Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pentecost + Psalm 104 rewrite + Young Adult Ministry Conference

The worship service we helped plan for the DC Young Adult Ministry Conference went really well.  At least, the feedback I got was all positive.

As people entered the sanctuary, fans hung on the walls were blowing, and an industrial fan blew from one corner while a video of flames dancing looped on a projection screen in the another -- reminders of the Spirit's presence as we were about to celebrate Pentecost.  The music playing on the sound system cycled among percussive, meditative, experimental, and chants -- all barely audible over the fans and the people gathering.  It was the beautiful ambiance of divine chaos!  

One of the really cool things was distributing the spoken lines from the service among some 24+ participants, mostly asked if they would be willing to lead a line as we handed them their bulletin.  Some read prayers or multiple paragraphs of scripture, while others had wonderfully short lines like "Come, Holy Spirit".  The participation was fabulous!  Young and old, clergy and laity, those who knew their parts in advance and others who hesitantly accepted the last minute call to help lead worship.  We liked how lines spoken from assorted points in the Sanctuary integrated with our understanding of Pentecost.

I kicked us off with a little bit of how the changes in worship that some young adults seem to be jiving on isn't boiled down to styles of music, and isn't necessarily an abandonment of any things Lutherans know and love, like sacrament, symbolism, paradox, or liturgy.  (It may favor tearing out the militarized pews for a more flexible seating, but we showed today that you can sit in pews while having worship that is experimental, experiential, and so much more!)  What is really on the agenda is the priesthood of all believers rethinking how worship is planned an implemented...about bridging ancient practices with post-modern creativity that looks to the future.

Our reading from Ezekiel was about the dry bones being called to get up and walk, and Ben shared these great thoughts groovin' about how the younger generation sometimes thinks the older "is as likely to change as dry bones", while the older generation sometimes views the younger as being like dry bones by lacking in substance and commitment to a religious community.  Then fortunately the Holy Spirit shows up to bring us all together as one body -- the Church -- putting sinews on our bones.  Such great stuff!

Sarah led everyone to in one of the big hits of the day, our activity where we each rewrote at least one verse of Psalm 104:24-34,35b while some upbeat meditative music played for a few minutes.  Then she asked for 12 volunteers, one volunteer for each verse, and we lined up in the front of the sanctuary, reading through this recreation of the scripture passage through our eyes.  It was wonderful to see how the Spirit worked through everyone to give an powerful and insightful vision of how the substance of this Psalm still holds so much meaning for us today -- we really can relate.

A few of us planning worship rewrote the whole thing ahead of time in case there were verses that no one picked, or was willing to volunteer to read.  Here's my complete version:

24God, I am in awe of Creation!  I am blown away by the diversity and variety of the world that surrounds us – the ever-changing biodiversity astounds me.

25There are oceans, lakes, streams, and ponds teaming with sharks that prowl, fish that blend into the sand, algae that glows at night, and more -- so many creatures that our scientists still have not counted them all!

26Beneath the yachts and trading barges, there are octopi and massive whales at play.

27Generation after generation, your Creation provides them with food to sustain in the rhythms of the seasons;

28they gather your food, bellies are filled; the chain of life continues.

29Without your presence, life unravels; bodies fail, decay, and become nothing but food and fertilizer.

30Yet life continues, seasons of creation when new life springs forth; and the young are weaned and grow – life is renewed again and again.

31Oh that your Earth would thrive forever; may you constantly enjoy the handiwork of all that you have made —

32we see how we harm the Earth and tremble in fear that we might be capable of unraveling all that you have made; yet when we see unblemished portions of your Creation, our jaws drop in wonder and we have hope for the future.

33I cannot contain myself; I will sing, shout, and dance for joy all of my days; Life continues against all that would destroy it, and every atom in my body shudders and rejoices as I worship you with every fiber of my being.

34May my thoughts and actions be according to your will, as I wish to be your joy as you are mine, for my life is in the Lord.

35bMay my heart crave what you desire. May I always live for the glory of the Lord!


It's a powerful exercise to do sometime.  Pick a Psalm that seems to resonate with you and try rewriting it.  One Pastor essentially told me afterwards that this activity was basically worth the price of admission (OK, not in so many words).  (Credit to CT for inspiring this with the Psalm 1 rewrites we did a few seasons back.)

The next reading was the spirit descending in Acts 2.  Mike talked about the chaos of Pentecost -- how it was downright messy, and how coming upon people are talking across each other in numerous languages where no one is in charge or knows exactly what is happening can make us uncomfortable.  He talked about how the things young adults might be inclined to try in worship might feel like chaos, making analogy to Acts 2 that it might feel like they were drunk to come up with their ideas.

Then he started asking questions at the heart of this conference on how congregations might better understand and minister to young adults:
  • Is there a way to find common ground...ways that we can still have intergenerational worship?  
  • Is there a way to gracefully accept new ideas of spirit-filled young adults experimenting with worship, even when the implementation might be messy and full of "mistakes"?
  • Can we allow young adults to contribute to our worship services in ways that might sometimes make us uncomfortable...or seem less polished than we would want?
  • Can we embrace that the Spirit moves in strange and unexpected ways?
Then came the Gospel of John.  I asked what responsibility established generations in the Church have to today's young adults, teenagers, and future generations.  I've heard that some feel their job is to maintain the status quo, so that they can pass the Church on to succeeding generations "as in" when they go -- I asked if that was really the goal, or if something else was on the agenda.  I talked about how Jesus seems to choose to step aside to let change occur, letting others take over.  He says the Advocate is coming...and as U2 points out, "she moves in mysterious ways."  So how do we enable natural transition and progression in our congregations?

We then had several minutes for people do discuss the questions that Mike and I posed.  The responses I heard resonated with me, especially one about how our responsibility is to give future generations opportunities for the same freedom of expression that we have brought to the table.  Wow!  How spot on the money that is!

We prefaced our time of prayer with Romans 8:26-27, talking about listening to the prayers of each other trusting that the Holy Spirit is moving through both older and younger generations.  We then had a time of prayer petitions.  After a little hesitation, people started to confidently offer their prayers into the silence in voices that could be heard throughout the sanctuary over top the numerous fans we had blowing to help remind people of the Spirit moving in our midst.

We confessed our faith using a statement from the United Church of Canada, talking about how "We are not alone, we live in God's world.  We believe in God .... who works in us and others by the Spirit ... We are called to be the Church ... to seek justice and resist evil ... God is with us.  We are not alone..."

It was great to hear everyone claiming these words as their own.  We are not alone, God is with us, and we are with each other!  Thanks be to God indeed!

After the chaos we created during the bulk of the service, the simplicity of communion was strikingly refreshing.  There was no music as the 60+ people in the room filed single file down the aisle to hear that "This is the body of Christ, broken for you" and "This is the blood of Christ, shed for you."  Simple words.  So powerful...even after years of hearing them.

We closed with one of my favorite prayers.  One that I learned at Holden Village
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

And then, nothing was left by the sending:
Go in peace: love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God, and we will!

The last three words, which I learned to add as a camp counselor and as a student involved in campus ministry, are tied up in the second part of the sending.  We thank God that we can go in peace; we pledge to love and serve the Lord.  It felt like those present noticed the addition, and really got it, as "and we will" thundered off the sanctuary walls and ceiling before U2's "Mysterious Ways" faded up and a video started, juxtaposing the dancing of flames with the dancing of a woman who certainly evoked the sense that she moved in mysterious ways...

Yes, the Spirit moves in mysterious ways, and I'm so glad!  This was one of the most complex services I've planned, and it went off without a hitch.  I feared that too many of our ideas would seem uncomfortably foreign compared to the traditional Lutheran worship services frequented by most of the participants.  Instead the feedback I've heard so far was not about how strange things seemed, but rather about how certain aspects of the service moved people, how well paced things were as we moved quickly and comfortably from element to element, even though most of the lines were being delivered by people who didn't know they would be "leading" until they walked into the sanctuary!

The students who went with me seemed to agree that it was a refreshing afternoon -- the kind that rekindles an electric hope for the future of the Church.

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