Worship at General Conference: Pray, Sing, Clap, and Amen
Pamela Duncan, pictured (in orange) during opening worship, is a member of "New Church Atlanta" (created by the merger of Druid Hills UMC and Epworth UMC). She is attending General Conference as an observer and volunteer with our Conference Communications Office.
By Pamela Duncan
I was raised Episcopalian in a bedroom community of Manhattan. Our congregation was affluent and lacked diversity. There were lots of smells and bells, Latin liturgy and controlled responses. The musical accompaniment was always the organ and rarely the piano. Nobody clapped, Amened or said anything that wasn't printed in the bulletin. We did not feel the spirit. We were a group of restrained intellectuals. Something was definitely missing.
When I moved to Atlanta in 1984 I met my first Baptist and a year later I met my second Methodist who later became my husband. My heart was strangely warmed and I found what had been missing all those years. I was finally spiritually fed.
Daily Worship at General Conference was the balm in gilead needed to assuage the extremely difficult discernment process.
It was the only place where more than 1,000 people came together to pray, sing, amen, clap and move to the Holy Spirit. We were not of one opinion but we were of one heart challenged to come as we are but not to stay that way. We were called to make courageous decisions, take risks, and break barriers the way John Wesley did when he preached beyond the privileged. We were told that we would experience transformation that turns the world upside down. We were called to be a counter culture and to go in the name of Jesus of Palestine not Jesus of Constantinople. Our rich Wesleyan heritage is found among the least of these. Even the animals were welcomed at Christ's birth. Methodism is committed to those in the margin. It's the movement of the masses.
The sights and sounds of worship were magnificent and global.
Musical genres included jazz, gospel, bluegrass, rock and calypso. We heard choirs from all over the world singing in their first language accompanied by drums, bells, banjos, basses, and keyboard. Thanks to the large screens we were able to sing the refrain of well know hymns in Spanish, French, Portuguese and Swahili. The music got you up on your feet clapping and swaying to the rhythm. I couldn't sit still. It was so visceral and we were all one in the body of Christ -- a polyphonous extravaganza.
The visual splendor of the worship services was awe inspiring. The days alternated with warm and cool tones adorning the alter. Levels were used, fabrics were draped, and candles were lit. One morning the worship theme focused on the wise men's journey and how we are reminded of the character of our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. All of the lights in the exhibit hall were turned off as liturgical dancers, dressed in white and gold carrying large illuminated stars, processed to the altar. It was truly a feast for the eyes. Somehow the large exhibit hall was transformed into an intimate worship experience.
As much as I was swept away by the spirit in those large morning worship sessions the most meaningful moment was on the last day when I participated in a small communion service.
It had been an exhausting ten days with a great deal of brokenness and hurt feelings. We didn't know what the future had in store for us as a denomination. As I entered the room I saw folks from the confessing movement as well as the reconciling movement. We were splintered, but in that room we were one body.
We were all invited to the table and as I accepted the host with tears running down my eyes I knew that there was hope.
Pamela Duncan is a member of "New Church Atlanta" and is attending General Conference as an observer and volunteer with the Conference Communications Office.