Is church the place where we truly experience and passionately worship God? Where lives are changed? Where people can fly? Where people can cry? Where people can seek? These questions resonated throughout the opening worship experience at Annual Conference Session. The praise band, Arisen, from Woods Chapel UMC of Lee’s Summit, stirred enthusiasm as well as memories for many boomers with the song, “Jesus is Just All Right with Me.”
Praise music, with its connections to worship songs in the Psalms, lifts us by lifting up God’s nature and actions.
They name and celebrate who God is and what God has done for us. Arisen’s music stirred the conference to passionate celebration and love for God. The theme for the Missouri Annual Conference is “Loving God in Return: Practicing Passionate Worship.” The Conference sang together, “Here am I to worship, here am I to bow down, Here am I to say that You’re my God.”
Rev. Cody Collier, Special Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership Development, stirred our hearts with a passionate set of questions about worship and about churches. He asked “Are you happy?” He acknowledged that we may be tired and we may wonder why we came. He reassured us, “If we are tired, it’s all right, because God is here. We are here. We give thanks to God because God is happy you are here!” Then he challenged people to return God’s love in worship and to get out of their seats and offer the love of God to our world. His prayer asked God to fill people with love, shake them up, wake them up, and walk with God.
Collier invited the Conference to consider a story about the song of musician Ken Medema, who wrote a song called “If This is Not the Place.” The song emerged from a worship experience that led him to ask: “Does anybody know my name?” The song was written for the one named Struggler, a person who was struggling and hoping someone would just open to him.
“If This is Not The Place” raised three questions around which Collier challenged and inspired the conference. Where can I go to fly? Where can I go to cry? Where can I go to seek?
Where Can I Go to Fly? People are searching for passionate worship that is authentic, alive, creative, and engaging, where they experience the life changing presence of God in the presence of others. Collier shared that much too often we try too hard to “order” worship. Or musicians in the praise band are too focused on what they are doing rather than on God. We wonder why worship becomes routine. We need passion. We need to experience the Holy Spirit. He challenged the Conference to invite the Spirit to move in us so the spirit can move through us to others.
Collier’s biblical text, Psalms 42 1-5, 8, and 11, begins with a psalmist’s struggle with a longing for God, asks where God is, and questions the feeling of being downcast as he anticipates worshipping God. Yet, the psalmist ends with “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Collier reminded us that we are like the psalmist who longs for God’s presence. He asked us if we bring our joy to church like Sister Jones. She greeted everyone who arrived for worship by shaking their hands and saying, ““Good morning, I’m prayed up and I’m ready. Are you ready?” How did she bring her joy to worship? By praying and reading the Bible BEFORE worship. “Worship is not about ourselves but about God, Collier reminded us. “Do more than coffee and doughnuts. Do some pre-worship prayer and Bible reading. Bring a Sister Jones spirit!” Help people fly in a spirited, joyful church!
Where Can I Go to Cry? People who experience loss and pain need a place where they feel as though they can start again. Folks come to church with tears, and sometimes church needs to be a place to cry. We never know what is happening. We need to feel their tears and cry with them.
Where Can I Go to Seek? Folks come with questions that ultimately should help them move to faith. Questions need to be heard. Years ago, Collier counseled with a man who had problems with alcohol and drugs.
He asked, “Does God still love me?” Collier encouraged him to be a part of an imperfect church., but it was a member who ultimately succeeded in getting him there. The member picked him up and brought him to church. His wings took flight. He began to cry. He became a part of the church. He said, “I’m here.”
When someone asked him later what he wanted to do, he said, “I want to join the choir. When asked if he could sing, he said, “No, but I got a song.” The man was left with the name “Disciple” not “struggler!” It happened at church. Collier celebrated and challenged us with these words: “This IS the place!”