Feeding our spirits

I’m just back from the Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio. It was, without question, a minister nerd-fest. Who else would have a “festival” about “homiletics,” which is just a fancy name for preaching.  And yet there we were – 1800 ministers from many denominations across the country, ready for four and a half days of worship, sermons, and lectures.  It truly was an event that perhaps only a preacher could love. And it was fabulous a time for learning, inspiration, and renewal.

Let me tell you why worship-leaders enjoy going to worship –

  • Someone else chooses the hymns. And if people don’t like them, it isn’t my fault.
  • Someone else prepared the bulletin. And if there are mistakes, it wasn’t me.
  • Someone else wrote all the litanies, responses, and prayers. All I had to do was show up and soak it all in.
  • Someone else preached. I happen to love to preach, but it is a delight to cherish some moments when I’m not responsible for reading the text, grappling with the meaning, studying commentaries, finding instructive illustrations, or coming up with compelling stories.

And perhaps the best thing of all – if something goes wrong (which it did), I can simply sit in my seat and wait for someone else to resolve the issue. So, when all 1800 ministers were eagerly anticipating a PowerPoint presentation and suddenly the screen went black, I could laugh. I could be confident that the team of tech people would rally to rectify the situation – which they did – or that someone else would have to come up with a “Plan B.” There was something very relaxing and gratifying about sitting in the pews and being invited to simply listen and learn.

The conference provided much food for thought. I was immersed in new worship ideas, introduced to new hymns (I think) our congregation will enjoy, heard inspiring sermons, and was challenged to stretch my theology as we wrestled with our ancient texts providing insights for a very modern world. It was a wonderful, educational, inspiring week.

And yet – there was something humbling about listening to one gifted, talented, inspiring preacher after another. It is not easy to hold over 1000 people spellbound, yet I witnessed a number of preachers and professors who managed to do just that. Many of them were available afterwards to sign copies of their recent books.  These were teachers and preachers who travel the globe delivering their messages and then return to their mega-churches and over-subscribed classes.

A gnawing, unwanted doubt began to seep in to the congregation primarily made up of small town preachers and pastors shepherding struggling congregations.  How, we wondered, could we ever measure up to such greatness?

There is great danger in comparing yourself to anyone else. We tend to romanticize the other’s success and popularity as we diminish our own abilities and service. We mistakenly believe that they “have it all” while we struggle to accomplish anything.

Here’s the conclusion that many of us reached during this conference – God does not call any of us to be famous, popular, or successful. God calls each one of us to be faithful. God calls us to receive and then to share a message of love, forgiveness, and the ability to start over – again and again. And that’s true whether you are a minister, a teacher, an auto-mechanic, stay-at-home parent, or rocket scientist.

We all need an opportunity for a spiritual “tune-up,” a time to be renewed and refreshed. My prayer for each one of us is that we can find ways to feed our spirits – whether it’s at a conference or gazing out of the beauty of God’s creation – and discover again that loving voice that invites us to simply receive God’s love, and then to share it any way we can.


Where do you worship?

A recent trip took me to the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta.  This was a week-long conference that only a preacher could love – four very full days of preaching and worship, then lectures on preaching and worship, followed by evenings of – yes, more worship and preaching. But if you’re eager (as I am) to learn more about the art of “homiletics” (giving a homily or sermon), then this was the place to be.  Ministers, priests, chaplains, vicars, and prelates gathered from all over the United States and Canada to listen to luminaries in the preaching field; skilled professors, authors, and worship leaders challenged us to remember what a privilege it is to reflect on God’s Word. It was an inspiring week.

Part of the inspiration came from our surroundings. Over 1200 clergy folks easily fit into the astonishing Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. This magnificent downtown church is very different from the simple beauty of my country Congregational Church.  It is often said that entering a sanctuary should cause the worshiper to experience a feeling of humility and an awareness of the majesty of God.  With its soaring ceilings reaching up to heaven, magnificent stained-glass windows, beautiful wood carvings of descending doves, and an organ with hundreds of glistening pipes, that is accomplished at Peachtree. As the music started and all of those enthusiastic ministers lifted up their voices together in praise, it sent shivers down my spine.

So it made me wonder – where do you worship?  Where do you experience God? What sounds or sights or smells help quiet your spirit so you can listen for God’s voice? Where and when are you reminded that you are a beloved child of God?  I hope there is more than one location and more than one situation that soothes your spirit and reminds you that God is near.

EWCC sanctuary

There is pleasure in discovering God in a variety of settings. I enjoyed the splendor of this downtown mega-church and yet I was very glad to return to the clear glass and plain walls of my New England roots.  Now that the weather has (finally) turned pleasant, I increasingly find myself aware of the Creator in the midst of creation. My backyard can become worship space when I take the time to listen to the birds trilling and pause long enough to watch the clouds floating by on the breeze. This summer I am going to experiment with offering evening worship at a local park – “Tuesdays at Twilight” will invite people to experience God in the midst of creation.

Roseland park

Where do you worship?  We can, of course, worship anywhere – in the car, the laundry room, at the dinner table, before falling asleep. We can worship with hundreds of people, in the company of two or three or in solitude. The invitation is always there – God invites us, each one of us, into God’s presence.  It is simply a matter of saying “yes” to God – and in that moment, worship begins.