Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conference on Worship, Theology, and the Arts

Here I am in Northfield, MN, at St. Olaf College. There are a little over 300 of us here - almost all musicians, with some pastors. What a treat to again sit in a worship space with everyone singing! The Chapel here was remodeled in 2007. It has a wonderful acoustic now, with many hard surfaces, high ceiling, and an amazing organ. What fun to be here! It has a sound kind of like some of the old European cathedrals - everything resounds. 

We all have an in-depth session we go to each morning for 2 hours. Mine is Ethnic Drumming. I have learned so much already and still have today and tomorrow to go. I do all my drumming backwards from everyone else (to keep my right hand and arm from getting fatigued) but it works just fine. Yesterday we had quite the groove going! There are 11 of us in the class and at one point we had 5 different patterns going plus the teacher did a sixth. It was wonderful. Of course, it is a good thing for us that the teacher is patient.

The Advent wreath
We start each day with worship following breakfast. We are going through the early part of the church year, so we started in Advent. It is interesting to see and hear some possibilities for worship. We also have worship in the evenings. On Tuesday night it was Christmas Eve. The previous services there had been big, barren branches in the chancel area. Some on the altar, some on the floor. But on Christmas Eve, the branches had been lashed together to form a manger - tall enough for a 6'+ man to stand in there to read the Gospel. Some of the sticks were also put together so as to make a star, which was the center for the day of Epiphany yesterday morning. The lessons are all for the coming year. The preaching is all on those lessons. The preachers are excellent - one of them is really funny. So I don't think we mind too much going to worship twice a day. 
The manger

The altar Christmas Eve
We are kept pretty busy. There are special interest sessions during the afternoons. Plenary sessions with some pretty heavy discussions. The theme is The News and the Good News. The speakers have discussed some pretty awesome things. The first one was a young journalist who believes that we, as Christians, ought to write more about faith, about what is happening in the world from a Christian standpoint. He was quite engaging. Then there was a theologian who spoke on how we might better understand how the news and the Good News interrelate. They really give you food for thought - some of the things are quite a bit more intellectual than what we usually hear BUT we are then forced to really think about what has been said. Last night there was a panel discussion by four people, all of whom somehow contribute to the writing and publication of The Christian Century. Very interesting take on their philosophy for printing what they do.

I keep wondering what is happening at home, though. I suppose you are having lovely, warm days. Of course, we have had those too but today is rainy. Beyond the weather, though, I wonder what things you ponder during the course of a day. Do you wonder why the news seems always to be so bad? Where is God in all of this? How can we keep being positive in the light of all of this negative-ness?

I am here to tell you that the main news is the Good News of Jesus Christ! God is with us, even now. We are fortunate to know that we have been baptized - that we are children of God. And that God will never leave us nor forsake us. We don't need to worry about this being the end of the world. God's timing is not ours. We need to trust that the Lord will take care of us, even in our fearfulness, even in our uneasy times. So take heart - rejoice in the Lord! God has done great things for us - and will keep on doing great things!

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