By the time I arrived home from worship, there were eight posts on Facebook about what had happened in worship today.
It was one of those days when the gifts and graces of so many came together in a spirit of play, dance, adoration, music, worship and tears of joy.
The message was the last but one of a two month series on Learning the Language of Faith. I decided to do this after Kenda Creasy Dean’s presentation at Annual Conference and after a meeting with Bishop McKee where he spoke about how he had learned the language of faith.
So, week by week, we’ve been teasing apart that language, which is so strange to those who are not part of the church. Each service has focused on de-mystifying some of the unusual words and customs we have. We discovered how many of the challenges that the first century church faced are actually the same challenges we face today. They are just framed differently, and use different cultural icons. We’ve still got food issues, we still are not sure how to properly order worship, we still deal with complex issues relating to sexuality, and the nature of the sacraments is still mysterious and often contentious. That sort of thing.
Today, I wanted to unfold the idea of worshipping with all of ourselves, our bodies, minds, spirits, personalities. This is in preparation for Call Sunday, next week. The prior week, we had touched on needing to reclaim the sacredness of our physical bodies, that we are indeed the Temple of the Holy Spirit where God is made manifest in the world today.
I had titled today’s message, “Dancing Before the Lord,” and used the fascinating and often confusing story of 2 Samuel 6. Here, King David brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem and dances with all his might as he leads the procession into that town.
Now, I want to mention that we are very stretched as a church, and, among other things, have three distinctively different worship services each Sunday. The Director of Worship, Mark Withers, and I have learned to trust one another implicitly as these services are put together.
Mark always knows somewhere between two and four months advance where I am going with the messages. With that lead time, he can pick music and work with his teams so all three services have a holistic cohesion. Occasionally I will suggest a hymn that is particularly applicable, but other than that, it is his job to come with a Call to Worship, order of worship, and music that fits the theme.
We make extensive use of projection technology, as we are working with people who primarily learn visually. In both my opinion and after much research, I believe an auditory-primary environment leads to minimal retention of what happens in worship.
One visually talented woman, Kay, comes in mid-week to create the projection presentations for the two more traditional services. She and I converse briefly about the central theme of the message and then she gets to work finding images for the songs and other portions of the service that support the central metaphor.
I have become fairly competent at using graphics programs and often work for hours creating just the right image that puts the message together in a picture.
I ask weekly: what is a centering metaphor of the passage and how can I show it visually? And more, what kind of image will speak the language of the members of this congregation in a way that will remind them over and over again of the central truths of the Holy Scriptures? I also use relevant film clips when I can find ones that give good support to the passage.
Because the theme this week was dance, I also asked the choir if they could come up with some dance moves during the Offertory, and jokingly appointed one woman, who has a lot of experience singing with professional performance groups, as choreographer.
My part is to have my message completely finished by Thursday afternoon so that the presentations can have one final proofing on Friday. We seek flawless presentations at all time. My theology of technology reads this way: technology should be essentially invisible, a container to carry people through worship and give them a safe place to focus fully on God. Even one typo or one misplaced image can distract the focus, so we want to be careful.
Now, even with all this planning, I never really know what is going to happen on Sunday until Sunday.
I certainly had no idea today would happen the way it did.
“Lord of the Dance” was, of course, the primary hymn today. Other music was joyful (“Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” and “Within My Heart There Sings a Melody.”)
I had brand new acolytes today.
We were training a new teen to run the sound booth today.
My associate found out on Friday that I needed him to do the children’s message.
My “choreographer” had a very creative idea.
The Director of Worship had been hard at work picking just the right music.
As is often the case, one of the wicks on the aging candlelighters didn’t work properly for the first-time acolyte. She handled it with beautiful poise.
The Associate Pastor, David H. Taylor, had the children dance the Hokey Pokey. He was singing it to them a cappella when the accompanist went to the piano, picked up the key and started playing. Within seconds, most of the congregation began singing it and doing the motions as well.
I used this image as the major one in worship.
I also showed a scene from “The Color Purple.” It is my contention that this is one of the greatest moments in cinematographic history.
The scene is called, “God is Trying to Tell You Something.” As this song progresses, reconciliation and healing take place on many levels and we see the power of dancing before the Lord.
I have wept every time I’ve watched it. Today was no different.
For the Offertory, the choir performed an exquisite arrangement of “Here I Am, Lord.” After the opening solo, one of the men in the congregation came to the altar, and his wife came down the aisle. They joined together and began to dance, elegantly, powerfully, lovingly, and with tears coming down their faces.
I was sitting in the front row, where I wait during the offertory. A woman who has been struggling with her ability to hear God’s voice suddenly joined me and began to weep in my arms.
As the music ended and I turned to the congregation to invite them to rise for the Doxology and the presentation of the offering, I saw that almost all were wiping their eyes.
A few moments later, the Acolytes carried out the light before us as we sang, ““Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”
No one really wanted to leave. We had been profoundly moved, all of us. Certainly we do as careful planning as we can but we are just a group of people, most of whom never are able to meet with anyone else on the team, who came together and offered all our gifts to the glory of God. We work in harmony and trust with one another, and sensed the Holy Presence among us.
One of the young women in worship today sent me this link afterward and told me she couldn’t get this song out of her head after our time of worship together.
I encourage you to take a few minutes and listen.
We danced before the Lord today. What great, great joy permeated our souls.