Embracing God’s Grace

Today begins a busy week of Holy Conferencing at Lake Junaluska.  The Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is set to start Annual Conference 2017 Thursday afternoon.  However, today, it begins for me and several others that will be working behind the scenes to make the conference run smoothly.  As for my part, I have the privilege of working with other creative and passionate individuals in crafting and creating the worship experiences during the conference.  This has been a great experience because I know my call into ministry through being an active participant in worship since birth.

You may or may not know that my call into ministry came through the words, notes, and playing of music.  It was at the age of 5 that Ms. Mabel allowed me … you know what, that is the wrong choice of words … Ms. Mabel encouraged me to learn the Allen Organ that my home church is blessed to have.  It all started at 11am, when the hour was chimed, the hymns were sung, and the music led the worship service.  My ears would be open, listening to the hymns.  When the Trinitarian chime was rung, my feet would take me to the chancel, where I would begin playing hymns I had just heard.  Because of my home church, the encouragement, and support of adults who trusted me enough to play a $60,000 instrument, that has led me to where I am today.  It is words of the hymns, and words of choral anthems that spoke to me God messages to feel the call into pastoral ministry.  And it is because of these messages that I am where I am today in leading folks in worship, in planning worship, and in working with an awesome team for Annual Conference 2017.

I remember coming to Lake Junaluska when I was in middle school.  During these years my dad was the lay member to the conference.  We attended the many worship services, and I fell in love, again, with the sounds of the organ.  I yearned in my heart to play the Stuart Auditorium Allen Organ.  The mixtures, the reeds, the bass would feel the space.  I remember walking to the car following closing worship not wanting to get into the car until the last note of the postlude finished, as you could hear the melody spread throughout the Rose Walk.  And that is where the title of this post comes from, it is knowing, yet again, God’s grace becoming apparent in my life.

For many years God has been using me in various capacities to know who I am to be in the grand scheme of things.  And by that, I mean that I continue to see, when looking back, that God is continuing to bring the puzzle pieces together.  I have come to understand that God does have God’s on timing, and it is when I stop to look at the things God has brought me through and to, that God’s timing was just right.  There are several examples of this: timing of working at WBTV, timing of going to Hood Theological Seminary, timing of leaving Covenant UMC, timing of moving to First UMC, Gastonia, timing of being places on the WNCCUMC Annual Conference worship team, and timing for the day when my heart would be fulfilled to play the keys of the Stuart Auditorium Allen Organ.

During this week I have been reading From The Steeple To The Street by Travis Collins.  In this book about Fresh Expressions of being church, I came across the following quote that spoke to me about God’s timing, and understanding God’s grace in my life just a little bit different.  Collins quotes J.C. Hoekendijk,

“God is understood to already be present and active in the world, with the church being responsible for discovering what God is doing and then seeking to participate in that.” [1]

In this quote, I came to know that from the ripe age of 5 years old, God was already here in this moment today.   I know that seems like a loaded statement, and may not even make sense.  However, my personality can sometimes be described as “right here, right now.”  I love to plan, create, and craft, and in the midst of all of that I want things to be completed in a timely manner, and more-often-than-not, I want it completed now!  But, if that were the case, if I always got what I wanted, how I wanted it, in the timing I wanted it, my calling into ministry wouldn’t be quite as awesome as it has become; the journey would have been negated from the get-go.  On that hot summer day in June of the early 2000s had went the way I wanted it to go, then I would not have had the time to be molded and prepared by God for the moment this week; I would have played the organ that day – and that would have been it.  However, I have been molded by the wisdom of those gone before me, I have have been used in other various capacities in my home church and in my two pastoral appointments to grow to these God moments … moments of God’s grace, prevenient grace, being able to participate in God’s grace.

Through what my human eyes see as moments of happenstance, God’s grace has brought about last minute changes to those of us working on the closing worship service for Annual Conference 2017.  The conference musicians had been selected, a great musical duo known as Robert & Jarvis; talented musicians known throughout the south.  However, at the last minute, we were informed that Robert & Jarvis would not be here for Sunday worship.  After a few emails, I knew that the “right here, right now” moment of God’s grace, being apart of God’s grace, “seeking to participate” in God’s grace was unfolding before my eyes.  And what had once been a dream, what had once seemed like so far away, what had once seemed like something I would never be good enough to do, has come to fruition.  This Sunday, I have the great pleasure of sharing and embracing my continued call into ministry by leading congregational singing on the Allen Organ of Stuart Auditorium.  Where my heart once yearned to hear the last notes of the postlude, now I will be able to sustain and hold on to those last notes forever.

The opening hymn is “Praise to the Lord, The Almighty,” and verse 4 speaks to the grace that has gone before me, prepared me, and continues to lead me into the things I have yet to see,

Praise to the Lord, who doth nourish thy life and restore thee;
fitting thee well for the tasks that are every before thee.
Then to thy need God as a mother doth speed,
spreading the wings of grace o’er thee.[2]

 

[1] Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation, The Missional Network (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011), 30-31, quoted in Travis Collins, From the Steeple to the Street: Innovating Mission and Ministry through Fresh Expressions of Church (Franklin, Tennessee: Seedbed Publishing, 2016), 72.

[2] The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville, Tennessee: United Methodist Publishing House, ©1989), #139.