Reflections on Worship

As I went to bed Saturday night I knew I needed to worship Sunday morning.  But I also knew that five days of more than 1,000 United Methodists was at least enough, so Google and I discussed my options.  I found a promising Presbyterian Church half a mile from my hotel.

As I got to the corner where the church is located, I noticed that the doors were standing open.  Open Doors, a good sign.  On my way into the sanctuary I was greeted by not one but two associate pastors who welcomed me and asked a bit about myself.  When I told them why I was in town they smiled and indicated that in a few weeks the Presbyterian General Assembly was likewise coming to Portland and would soon welcome delegates from across the denomination.

The sanctuary was a wonderful sample of architecture from days gone by, enough beautiful woodwork to keep a team of craftsman busy indefinitely, a huge pipe organ (insert your own organ donor joke here) and perhaps the warmest congregation I have ever visited.  Several folks came over to introduce themselves as I sat alone.  And when it was time to pass the peace they did so with enthusiasm and committed far more minutes to this practice than most congregations would.  I was, indeed, welcomed with radical hospitality.

As I sat down I wondered what the key issues were going to be at their General Assembly.  Would their meeting be more raucous or more gentle than ours?

During the announcement time yet another associate indicated that beginning next week there would be a series of classes about General Assembly, what it is, the history and a discussion of the key issues.

So even though this denomination-wide meeting would be held about two miles from their church, members may not even know what it is, let alone seek to define their faith by the decisions made there.

As my charming, winsome and humble friend Andy Call preached, General Conference is not ministry – ministry happens at the local church level.  Most local United Methodists will not have their ministry changed much by what happens in Portland.

The text was from Genesis, the story of Babel.  You will recall that all the people spoke one language, lived in one place and got along beautifully.  But God scattered them across the globe and confused their languages.  I thought of the cacophony of our committee meetings with speakers and translators all around a table.
The sermon, delivered in just enough of an Australian accent to be really interesting, talked about how although they did not speak the same language, they all spoke the word of God in their own way, each of them different from the other.  It was a message, at least to my hearing, of people who are not the same, but are still in love with God.  It was a message I very much-needed to hear.  There’s a good chance it’s the one she actually preached.
In my frustration and disbelief at yesterday’s events, I forgot that this is what was happening.  I heard no hate, not yelling and screaming, nothing resembling a rally of an orange-skinned presidential candidate.  What we had were United Methodists who care deeply about their denomination based largely on their theology.  Like the people of Babel.  We disagree not on our love for the church, but on how that love should be manifested in that church itself.
As i walked back in the rain I thought about the Presbyterian Church.  I had no idea if the church I had attended was a member of the Presbyterian USA or Presbyterian Church in America.  It didn’t matter.  What mattered was the welcome I had received, the mission work this group does at the Julia West House and the six confirmands that were welcomed into the church on Pentecost.  This was ministry happening at the local church level.
Let us not forget the difference between ministry and polity.  I had forgotten this, and it took an hour with a wonderful Presbyterian congregation to remind me.
  1. says:

    Thanks much for your daily blogs. Bill McFadden

  2. Kristi Kinnison says:

    I had a board member once tell me that if he could change only one thing in history, it would be to “Repeal Babylon.”

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