Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Worshipful Work and a Wake Up

Here in the national setting of the United Church of Christ, we have just concluded a long weekend of meetings. The governing boards of the Covenanted Ministries, the Executive Council, the Board for Common Global Ministries and the Council for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations were in town, while the Pension Boards and the Board for Ministerial Assistance were meeting in Florida.

In the midst of all of that work, the real highlights of the weekend were three worship settings. I might add, appropriately so. On Friday we were able to participate via the internet in a worship service that originated in Boston, Massachusetts at Old South Church.  This was a service of blessing in recognition of the very successful culmination of Mission: 1. The meeting of the joint Boards on Saturday was also framed as worship.  So as we went about the work of the Boards together, we were very mindful that we were about the business of the church – about God's call to us to be in service to the whole human family and in the name and Spirit of the Risen Christ.

On Sunday, there was yet another worship setting. This time we gathered at Cleveland's Pilgrim United Church of Christ. We were there for a service of installation for the new Collegium Officers of the United Church of Christ:  Jim Moos, Ben Guess and Mark Clark. This was indeed a special moment for the United Church of Christ. It was a festive worship setting, rich with symbols of our history and signs of our future.

I always look forward to the music in worship and on this occasion I was surprised, delighted and inspired, especially by the anthem for the day. The selection was one that I had never heard used in worship, probably because it was a rhythm and blues hit from the 1970's and was never intended for use in church, at least not in 1975, when Whitehead, McFadden and Carstarphen wrote it.  That notwithstanding, it was perfect for the occasion!

"Wake Up Everybody"  was the title of the piece, and for me, it really worked as an anthem.  Although written over 35 years ago, it remains relevant today. The words resonate with our frustrations and aspirations. I also think this song worked as an anthem because it was written in the spirit of the Civil Rights movement, a movement that pushed for and achieved real and meaningful change.

Hatred, war and poverty are the vexing problems identified in the song.  Change in the world is also identified as a reality to be addressed. However, lines like "Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed, no more backward thinking, only thinking ahead," are reminders that we are in a moment when we cannot afford to look to the past as our destination.

There is a hopefulness in these lyrics when the chorus insists, "the world won't get no better if we just let it be, no…We've gotta change it, just you and me." Devoid of theological content, for sure, but when surrounded by the inspiring preaching of Kaji Spellman, the evocative poetry of a young poet from Bismarck, ND, Rachel Patrie, as well as our prayers and hymns like "It is Well With My Soul," "Wake Up Everybody" fit right in as a reminder of our responsibility to be actively engaged in the change that we want to see.

As I reflect on a weekend filled with worship in different settings and with varied foci, my awareness of God's transformative presence grows.  God's gift of technology enabled us to see and hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ eloquently proclaimed across vast distances, reminding us of the many ways we can gather as church.  When our work is framed in worship, we are sustained and emboldened in the knowledge that the mission we serve is God's mission and we are engaged in the holy and the sacred.  Finally, when the song that is sung is there to challenge and inspire God's people in worship, we are awakened and able to listen with hopeful and faithful ears.


RevMPB said...

Thank you for your reflections Geoffrey. One thing I disagree with is that the song "Wake up Everybody" is "devoid of theological content." Any art that draws us to live as God would have us to live and be as God has created and called us to filled with theology...even if God is not mentioned.

mis dos centavos

and p.s. I heard Rev. Dr. Luther Holland use this song in worship a couple of years ago.

mrhery125 said...

We are the Churches of The Detroit Metropolitan Association of The United Church of Christ.
Our Association is 31 churches strong and growing!
We are united in our faith and diverse in how we express that faith.
United Church of Christ