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Blended Worship as Anti-Racist Practice | A Message From Pastor Alexa

In middle and high school, I sang in my youth group’s praise band. The middle school band was
just as awkward as you can imagine – middle schoolers learning to play instruments, changing
voices through puberty, and the general lack of both bodily awareness and overall confidence
made for rough worship leadership. Despite these challenges, I remember it very fondly
(though I’m grateful there isn’t much video evidence).

By the time we entered high school, and as we grew into ourselves individually and as a team a
bit more, we became relatively decent worship leaders. No longer did the band feel like
individual instrumentalists, but we felt like a team, we made a cohesive sound, we led others in
beautiful and meaningful worship experiences. I remember these years, too, with deep
fondness.

Upstairs, there was something else happening. As youth, we called it ‘big church,’ but for the
grown-ups, they just called it Sunday morning worship. Big church consisted of one service with
contemporary music and another with traditional hymns, and during the summers, the two
services would blend into one. When they blended, there was both delight and grumbling
among the people – joy in seeing people they didn’t run into every week from the other service,
and irritation at not being familiar with all the words of the songs, or with the volume of the
drums.

I didn’t totally understand the grumbling, because as youth, we were going between different
worship styles every single Sunday. The contemporary service at church was during Sunday
School, so after Sunday School, the youth would make their way upstairs to Big Church and join
the traditional service. Every week, we’d go from contemporary music in youth praise band, to
traditional worship in ‘big church.’  

When I arrived at Whitworth University, I walked into worship experiences, both contemporary
and traditional, thinking, “I know how to do this! I’m familiar with both styles of worship, I can
speak the language.” And then… they sang a bunch of songs I’d never heard! It turns out, every
community has their own repertoire of songs and practices that speak to their heart – every
community speaks their own language. I had never heard the song How Deep the Father’s Love
for Us before college. And now, it is one of my favorite hymns, it has become part of my soul’s
song.

At the first worship service of my time at Garrett Seminary, I sat beside a new friend, a member
of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, and she asked me how to
find hymns in a hymnal! A lifelong Methodist, she had never used a hymnal. When we got to
the scripture reading, three different people read the scriptures. One read the Hebrew Bible
(Old Testament) scripture in English, another read the epistle scripture in Korean, and another
read the New Testament reading in Spanish. For the readings not in English, I had to look at my
bulletin, to read along; an experience I’d never had before.  Here, too, there were songs I had

never heard before; I learned the songs For Everyone Born and We are Marching, songs that I
now find myself humming and remembering regularly.
In all these experiences, I’ve learned to love things that were new to me, which were very
familiar (and close to the heart!) of someone else. In all these experiences, I’ve felt awkward
and strange and ignorant and unsure. When someone started reading the epistle in Korean, I
did not know what they were saying, and had to find the tool to make the experience accessible
to me. When someone started singing a song I did not know, I often guessed at the melody
incorrectly, and had to stop singing and understand that I was at the mercy of the song leader,
and at the mercy of time.

When I was in middle school, learning how to sing and play contemporary Christian music,
other people treasured the gift my praise band had to offer. Our peers sang along, our leaders
encouraged us, and because of that, I grew into who I am. Because I stuck with it, and didn’t
shy away from the awkwardness, I grew into it, and it became comfortable - it became
something I love.

This reality of my life, that I continually am presented with opportunities to love something
new, experiences which started awkwardly and clumsily, I value more the gifts that other
people have to offer me, gifts that are not at all familiar to me. I so appreciate when people
take me to restaurants they love and tell me what their favorite thing is to get on the menu,
even when I would never have considered it on my own. Because of church, I am more open
than I would have been on my own to new experiences.

Because of church, and the continual opportunities it provides to learn to love something new, I
think we can, individually and collectively, become more open to a diversity of experiences. I
think, when we become more open to appreciating and loving a diversity of experiences, we
continue our journey of anti-racism and decolonization.

When we encounter cultures other than our own, whether different by race, geography,
denomination, tradition, or family culture, we do not have a roadmap for how to navigate it.
We don’t know what is considered rude, we do not know the melody to the song – we can not
even guess what it might be! We, truly, are at the mercy of other people, and of time and
exposure. Not being part of the dominant culture of any space makes us feel awkward, strange,
ignorant, and unsure. We do not speak the language.

But, we know, because of church (and other things), that we can learn new languages, we can
learn new melodies, we can come to love something that was once foreign to us. The thing we
come to love might never be ‘ours,’ but it might become a treasured gift that is woven into our
own soul’s song. Or, at least, even if we don’t like the taste of the melody in our mouths, even if
we don’t like the sound of a recipe, it will be an exercise in anti-racism, it will be a practice of
love and humility to treasure and respect the way that other people sing and live.

As we continue blending worship, I hope we remember and celebrate the fact that not one of
us is part of the dominant culture of our shared worship service. Every single one of us will have
moments of awkwardness, ignorance, and uncertainty as we receive the gifts of one another. I
invite you to look around the sanctuary when you feel this way, and find someone else making
a joyful noise, delighting in something you are not yet familiar with, and thank God.

2 Comments


Indu Thomas - August 18th, 2022 at 1:37pm

Very well written, thank you for the perspective. From one of the "big church" people.

Dagmar Growe - August 19th, 2022 at 1:00pm

Thank you. It is always a challenge letting go of something I love - but I have learned that if I don't make room for the new, the old will become stale over time. My personal analogy that helps me along when I notice I resist change is this: To enjoy my children as the amazing people they have become, I had to say good bye to each stage of their childhood as it passed. Each birthday held both sorrow and joy for me. I feel it is the same for everything else: Cultural changes, work, and yes, church.

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