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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

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 WiseThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 WiseThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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-JohnsonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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-JohnsonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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-JohnsonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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-JohnsonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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-JohnsonThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HybergerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HybergerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HybergerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HybergerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HolzhemerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HolzhemerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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 HolzhemerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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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A Continuum of Faith

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost / World Communion Sunday

Week of: October 6, 2019
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

I'm reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I'm sure that this faith is also inside you. Because of this, I'm reminding you to revive God's gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn't give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
(2 Timothy 1:5-7, CEB)

Devotion

In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul celebrates the exemplary lives of faith lived by Lois and Eunice, Timothy's grandmother and mother, then exhorts Timothy to prepare himself for the challenges of his future ministry. As worship leaders, we can step into Timothy's sandals and look to both the past and future to strengthen our spiritual leadership.

It is a sweet thing to call to mind those persons who have been like Paul, Lois, or Eunice for us — spiritual parents and grandparents, some by blood and others by adoption through Christ — who have laid literal and figurative hands upon us to commission our way forward. We hold fast to their sound teachings; we keep our feet pointed toward the future.

Filled with a spirit of boldness and love we give thanks for the joys of passionate sacred artistry in worship in a world culture very different from that of our foremothers and forefathers in faith. We honor them and our holy calling by bridging the span between generations and continuing to nurture those who may someday call us "God-parents."

Prayer

Thank you, God, for our spiritual parents and grandparents who established in us a foundation of authentic faith. Open our eyes and hearts to recognize those in our lives with whom you are calling us to seek to be in relationship. By the power of the Holy Spirit, bind up our world with cords of familial love and help our community on earth better reflect your heavenly kingdom. We ask this in the great name of Jesus. Amen.

Beth HolzhemerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Traditional Music and Worship
First United Methodist Church
Hopkinsville, KY

Photo: Dancers from multiple generations participate in the dance program at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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The Good Fight

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 29, 2019
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.
(1 Timothy 6:11b-12a, NRSV)

Devotion

This week’s reading reminds me that being a Christian isn’t always easy. Sometimes we are asked to turn the other cheek or play the role of peacemaker in a difficult situation. At other times, we are called to fight the good fight of faith.

As we struggle with our political and religious institutions, there are moments when we need to fight the good fight. Thankfully, Paul gives us guidelines: in our disagreements, we should pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

God never promised we would be free from disagreement, nor were we promised we would be able to easily and quickly solve our differences. Yet, as Christ followers, if we model the character attributes that Paul shared with Timothy, we might be able to bring others to the table to work through our disagreements. When we depart from the table we are able to do so in love, rather than righteous indignation towards the other person(s).

Prayer

God of truth and justice, give us the wisdom and clarity of heart to know when we need to fight the good fight. In our disagreements, strengthen our resolve to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. May we be models in the church and in the secular world of how to have healthy engagement when we disagree. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: The 2019 Convocation worship team leads “Canticle of the Turning” during worship on Tuesday evening at Church of the Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Changing Lives

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 22, 2019
Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

... who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:4, NRSV)

Devotion

I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit working within our worship arts leads to changed lives — lives that want to follow Jesus. Scripture reminds us that petitions and prayers are to be made for all, not just for people who think like we do. As the number of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ declines and our churches see reduced numbers, we as worship artists have the wonderful privilege of connecting artists with a faith community.

May we actively seek to invite people outside the walls of our church to be a part of our worship ministries. Could we begin with small steps in the form of temporary commitments that allow others to experience our worship communities and presence of the Holy Spirit? We can provide the open door for a positive experience that breaks down human barriers and allows for the Holy Spirit to move.

Prayer

Lord God, challenge us to pray for the needs of others before we pray for ourselves. Empower us to be invitational and welcoming to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus. May our words and deeds reflect your grace and love to all so they may come to faith in you. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Flags and streamers are waved during the closing hymn of opening worship at Convocation 2019, held at St. James UMC in Kansas City. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Missing Pieces

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 15, 2019
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost."
(Luke 15:9, NRSV)

Devotion

This summer when I was visiting my family, I had the opportunity to be “Uncle Doug” and play games with my nephew. At one point he became agitated because he was missing a game piece, even though the piece was not necessary for playing the game. The game stopped while he looked everywhere until he could find the piece. Once he located it and the game was complete, his smile returned and we could continue having fun.

At times it can be easy for me to shrug off the missing pieces or individuals serving in particular aspects of ministries because I am focused on the bigger picture. Yet, if I truly seek to live my life as a good shepherd or like the woman with the lost coin, I will pause and be mindful of and search for those who are missing or have fallen away from the ministries I oversee. Then, I can rejoice when that person reconnects with the church.

I pray that in those moments when I am the one who is lost, I may be sensitive to those individuals who seek to find me and help me return to the Good Shepherd.

Prayer

God of second chances, thank you for pausing the game to come and find me when I go astray. Thank you for rejoicing upon my return. Remind me that my ministry should focus on others and not on the programming of the church. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Children participate in a song during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Wonderfully Made

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 8, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
(Psalm 139:14a, NRSV)

Devotion

This psalm reminds us that we are wonderfully made by God. We have the joyful responsibility to praise the Almighty using the talents with which God gifted us at our birth.

As members of worship leadership teams, we seek to find the best dancers, musicians, writers, speakers, and visual artists to share in our worship services. Yet, do we seek to involve those who are still developing their talent? Do we seek to involve those who have an unusual or unconventional gift?

God knows those in our church with talents that are untapped or even ignored. Maybe it is time for us to look around to see the beautiful gift-sets which surround us. I believe that when we, as the Church, seek to involve all ages and all abilities in our acts of worship, God will smile as our worship and praise ascend to heaven.

Prayer

Creating and Loving God, thank you for the talents you have blessed us with as worship leaders in your Church. Open our eyes to see those around us who are waiting to be asked to use their God-given talents and gifts as offerings of praise to you in our worship communities. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Dancers perform during the Thursday afternoon dance program at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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Incomplete Wells

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 1, 2019
Scripture: Jeremiah 2:4-13

… for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2:13, NRSV)

Devotion

One of my greatest fears used to be disappointing my parents or my mentors. As worship artists, I believe we all find ourselves desiring our worship services to go “as we have planned” so we do not disappoint others.

It is easy to fall into that temptation without asking, “Where is God? What is God saying in this passage of scripture? How is the Spirit leading in my church?”

When we begin to dig our own cisterns and do things our way, we will find ourselves serving with a sense of incompleteness, eventually leading to disappointment. However, when we follow the Spirit’s leading, we will drink and serve from the overflowing abundance of living water found in wells that are without blemish.

Prayer

Loving God, when we go astray and start to drink from the incomplete wells we have dug, lead us back to your deep and overflowing water. Remind us to seek your will and to rely on you and not on our own understanding. Amen.

Douglas GroganThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Vice President of Administration, The Fellowship
Director of Music Ministries, First UMC
Peoria, IL

Photo: Hycliff Soler dances during worship at Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

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