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Who and Whose


In a previous context and previous judicatory body I had the distinction of chairing the Worship Committee.  Our task was to plan and schedule worship for Leadership Retreats, Synod Assemblies and the like.  We were also in charge of providing some sort of synod wide Worship education event every year.  For anyone who has stood at the back of the room trying to direct a Synod Assembly Worship service, you know the stress.  For anyone who has ever read the post assembly response forms you know the heartache.

It made no difference what the committee planned the services were either, “too long”, “too short”, “too contemporary”, “too stale”, the songs were “unsingable” or had “bad theology”.  Now granted, this was the 90’s, we were chest deep in the worship wars.  Allow me to state up front, I am a high-church liturgy guy.  Chausables, copes, incense, cathedral organs, and little folks carrying books make me happy.   I don’t do praise music.

However, I am not the worship guru of CCD – my purpose and focus is ecclesiology – what it means to be Church.  So why the worship slant? Well, as I said it was the 90’s, the worship wars were well under way.  From time to time as the chair of the committee I would be called by a congregational worship leader, a pastor, even the Synod staff to have conversation with congregations who were taking casualties from the worship wars

What astounded me was the animosity, the acrimony, the hostility in many places.  I am also a family systems person and a seasoned pastor (sounds better than old war horse) so I understand that in many cases worship was just the match that lit the tender box of other issues.  When I went to talk to these parishes I took three questions with me.  Central questions planted in my heart and brain back in the late 1980’s sitting in a sports bar in Irmo, SC watching the Cleveland Browns games with my Pastoral Care professor and friend, The Rev. Dr. Tony Everett.

Between quarters or plays Tony and I would talk ministry, field education, and life.  The congregation to which I was assigned my middler (2nd) year of seminary was undergoing some pretty difficult conflict and I asked him for guidance.  He gave me three questions that have stayed with me through my minstry.

  1. Have them describe WHO they are.
  2. Have them talk about in Baptism WHOSE they are.
  3. Have them discuss how number 2 changes number 1.
As I look at ecclesiology in my parish, in other parishes both within and outside of my church body I often see denominations, congregations and people answer number 1 with vitality.  They know WHO they are.  They can give you genealogies that rival the Biblical begats.  They can tell you long histories of the congregation and even dates that pastors have served.  They can talk about what they are doing dynamically and successfully.
I have seen and experienced amazing conversations about WHOSE they are.  Vibrant, healthy, exciting conversations about God and theology.  Conversations about the Holy Spirit and mountaintop experiences.  Folks will talk forever about those A-HA moments, those Spirit filled moments that make the hair on your arms stand up.
Sadly, when it gets to the connection of question one and two – very often the room gets quiet. People go into deep prayer and you may even know the prayer,  “Lord, I will do ANYTHING, clean my room, volunteer to usher, ANYTHING –  just don’t let him pick me!”  But you see, it’s that connection between one and two where Kingdom happens.  It’s when we, the Created are used by God, the Creator to bring about his Kingdom.  We truly stand on Holy Ground.
In many ways it’s a difficult time to be the Church.  Attendance is down, giving is down, congregations are leaving denominations, some congregations are closing.  But… but… there is still kingdom work to be done.  When WHO and WHOSE come together – God does amazing things. In those moments, traditional hymns vs praise songs fade into “adiaphora” (things that dont matter).  One worship service vs two worship services become adiaphora.  Even long standing grudges fade into nothingness – for we are invited onto Holy Ground. On that Holy Ground we discover true ecclesiology, what it means to be Church.
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