For the Children

Children can tune out of online worship very easily and this in turn can make worship difficult for the parents.

I am providing here an audio book that can be shared with children – a chapter by chapter reading of C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”.

You can use this during the time you are participating in online worship to occupy children with a book that is very Christian in the story that it tells. You can also feel free to use these audio clips at other times in your busy lives. (You can download by using the ‘hamburger’ or three dots on the right of each chapter.)

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11 – Aslan Draws Nearer
Chapter 12 – Peter’s First Battle
Chapter 13 – Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time

You can download and use them on the device of your choice.

I will be posting four chapters a week on this page!!

Enjoy!

Exile Worship

Yesterday, November 1, 2020, the congregation at First Church UMC, Huntington, WV returned to in-person worship for the first time since mid-March. Several people – some who were not there – have asked me, “How did it go?” or “What was it like?” or “Wasn’t it great?” Their queries are genuine and I hope my response is as well.


First of all, my expectations were pretty much met with the service, save one.

I expected the Spirit to be very present, and it was!! It was so apparent to me that I stopped using my sermon notes from the start of my sermon and went in a direction that was quite different than I had planned. There was something about seeing people in the pews…hearing the word read to those people…and having to proclaim Good News that overtook the preparations that I had made. (You can compare the two recordings on YouTube to see the difference. Our “pre-recorded Premiere” is here and the “In Person Worship” is here.)

I expected that our attendance would be right about where it was – almost a third of our pre-pandemic numbers. I also expected that there would be a “mix” of people who would be there – from children to older people, from the very healthy and hearty to those who were facing health problems that should possibly keep them home – and that was exactly the case. And it was a joy to see each one of them. The shining eyes of the kids looking around “their” sanctuary was priceless. The peace of seeing someone battling cancer sitting in a sanctuary pew. The laughter of a some…the grumbles of others. The true “gathering” of humanity was a blessing.

There was also the celebration of Baptism for a child who was born pre-pandemic in the worship service. She is a beautiful child of God, in a family of faith and surrounded by people of faith. There is little doubt in my mind and heart that the presence of the Holy Spirit was that much more powerful because of the celebration of this Sacrament – with this child and God making the promises that God never breaks! No. I didn’t get to hold her and walk her around her new family of faith. But she was before us all, reminding us of what God promised to us and we have promised to one another.

also expected that I would get caught up in some of the details and tried to make it so I wouldn’t, but on this, I failed. I got to close to watching over “safety” and “smoothness.” But alas, I am learning yet another new skill. I will give myself the grace to do so and pray that others will as well. For the record, I have learned a lot about video editing in the last six months that I never planned to do either…so, I think God will help me with this one new one as well.

I hoped all would know that this was a “New Service” but am not sure how well I communicated that idea beyond my own hearing. It was at a new time – 11:00 am, but I am afraid some people did not understand that change. It was with a new “order” and still I think some came expecting something else. It was actually in a new setting – no pew cushions, and we really noticed that one!

But the one thing about the “new service” that I thought I would miss the most, I didn’t. I did not miss the singing of hymns. There was music from the organ that was quite moving – thanks to Dr. Johan Botes for that – but there was another “music” in the air as well. I don’t know what to actually call it but a Billy Joel lyric came to mind: “Bill, can you play me a melody? I’m not really sure how it goes. It’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” That type of melody was floating through the air and somehow, someway, it completed the worship experience.

The last thing that met my expectations was how “forlorn” I would feel among the people who gathered. I wanted to be closer to them – physically closer – and we just can’t do that. I wanted to sit among a group of kids and have a conversation about Halloween. I wanted to give a hug to several people I knew were facing difficult and trying times. I just wanted to be closer and not being able to do so hurt in a way that I did foresee but did not count on being so palpable.

I’ve thought also about what we should call this “New Service” or ours and I’m open to suggestions. In my mind, I call it “Exile Worship” for it is the worship of a people who cannot “sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land”. For us, the captor is a pandemic. For us, the songs just ‘cannot’ be sung because it gives our captor more power. For us, we cannot practice hospitality as we used to because it plays once again into the hands of our captor. “Exile Worship” sounds about right to me.

But most of all, it was another experience of worship. My life has been blessed to see so many different types with two new ones blossoming in God’s Kingdom in the midst of this pandemic: “Online Worship” which is practiced at home and now the “Exile Worship” of those who gather in the midst of their captor.

Praise God that the Spirit is present in these new ways!

Scott Sears
November 2, 2020

An Incarnational Moment

Because there is one loaf, we , who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. The bread which we break is a sharing in the body of Christ. (United Methodist Hymnal, Word and Table Service 1, page 13)

Some of my favorite memories from my teenage years were those where I spent an entire day and night reading a book. My clearest memories of these nights involve books written by Stephen King. Once I started them, I was compelled to get to the end even if it meant spending a sleepless night and garnering my parents wrath the next day. There was either something so scary that it had to be resolved or my imagination was so taken by the narrative that I had to finish in order to rest. Either way, I would give in to the compulsion to read.

There are a lot of things on my “to do” list for today. I had hoped to finish and record my Sunday sermon this afternoon. (Not going to happen.) I still have some work to do to prepare for a Zoom Bible Study this evening. (Will definitely happen somehow.) We are recording parts of the Sunday service today so I can edit them tomorrow. (That’s scheduled…so it should happen.) And yes, I still have hopes of doing some recorded mid-week meditation for the people of First Church. (This one is still unknown.)

Some may say that I don’t know how to prioritize, and that may be the case. However, over the past couple of weeks I have had so many conversations about Communion and the “Pandemic Virtual Church Time” we are now immersed in, and I have read some thought provoking articles about the topic, that I find myself compelled to put some words down as well. Priorities or not, I’m at a point of compulsion here.

If you didn’t watch the video that I posted last week of a conversation Rev. Jennifer Williams and I had, I would recommend it as background for this. She’s an incredibly insightful pastor. I also cannot recommend enough a blog post by Rev. Hannah Bonner found here. Rev. Bonner references several other pieces that have been done about the subject of Holy Communion in this time, and if you like, read those as well. She treats them fairly from my perspective. She also gives a much deeper sense to the social justice aspects of Holy Communion than I have experience in giving.

An observation that I have taken from both the conversations and the reading is that parts of the Church have, from time to time, taken respites or fasts from celebrating Holy Communion. Sometimes for a season of discernment. Sometimes from the necessity of having someone available to serve. And sometimes, like right now, when we cannot possibly partake of the Sacrament in person without risking the spread of a disease. Granted, the disagreements about what Communion means – and whether you should even capitalize it – are as varied as the regularity it is celebrated, even within the same denomination.

One thing I can say for certain about the Sacrament – it must be a mystery because we sure as hell can’t figure it out.

Yet, despite the mystery and the problems we have right now with snow in May, murder hornets, COVID19, and the general failure of nerve among our national leaders, I am, as the pastor of a real community of faith wrestling to figure out how to lead as the one who presides over the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

With all the wrestling I have been doing in heart and mind, I finally came to the place where I have found peace about what I am going to do. During worship – both while we remain apart and until we can safely partake of the Sacrament again – I am going to set the Table with both bread and juice. It will be there as a reminder to us of the moment in which we live. It is not a moment where I believe we are “giving up” or “fasting” or “hoarding” (for those who are performing virtual communion). For me, it is a token of the Incarnational Moment for the community of faith to be the Body of Christ, broken and shared.

When I had this thought of it being an incarnational moment, I thought, “Cool! I’ve come up with something new!”

Alas.

I was beaten to this centuries ago by none other than my own favorite crazy Dane, Soren Kierkegaard. Although he is not speaking about Communion, per se, the idea of an incarnational moment seems to have originated with him as he wrestled with some of the Pauline letters. He writes:

The moment is that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other, and with this the concept of temporality is posited, whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time.

and

A moment as such is unique. To be sure, it is short and temporal, as the moment is; it is passing, as the moment is, past, as the moment is in the next moment, and yet it is decisive, and yet it is filled with the eternal. A moment such as this must have a special name. Let us call it: the fullness of time. (Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, ed. Reider Thomte and Albert B. Anderson (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), 89ff)

I believe that we as a Body have arrived at an Incarnational Moment – where past, present, and future have come together – so that in that confrontation with the elements we are allowed the honor to live out the brokeness of both loaf and body because we cannot partake of the Sacrament that embodies them for us. In the absence of the Sacrament, we are confronted even more plainly with becoming that Sacrament. We need to be confronted by the broken loaf and be that incarnate body for the world as we safely find ways to both be the church and someday(?) gather in someway(?) to celebrate that which we have been living out. But only in the fullness of time. (And right here, I call on us to define that “world” as my colleague Rev. Bonner does with a full understanding of who is not at the Table with us.)

Well, that compulsion is done. It’s not the most scholarly assessment, but hey, that’s not my way. I’ve put some thoughts out there, folks, and you are welcome to comment. I’m just on the journey home and would love to have your company.

 

A Day of Thinking

Fridays are normally days off for me, but in this time of pandemic… Well, it’s just another Tuesday.

I did have time today to reflect with some colleagues about all that is happening and how Communion nourishes us even when we are not partaking. We decided to have fun and record the conversation. Believe me, there was nothing planned about this, so if it seems random, well, it is. But, it’s Thursday, so it’s a good day for random.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HIc9HGJN5Zs&feature=youtu.be

Enjoy!