With my friends and colleagues Rev. Corey Nelson and Rev. Adam Fischer, we had the pleasure of planning the worship services for the NEXT Conference in Charlotte. The theme was John 3.1-21 and this is what it says on their website:
NEXT Church has been asking the question: What’s next? We have been asking God, ourselves, and each other many more questions like: “What’s next for our denomination?” “What’s next for my congregation?” “Is what’s next better than what’s now or what was?” “Does what happens next include me?”
In John 3:4, Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
As we strive to answer the question of “what’s next?,” we claim and proclaim what we do know:
1) The good news of Jesus Christ,
2) Our call to spread that good news.
As Jesus said, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
At the 2013 National Gathering, we will focus on what is born from the Spirit. We will lift up the magnitude of the message over the chaotic culture moment and the disappointments of our institutions. We will reclaim our calls to ministry even as those calls evolve. We will celebrate what the Spirit has done and is doing so that we can be open to what the Spirit will do.
We have to be born again.
Through four worship services, we journeyed through the eyes of Nicodemus through the seasons of Advent, Baptism of the Lord, Lent, and Pentecost. Using only fabric, ribbons, and sharpies, we linked the worship services together through rituals and reflections.
1st Worship: Advent
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2.4-5)
The focus of this worship service was not on the actual birth of Christ, but on the preparation that was needed for Mary and Joseph to be ready for an uncertain journey. We may prepare ourselves for ministry and church by reading all the books, having all the technology, gathering all the resources, but the question is “how does one prepare oneself for a journey when the outcome is unknown?” Like Mary and Joseph, all we needed was to be prepared to say “yes” to trust God, knowing that God has always been faithful.
Worshippers were given a ribbon before worship. Participants were asked to come up to the manger and prepare for new birth by placing their ribbon in the manger as a sign of them letting go of whatever prevents them from saying being open and saying “yes.”
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3.21-22)
The focus of this service was remembering our baptismal identity as a child of God. As we venture out on this unknown journey, we can be affirmed that we belong to God.
Fabric was woven together from the baptismal font to the manger, connecting our baptismal identity to the preparation of new birth. In worship, worshippers were given back their ribbon and were asked to follow the following instructions:
3rd Worship: Lent
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4.18-19)
This worship service focused on Jesus’ call to ministry. Now that we have prepared ourselves for new birth and claimed our baptismal identity, what is our individual and collective call? In the worship service, the colors of the ribbon chosen were explained. Purple, blue, red, white, and yellow are typical colors of a Korean fabric called saekdong. Saekdong is often in children’s clothing and protects children so that they can evoke their dreams. Individually, we see one solid color, but when we look around, we see all the colors of the saekdong. We see the collective hopes and dreams of all for where God is leading us next.
Worshippers were asked to bring their ribbon with their words written on it. They paired up and shared the words on their ribbon, completing the sentence: “My call is to (verb), (verb), (verb) (noun). Then, briefly explain off the top of their head how that sentence resonates with them. Handing their ribbon to their partner, that person would say, “Your call is to (verb), (verb), (verb) (noun)” and put it around their neck as a stole.
4th Worship: Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2.1-2)
This worship service focused on the spirit of Pentecost and how when the spirit blows, it is amazing what God can do. As we are born again, we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us to places we can only imagine.
The ribbons/stoles were woven on the communion table, symbolizing how our individual calls are collectively woven together. At this service, all the worshippers were invited to be the celebrant at the communion table. Collectively, we said the Words of Institution. Collectively we said, “When you eat of this bread and drink from this cup, you do so remembering me.” As people came up for communion, they were to take someone else’s ribbon and take it home with them so that they can pray for that person.
Who knew there were so many ways to use and refashion ribbon! It was wonderful to be able to link all four worship services together with a common theme.