Worship in a New Way ©

Shortly before 11 a.m. last Sunday, Jolynn and I sat down at our dinning room table, booted up the computer and went to the Arborlawn UMC website.  There we clicked on the live stream worship. Promptly at 11 a.m. the service started. We prayed responsively, sang with gusto (well, I did; Jolynn sang with dignity and skill), and participated attentively. Together with many others, we were blessed by our experience of live stream (online) worship in which the pastors and staff led us. 
While this was not our first experience of online worship (we had worshipped online a couple of times last summer when Jolynn was recovering from surgery), it still felt like worship in a new way. Was it as fulfilling as being present in person? No, at least not for me. I missed the blessing of contact, conversation and collective commitment. Was it better than not worshipping? Vastly so!!
John Wesley is purported to have said that worship is the first and most basic act of a Christian disciple. The first of the Ten Commandments reads, “You must have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3).  Worship is the primary way we express our allegiance to God in Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Praise evokes our commitment. It is an active demonstration of allegiance to the 2nd Commandment; “Do not make an idol for yourself ….Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God.” (Exodus 20:4-5) 
I readily confess to love Archbishop William Temple’s classic definition of worship.  As the bombs fell over London, Archbishop Temple spoke from the pulpit of the great St. Paul’s Cathedral. 
“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.  All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.”
Living in the reality of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, we collectively confront our desperate need for the worship of God and simultaneously confront our critical need not to gather in crowds of people. This week we were blessed by the ability to worship in a new way. 
The experience of worship in a new way was hardly unique to Jolynn and me. From all across the Central Texas Conference, District Superintendents and other Cabinet members reported a remarkable sharing of on-line worship experiences.
  • West District Superintendent Lisa Neslony reported: I used my cellphone to watch worship at Breckenridge, Eastland, Gordon, Hico, and Oakdale. I was blessed by the messages of hope I heard across the West District.”
  • The Executive Director of the Roberts Center for Leadership and Administration Jeff Roper shared:  “At White’s Chapel [they did a] Great job mixing in music from a couple weeks ago with today’s message.  Strong message by John and Todd focused on the good Samaritan.  At First Methodist Mansfield – David did an excellent job explaining the virus and the health situation, the need for social distancing, etc. from the Tarrant County conference call on Saturday.  He then pivoted to being people of faith in Christ and what that means for us.” 
  • Central District Superintendent Leah Hidde-Gregory passed on an uplifting report of faithfulness in worship. “The Central District was a mix of holding worship with social distancing and those who because of the age and vulnerability of their congregation, they chose to worship online.  First Groesbeck offered an online children’s time and a homily.  First Waco offered a full service online that they actually recorded on Saturday.  They had a guest preacher, Bishop Nathan Amooti, who gave a powerful testimony. Emhouse UMC offered their very first Facebook live service.”  She went on to comment, “I loved seeing the creativity and the ways in which pastors and lay leaders were seeking to offer Christ in a hurting world that needed to hear the Good News of Christ. A beautiful thing that I noticed on many churches’ comment sections was persons saying, ‘This is my first time to watch, thank you for making this available.’”
  • East District Superintendent Randy Wild offered significant observations: “I watched approximately eight different snippets of various church on-line services. Overall, the people shared very positive reviews with their pastors. Recorded attendance in some cases was several times more than normal attendance…and in almost every case there were more worshipping online than average live attendance. I certainly think this is something we need to capitalize on in sharing Christ with a wider mission field.”
  • South District Superintendent Brad Brittain succinctly commented about online worship at First UMC, Round Rock. “I really enjoyed the podcast style dialogue between Pat and David during a portion of the worship service.”
  • North District Superintendent Louis Carr tracked multiple services at the same time! (See photo right). The Gathering service at First UMC, Fort Worth reported its largest worship attended service ever at more than 600! 
  • The Executive Director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth and New Church DS Mike Ramsdell offered: “I watched The Oaks online. They had a huge number of online participants. Probably twice what they have been having in person.”
The witness is clear.  Somehow amid this coronavirus crisis the Word of the Lord is breaking through! The people and churches of the Central Texas Conference are responding in faithfulness. I marvel at what the Lord is doing through the Holy Spirit in the pastors, lay leaders and churches of the Central Texas Conference. Together, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will get through this crisis and emerge even stronger on the other side.
Come, let’s worship and bow down!
    Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker!
He is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the sheep in his hands. (Psalm 95:6-7)