Monday, March 29, 2010

Liturgy meets Kool and the Gang

To preface this post, let me just say that I love Holy Week. Good Friday is my favorite holiday (and this year it's on my birthday!). Holy Week and Easter historically has been the most sacred time in the church year, but I feel like we've fallen off from that with the commercial emphasis on Christmas. I am constantly looking for new ways to make holy days like Good Friday, Easter, etc. more real and meaningful to people.

Yesterday was Palm/Passion Sunday. It can be a tricky week to plan worship for, because it is both a celebration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and an observance of the narrative of his trial and crucifixion. A lot of churches end up celebrating Palm Sunday and skipping straight to Easter--many don't have Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, and even for those that do, not everyone attends those. I actually heard a good children's sermon (a rarity, in my experience) yesterday talking about shortcuts, telling the children that it's important not to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter and skip the Last Supper and the crucifixion. I could probably write a whole blog post on why I think that's important, but for now we'll just take it as a given.

I had the privilege yesterday of being a part of a worship service that successfully moved from the exuberant joy of Palm Sunday to the somber meditation on Christ's death. The Pathways service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, NC, is a contemporary service where my boyfriend, Gary Mitchell, leads worship. I've joined them as a vocalist fairly regularly for the past 9 months or so, and I've learned a lot, especially because I grew up in and generally prefer traditional-style worship--in fact, I used to hate contemporary worship. I now see that the reason I hated it was that I had never seen it done well. But let me tell you about yesterday's service.

Worship began with the associate pastor, Nancy Varden, proclaiming Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and describing how both this week and next begin with a celebration. The worship team them launched into a modified version of "Celebrate Good Times." I think I just heard the thud of good church folks fainting to the floor. I was skeptical myself, but this selection turned out great. Gary changed the words to "Celebrate the Christ, come on," and "Oh Hosanna" instead of "Celebration." During the song, a few dozen kids ran up and down the aisles waving palm branches and streamers. "So bring your good times / and your laughter too / we're gonna celebrate our Savior with you." It may sound silly, but it really worked.

This service usually opens with a big chunk of praise and worship, so the next song we did was "My Hope Is Built." It was an arrangement by Curtis Mulder, and it's actually not too different from gospel versions I've heard of that hymn. From there we moved into the song "The Wonderful Cross," which takes the verses of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and adds a praise chorus: "Oh, the wonderful cross / Oh, the wonderful cross / bids me come and die / and find that I may truly live." We closed out the first part of the service with the song "Jesus, Be the Center," a slower, Gaelic-sounding tune that asks Jesus to be the vision and center of our lives. Lots of great, great music, and that was just for starters.

Rev. Ken Hall, Jr., the senior pastor at OUMC, delivered a sermon entitled "Brought Low and Lifted High." He looked at Philippians 2:5-11 and spoke on how we are to understand ourselves, Jesus, and our response to Jesus through this early hymn of the Christian faith. His sermon acknowledged the joy of Palm Sunday while looking ahead to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, all against the backdrop of the hope of his resurrection and the forgiveness of sins he effected on the cross.

After the sermon, the vocalists came back up and assisted in a litany that consisted of verses from Isaiah 53 and Revelation 5, punctuated by a musical response lifted from the Kirk Franklin song "Now Behold the Lamb." This was a little more liturgy than is usual at Pathways, but it's something they've been wanting to incorporate more, and this worked really well as a meditation on Christ's sacrifice for us.

The service ended with the lights being dimmed and Jennifer Rice, a friend and phenomenal vocalist, singing "Were You There?" solo. During the second verse, I went up and draped a black cloth over the cross to symbolize the mourning period before Easter and the resurrection. For the final verse, "Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?", the song went into a minor key, which just added to the somber, meditative mood. When Jennifer finished, Gary closed worship with an invitation to come back for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and to rejoin them at the Pathways service for Easter next Sunday.

That service represented a lot of what I really want to do and get better at in my own ministry. Mixing traditions, honoring liturgy and the church calendar, and thinking outside the box in how to engage people with Scripture and the life of the church--all of these are things that I value and that can have real impact when done well. Yesterday's worship propelled me into Holy Week with a sense of purpose and attentiveness to the Spirit. I am grateful for that and look forward to doing more worship like that as I continue in my education and ministry.

1 comments:

Leigh said...

yay! This does sound powerful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Liturgy meets Kool and the Gang

To preface this post, let me just say that I love Holy Week. Good Friday is my favorite holiday (and this year it's on my birthday!). Holy Week and Easter historically has been the most sacred time in the church year, but I feel like we've fallen off from that with the commercial emphasis on Christmas. I am constantly looking for new ways to make holy days like Good Friday, Easter, etc. more real and meaningful to people.

Yesterday was Palm/Passion Sunday. It can be a tricky week to plan worship for, because it is both a celebration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and an observance of the narrative of his trial and crucifixion. A lot of churches end up celebrating Palm Sunday and skipping straight to Easter--many don't have Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, and even for those that do, not everyone attends those. I actually heard a good children's sermon (a rarity, in my experience) yesterday talking about shortcuts, telling the children that it's important not to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter and skip the Last Supper and the crucifixion. I could probably write a whole blog post on why I think that's important, but for now we'll just take it as a given.

I had the privilege yesterday of being a part of a worship service that successfully moved from the exuberant joy of Palm Sunday to the somber meditation on Christ's death. The Pathways service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, NC, is a contemporary service where my boyfriend, Gary Mitchell, leads worship. I've joined them as a vocalist fairly regularly for the past 9 months or so, and I've learned a lot, especially because I grew up in and generally prefer traditional-style worship--in fact, I used to hate contemporary worship. I now see that the reason I hated it was that I had never seen it done well. But let me tell you about yesterday's service.

Worship began with the associate pastor, Nancy Varden, proclaiming Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and describing how both this week and next begin with a celebration. The worship team them launched into a modified version of "Celebrate Good Times." I think I just heard the thud of good church folks fainting to the floor. I was skeptical myself, but this selection turned out great. Gary changed the words to "Celebrate the Christ, come on," and "Oh Hosanna" instead of "Celebration." During the song, a few dozen kids ran up and down the aisles waving palm branches and streamers. "So bring your good times / and your laughter too / we're gonna celebrate our Savior with you." It may sound silly, but it really worked.

This service usually opens with a big chunk of praise and worship, so the next song we did was "My Hope Is Built." It was an arrangement by Curtis Mulder, and it's actually not too different from gospel versions I've heard of that hymn. From there we moved into the song "The Wonderful Cross," which takes the verses of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and adds a praise chorus: "Oh, the wonderful cross / Oh, the wonderful cross / bids me come and die / and find that I may truly live." We closed out the first part of the service with the song "Jesus, Be the Center," a slower, Gaelic-sounding tune that asks Jesus to be the vision and center of our lives. Lots of great, great music, and that was just for starters.

Rev. Ken Hall, Jr., the senior pastor at OUMC, delivered a sermon entitled "Brought Low and Lifted High." He looked at Philippians 2:5-11 and spoke on how we are to understand ourselves, Jesus, and our response to Jesus through this early hymn of the Christian faith. His sermon acknowledged the joy of Palm Sunday while looking ahead to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, all against the backdrop of the hope of his resurrection and the forgiveness of sins he effected on the cross.

After the sermon, the vocalists came back up and assisted in a litany that consisted of verses from Isaiah 53 and Revelation 5, punctuated by a musical response lifted from the Kirk Franklin song "Now Behold the Lamb." This was a little more liturgy than is usual at Pathways, but it's something they've been wanting to incorporate more, and this worked really well as a meditation on Christ's sacrifice for us.

The service ended with the lights being dimmed and Jennifer Rice, a friend and phenomenal vocalist, singing "Were You There?" solo. During the second verse, I went up and draped a black cloth over the cross to symbolize the mourning period before Easter and the resurrection. For the final verse, "Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?", the song went into a minor key, which just added to the somber, meditative mood. When Jennifer finished, Gary closed worship with an invitation to come back for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and to rejoin them at the Pathways service for Easter next Sunday.

That service represented a lot of what I really want to do and get better at in my own ministry. Mixing traditions, honoring liturgy and the church calendar, and thinking outside the box in how to engage people with Scripture and the life of the church--all of these are things that I value and that can have real impact when done well. Yesterday's worship propelled me into Holy Week with a sense of purpose and attentiveness to the Spirit. I am grateful for that and look forward to doing more worship like that as I continue in my education and ministry.

1 comments:

Leigh said...

yay! This does sound powerful.

 

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