NRSV)

Devotion

I don't want to assume what your life has been like the last several weeks (though I have a pretty good hunch), but for me, it's been a weird, surreal, painful, confusing, and really, really strange Lent and Easter. Many of my friends and colleagues have not been able to celebrate worship in person for weeks. Many have had to cancel concerts, recitals, art shows, outreach events, and Holy Week series that have been in the works since well before Christmas. Does that include you? It includes me, and it's heartbreaking.

I don't feel like it's Eastertide. I'm not yet ready to believe the Resurrection story. I'm on the road to Emmaus, traveling with one companion (six feet apart, obviously). I'm standing still, looking sad. Where to begin, Jesus? My artistic designs were dumped in the trash. My folk band rehearsals, my dance classes, my altarscapes, my Easter lily orders ... don't you get it, Jesus?

And Jesus says, "Oh, I do get it. I'm here. I'm on the road with you. I'm leading you toward bread and juice. I'm leading you toward new kinds of community and ministry. I'm with you in the grief. And I'm leading you toward a new kind of Eastertide."

May we take all the time we need to stand still, looking sad. May we also experience the risen Christ speaking to us, side-by-side with us, through it all.

Prayer

God of Eastertide, help us grapple with our stories of both grief and resurrection. Help us hear your voice on the road. Help us find new life again. Amen and amen.

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

 

Photo: A path alongside Lake Junaluska.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Hope in the Mess

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Second Sunday of Easter

Week of: April 19, 2020
Scripture: John 20:19-31

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
(John 20:29, NIV)

Devotion

I recently began singing with a chamber vocal group in my community. The director of the ensemble is the Director of Choral Activities at the university in town. To celebrate a new acquisition of a 16th-century chant manuscript, we were learning chant. A couple of weeks into the rehearsal process, he sent me a text and asked me to sing, saying, "It'll be fun, and we need another tenor."

Chant is different, y'all. I haven't read neumes since we talked about them for a couple of hours in an undergrad music history class. Trying to shift between universes and be comfortable reading new clefs, and different understandings of what note goes where is different from what I'm normally used to. Learning that music required the hardest music-learning work I've done in years.

We have all kinds of opportunities for doubt. We doubt our own capabilities, we doubt each other, and there is a degree to which we need to doubt. Maintaining a healthy skepticism keeps us curious about finding real answers.

But as the scripture shows us, we also need to be open to things that might bring us great joy and hope.

In the midst of a global pandemic, it's natural to ask questions, doubt each other, and doubt our own capabilities. In the midst of that, though, let us continue finding ways to make art and offer those moments of joy, hope, and love in a world that needs as much of it as it can get.

Prayer

God, be with us in the mess. As we collectively work through a crisis, let us believe in ourselves, believe in each other, and continue to be your hands, feet, voice, and heart in our communities.

Isaac C. Garrigues-CortelyouIsaac C. Garrigues-Cortelyou
Director of Music
Vestal United Methodist Church
Vestal, NY 

 

Photo: The Chamber Choir rehearses during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Resurrected

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Resurrection of the Lord

Week of: April 12, 2020
Scripture: Colossians 3:1-4

Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God's right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4, CEB)

Devotion

COVID-19, coronavirus. What a difference just a few days can make in our specific communities. I don't know about you, but I have had to change my entire mindset about my routine and my workload. As a musician, I depend on the congregation, certainly not "social distancing!" I prepare with various vocal and instrumental ensembles on a weekly basis; we gather for worship or a community performance. All of these things depend on togetherness. We come together to sing, act, and dance, and we depend on others to come to watch, or hopefully join in! We aren't used to the distance. We aren't used to not being busy.

So, what can I do? What can we do? Are our gifts useless in these days of uncertainty? No. Now is the time to use our creative passions. This is a pivotal moment in our world's history, so it's a pivotal moment as a Christian. We are seeing people come together to deliver food and resources to those who would not otherwise have them, but how can art have an impact? U2's Bono is quoted as saying, "Music can change the world because it can change people." Art brings humanity.

I challenge you to think of ways to bring your spiritual, artistic gifts to those around you while still "distancing" your physical body. We are experiencing a time in our culture where we don't have much of an option but to be reliant on our great God! We will see God use us to do great things. In our calling to use our gifts, we can be hopeful that we are working towards a resurrection, preparing to be revealed in Christ's glory.

Prayer

Lord, we pray that you will give us certainty in these uncertain times. We pray that you will give us peace and hope, and help us find healthy and safe ways to be the light in our communities. Amen.

Cristen MitchellCristen Renee Mitchell
Director of Music Ministries
Blacksburg United Methodist Church
Blacksburg, VA 

 

Photo: Close-up of an Easter Lily.  (Pixabay.com photo by Maurisa Mayerle.)

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Life Interrupted

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Palm / Passion Sunday

Week of: April 5, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 26:14 - 27:66

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me."
(Matthew 26:36-38, NRSV)

Devotion

Back in January when I first wrote these devotions, little did we know how fast life would change or become interrupted. Little did we know that many of us would have to close our buildings to stop the spread of a new virus. Little did we know that we would have to find creative and new ways to be the church.

I don't know about you, but I feel a lot like Jesus right now as he goes to Gethsemane to pray, as there are times when I feel grief while not being able to worship together with my congregation or connect face to face.

This Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, was to be the beginning of one of the busiest weeks for us as clergy, musicians, worship artists, and others who play a key role in worship. Holy Week is akin to a championship sporting event for many of us in the worship arts, yet all of that is on hold for now.

Many of us may feel agitation while our lives and routines are on hold. At the same time, we are trying to let this pandemic pass by staying at home, only going out for essential activities. As I tell my congregation every week, this too will pass, maybe like a kidney stone, but it will pass. As we do a lot of our work from home, let us all pray without ceasing, seeking God's comfort, assurance, guidance, and wisdom during this time.

While our buildings might be closed for now, the church has not closed; we can be the church by checking in and caring for each other, gathering on Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. We can offer to go shopping for anyone who can't, or make care packages to be dropped off on someone's porch. While many of us won't be worshiping together physically, we are still the church together as we worship virtually or however we worship. We are still the church together, even when life is interrupted.

Prayer

Most Holy and Loving God, while life has been interrupted and our routines altered, we know you are still with us. We know you will assure us, comfort us, and help alleviate some of the loneliness we might feel when we come to you. We also know you take our fears, doubts, struggles, anger, cynicism, and grief when we give them to you. Continue to watch over us, O Lord. Continue to sustain us, keep us healthy, safe, and out of harm's way.

We give you thanks for all of those who are still working to keep us safe and fed, praying for their well-being and safety.

We know that as we approach the new life of Easter, we must go into the darkness. Remind us, O Lord that in the midst of darkness, we have new life and light to look forward to. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Andrew DavisRev. Andrew Davis
Pastor
Community United Methodist Church
Quincy, CA 

 

Photo: Stained glass windows inside Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska are illuminated by the sun.   (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Resurrection Foreshadowed

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 29, 2020
Scripture: John 11:1-45

Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
(John 11:24-27, NRSV)

Devotion

When I was a kid, the church in which I grew up had a morning sing before Sunday School, and the song "I Am the Resurrection and the Life" was always popular. It was when I began committing to reading the Bible more intently and in-depth that the song took on a whole new meaning.

This passage from John's Gospel is about resurrection that is possible, with Jesus being the resurrection and the life, setting the stage for Easter. Jesus loves his friend Lazarus, weeps for him, then pulls off a great miracle by raising him. By doing so, Jesus foreshadows his own death and resurrection.

Even in these unsettling times, we can experience signs of resurrection now that it's officially spring. Think about the new life that Lazarus will lead until it's his time to leave the earth. As the colors and smells of spring are taking shape, look around you and pay attention to the signs of resurrection. Look at the blossoms on the trees, the daffodils blooming, baby calves and lambs in the pastures, the longer days and warmer temperatures. And remember what Jesus says — that he is the resurrection and the life.

Prayer

Most Holy and Loving God, we continue our Lenten journey, beginning to see the light and signs of new life around us. May we continue to believe in the power of resurrection and continue to believe and live in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Andrew DavisRev. Andrew Davis
Pastor
Community United Methodist Church
Quincy, CA 

 

Photo: A purple flower is seen outside Lambuth Inn on an early morning during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Open Our Eyes

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 22, 2020
Scripture: John 9:1-41

"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
(John 9:5-7, NRSV)

Devotion

Although light is often associated with the season of Epiphany, we used Marty Haugen's Unfailing Light as our liturgy during the year and a half I spent in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. While the season of Lent is a time to look within ourselves, light can be shined on us as we open our own eyes to seeing ourselves in a new light — trusting in Jesus, the light of the world, just as the young man who had his vision restored by Jesus trusted him.

While people questioned what sins this young man or his parents committed to cause his blindness, Jesus says to believe in him and our eyes too will be opened. We might not get the spit and mud treatment, yet following and believing Jesus can open our eyes to possibilities when we look deep within ourselves. Opening our eyes can lead to healing, repentance, and reconciliation. As we musicians, dancers, actors, visual artists, and liturgists continue our journey through Lent, let us follow and believe in Jesus so that we too may open our eyes to what God is showing us.

Prayer

Most Holy and Loving God, thank you for the light of the world and the restoration of vision. Help us to look deep within our own souls to the things to which we are blind and ways we miss the mark as we continue repenting of our sins. Extend to us your extravagant grace, helping us to open our eyes to how we can be all that you call us to be. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Andrew DavisRev. Andrew Davis
Pastor
Community United Methodist Church
Quincy, CA 

 

Photo: Light comes through the clouds following a storm at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Living Water

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Third Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 15, 2020
Scripture: John 4:5-42

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
(John 4:13b-14, NRSV)

Devotion

One of the things I love about where I live and serve is the abundance of lakes and streams. I have a favorite paved trail along the side of a creek. Whenever I hear the water flowing by, I think of the living water that Jesus offers each of us just like the water he offered the Samaritan woman.

We can find ourselves weary from all of the extras that happen during Lent — the extra studies, rehearsals, services, and such. There are times when all these extras can leave us a little overwhelmed and stressed as we prepare for Easter. Yet, in the midst of the stress, Jesus is there to offer us living water. When we accept the living water Jesus offers us and respond in faith, we have the assurance that we too will never be thirsty again. We can join Jesus in eternal life, the promise of Easter.

Prayer

Most Holy and Loving God, help quench our thirst with your living water whenever we feel stressed, overwhelmed, or burned out. Help us to know that we too can have eternal life whenever we partake of the living water Jesus offers us. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Andrew DavisRev. Andrew Davis
Pastor
Community United Methodist Church
Quincy, CA 

 

Photo: A close-up look at the shoreline of Lake Junaluska during Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Into the Unknown

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Second Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 8, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-4a

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you."
(Genesis 2:16-17, NRSV)

Devotion

God's call can sometimes come out of nowhere and when we least expect it. Look at how Abram is simply minding his own business, doing his usual daily tasks when God calls him to uproot and leave what is known. It is an act of faith that Abram takes when he answers God's call and leaves what he knows for something that God has in store for him.

Like Abram, many of us have answered God's call to serve, whether it's as clergy, musicians, choir members, bell choir members, visual artists, actors, dancers, or any way of putting our hands to work. Sometimes the call sends us into the unknown, and we respond in faith and trust in God each step of the way. God is with us, whether it is up the mountain, through the valley, through the woods, or across the ocean. God is with us no matter where we go.

Prayer

Most Holy and Loving God, be with us each step of the way as we say "yes" to your call, especially whenever we enter the unknown. Let us live our faith by trusting you and giving ourselves to you, as we love you and serve you with all our hearts. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Andrew DavisRev. Andrew Davis
Pastor
Community United Methodist Church
Quincy, CA 

 

Photo: The Intermediate I handbell choir rehearses during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Fighting Temptations

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First Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 1, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
(Genesis 2:16-17, NRSV)

Devotion

How many of us face temptations in life? Sometimes, temptation can be getting that bag of chocolate (especially Cadbury Mini Eggs!), going through the buffet line when already full, saying that insulting word to someone we don't like, or whatever things we are tempted to do that may draw us away from God. We face many temptations in life just as Adam and Eve encountered in the Garden of Eden with the tree of life.

We might want fame, fortune, all the knowledge of the world, or to be better than others, but is that what God wants of us? Some of our primary callings in life are to do good, resist evil, and to show love and grace to each other. As we begin this journey of Lent, we are called to resist the many temptations that take us away from God, examine our souls from the inside out, and carefully listen to God's voice, even when we may find ourselves in the wilderness, the streets of the city, our rehearsal rooms, or our living room. Let us fight the temptations that take us away from God, so we can fully focus our energy on God.

Prayer

Loving and Holy God, as we begin our journey of Lent and another busy season in the church, help us center our hearts and minds as we resist evil and temptations. May your Holy Spirit work through us as we examine our souls and conscience. Help us to do your will in this world and to be your hands and feet in everything that we do. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Andrew DavisRev. Andrew Davis
Pastor
Community United Methodist Church
Quincy, CA 

 

Photo: An altar designed by Les Oliver is shown prior to worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2018.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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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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