Saturday, September 29, 2012

Creative? In A Rut?

The first Tuesday afternoon of every month is set aside for CREATIVITY for our team. We work with some basic information about upcoming services and series and set aside a few hours to let our imaginations run wild.

We look for ways to introduce ideas, present concepts, ask questions, get - and keep - the attention of the listener. Above all, we try to honor God and inspire people.

We'll meet this week. Here's some good information - presented in a wonderfully creative way - to get ready for our gathering! If you're creative, you might find this helpful.

If you're not creative, I beg to differ. Everybody can be creative!

HT to Lucille Zimmerman, whose guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog turned me on to this cool graphic.

How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

If you'd like more information about joining our team for a little creative brainstorming, let me know! We welcome new folks, if they bring chocolate....

Just kidding.

Email me: beth {at} pccwired {dot} net.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The LIFT Project

I've gone back to school.

Sort of. It's perfect, actually; an online course from the Willow Creek Association. The LIFT Project offers "Interactive Courses for Transformational Leadership", with several different topics available. The WCA has built up a huge amount of trust in their brand, thanks to their ongoing commitment to leadership development through the Summit and other events. Folks like Henry Cloud, Bill Hybels, Nancy Beach and Patrick Lencioni have made their mark on my educational development thanks to the efforts of the WCA.

I've been considering what might come next for me, as my kids grow older (and out of the house, in some cases); as our church grows; as our personal family business becomes more grounded in the community; and as I feel some tugging towards Something New in my heart.

I'm not sure what that new thing might be, but the thought of intentionally digging into learning something new, beyond yearly conference opportunities, is quite appealing. The LIFT Project looked like a great way to stick my toe in the water of some serious continuing education.

Thus far, it's been informative, challenging and surprisingly relevant to my current needs. Week One required some serious reading - Dallas Willard, who I've always admired but never really studied. His paper on "Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation" was challenging and informative. Subsequent blackboard discussion with people from all over North America, the UK, Sweden, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand was fascinating.

This week's assignments have been convicting; all delivered in video or audio format, the short teaching segments center on who a leader is, rather than what she does.
"Truth be told, the average Christian leader spends more time in business and management and strategy meetings than we ever do talking to God." - Harvey Carey
Ow. That stung; and yet I found it quite freeing. Since the summer, I have found that more and more I am focused on doing, at the expense of being. It seems appropriate, required, and necessary; but in this particular line of work, it's dangerous. Carey's words hit home with me, though I'm not proud to admit it. However, the truth sets you free. I am working towards transformation.

Screen shot of Nancy Beach
My favorite part of this week's teaching was seeing Nancy Beach, who has long represented all I thought God was calling me towards as an artist and someone who loved the local church. A decade ago, I began to see and hear Nancy in her role at Willow Creek Community Church. In my heart, it was as if her presence confirmed a whisper I heard in my heart: "Yes. I can use you." Her short video segment this week told the sad tale of a church leader with a marked lack of love, humility and gentleness; the closer people got to this senior church leader, the less they saw of Jesus.

"Above all else", she said, "guard your heart". She reminded us of the value of spiritual practices, safe relationships and stretching experiences.

This course is a unique opportunity for me, at an opportune time. In some ways, I am seeing myself through different eyes - as one of a large group of people who are pursuing the best way to engage in their calling. I'm one of many who are convinced that the local church is the hope of the world. It's a level playing field, with women and men equally represented, with welcome dialogue and affirmation.

In an audio clip today, Harvey Carey said, "I got into this because I wanted to see lives change. That can only happen in His presence."

Me, too.

That's a good reminder. I'm grateful.

Disclaimer: I was invited to participate in this session of LIFT; course fees were waived in return for blog posts sharing my experience. It worked for me; I'd blog about it anyway! To find out more about LIFT, click here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Worship Recap 9/23/2012

Puerto Rican sunset
Running a bit late with the Worship Recap this week; here it is, from the Powhatan Campus:

Our God - Chris Tomlin
Your Love Never Fails Jesus Culture
10,000 Reasons Matt Redman
In Christ Alone Stuart Townend

We closed with one of my favorite songs of all time, by one of my favorite artists. Andrew Peterson wrote Behold the Lamb of God, presented at PCC last Christmas. Our first encounter with Peterson was The Silence of God, the closing song for this week's message.

You might remember Dancing In the Minefields - also Andrew Peterson, a profound song that wraps a beautiful melody around the promise of marriage.

By the way, we won't be doing Behold the Lamb of God this year at PCC; but Andrew Peterson will be in town December 6, and he'll do it. (Unfortunately not in Powhatan - but in Richmond, at NorthStar / Bon Air)

Save the date.

Busy week, planning for service on Sunday and the 10th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday's a little comfort.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

She Sings

If you've been here before, you know I wrestle with the challenges of leading worship and performing in contemporary church culture. Specifically, in my church.

Even more specifically, I worry (which I confess I should not do) about why people aren't singing along in church.

Ironically, last week I found myself in a room of a thousand people, with a band playing and singing skillfully ("10,000 Reasons" to be exact), and I. Did. Not. Sing.

I couldn't.

But I was with God. And He patted me on the head and told me to get over myself.

Then, there's this, from a former librarian blogger I've been following lately:
"I have an embarrassing confession to make: I cannot sing. I am tone-deaf. Worse, everyone I stand near in church sings really, really well. Like, they are or were in one or many choirs. Like, every member of their family has musical talent. Like, people tap them on the shoulders and tell them what beautiful voices they have. And I stand next to them. What I used to do is not sing. I liked the music just okay anyway, and I felt bad that I wasn’t getting audience participation points for singing in church, but what could I do? Not only was my voice awful, but I would be compared to my friends with great voices. So, I didn’t sing."
Shalini muses a bit more about just what it means for her to be in church. And she changes her mind, because then there's this:
"I’ve been singing every single week since then. Yes, it’s awful. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But I’m All In, and it feels good to know that everyone around me knows I’d sacrifice my cool, my integrity, because otherwise, what else would I hold back? I’d be stopping myself fro.m getting something great, and maybe my pride would be stopping someone else, too. Maybe if I own up to my embarrassments, someone else will, too. Maybe not, but just the chance that there’s someone else who wants to sing but isn’t hears my screeching, ear-piercing songs, and sings, too, saying, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as her.”
Read the whole post for the whole story (warning: there's a cuss word). And seriously - don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear.

Just sing.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Our Comings And Our Goings

Saturday night, and I am home. At last.

In the last six weeks I have traveled to
  • Savannah
  • Columbia
  • Harrisonburg
  • Baltimore
  • Chicago
Lots of traveling for someone who is planted quite firmly in Powhatan, VA.

I'm glad to be home, and hope to stay focused for several weeks.

But I am reminded of the great power of connection; every one of those miles between all these places I have been recently is marked by love, whether woven through bonds of blood and years of locked eyes and intense hugs, or through song and melody, words and motion.

New friends that complete a divine connection and set a hook for what may come.

A city that feels like a warm welcome, even on a chilly trek down Michigan Avenue soaked with rain, touched with awe.

Even through talking tomatoes and cucumbers, and the rising and falling of our hopes and dreams and fears and rescue.

Uncle Dave. Sarah. Max. Shannon. Sydni. Jesus. Matt, Julia, Nathan. Jackie, Christine, Lindsay. Matthew. Anne. Erwin. Ben. Ryan. Sarah. Phil. Bob. Ian. Gina. Steve. Don.

Home, where all these are gathered into my heart, and I am reminded of the great, vast expanse of joy before us in our comings, and in our goings, and in the small and large of what resides within.
Friends, old and new.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Worship Recap 9/16/2012

Set up and tech run
This week's worship recap is from the Westchester perspective, just because I was there this week!

Matt O'Rear has planted himself at the Westchester campus. His background and education along with his raw talent make him an incredible addition to our team at PCC. Matt led, along with the equally talented Paul Myers on drums, the excellent Terry Shackleferd on bass and Mariah Lewis on vocals. It as a smaller band, with a more intimate sound. We continue to consider whether or not that more intimate feel should be something we strive more consistently in the theater setting. It seems to work well.

As an aside, for those who worship at Westchester: sometimes, you'll see the drum kit placed off the stage. This isn't ideal, but occasionally necessary due to stage space. With the "Real Housewives of PCC" skit each week during this series, we're erring on the side of caution and hoping to prevent any mishaps (like someone falling off the stage).

Holy Is the Lord is a great, old tune - seems like it's been around forever! Written in 2003, it's a great opener and very pure worship song lyrically.

Mighty to Save last week, I had the privilege of hearing this Hillsong tune sung by the Hillsong band and a thousand singers. Another powerful anthem from Down Under, and easy to sing.

Lead Me to the Cross We met Matt O'Rear out in the Powhatan community one day. He had been coming to Westchester with his parents, and had met Sammy and mentioned that he could do a little music. We invited him back to the Powhatan campus and asked him to play something for us. He picked up his guitar and played "Healer", and then he played "Lead Me to the Cross".  It's a powerful song, also from Hillsong, that Matt delivers with authenticity.

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) is a great reworking of the old hymn that has become a staple in the contemporary church.

Fury To Injustice was written on Tuesday by Laura Krzyston. You can read more about the song here, and I encourage you to check out Laura's version of it at the Powhatan campus as recorded here. Because it was original and relatively last-minute, I made an accompaniment track with a keyboard track for Westchester (our audio board doesn't have enough channels to support a keyboard along with the additional mics needed for the skit). It connected very strongly with Brian's message (because after reading his notes, Laura wrote the song!) and was a great demonstration of the value of having Laura on board as our Artist in Residence.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hillsong In Baltimore

I drove seven hours yesterday to go to church.

Actually, I only drove the first leg. One of my traveling companions took the wheel for the return trip.

And actually, it wasn't billed as 'church'. It was a Hillsong concert at 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore.

My first trip to Baltimore: I was intrigued. Tunes from Hairspray kept running through my head.

I made this trip because a kind and generous person from our church had four tickets he couldn't use. He called and said, "I will give these to you if you take some of the young musicians from PCC to experience this."

I said, "Sure!" and off we went.

In light of some of the things I am thinking regarding contemporary church services - what it means to 'worship', what it means to engage in a service, why folks do or don't sing - this was a fascinating trip. This 'concert' was actually over two hours of praise and worship songs, and every person in the room responded by engaging.

By that I mean this: people stood up the entire time. They jumped up and down during the fast songs. They raised their hands in the air. Occasionally, people would kneel. They swayed back and forth.

In some cases, they were more sedate: a few folks sat down a good bit.

But in almost every case, they sang.

I was amazed, really. The entire arena was filled with the sound of people's voices, singing along with every song.

Every word.

There was never a time when the crowd sat down and "just listened". Even songs that were less familiar were quickly picked up; after one time through the verse and the chorus, everyone joined in singing.

I was dumbfounded, really. And very moved. My background in choral music and my experience in worship settings set deep within me an appreciation and love for the sound of voices singing. This was not a choral experience, at all; it was probably more akin to the sound of a crowd of people in an arena, joyfully and energetically singing loudly the words to familiar songs. Like something you'd hear at a soccer game in England. Just a bunch of people, singing together.

Which, frankly, is what it was. A crowd of people in one location, temporarily self-identifying as a tribe - maybe based on nothing more than a desire to see Hillsong live. I wouldn't go so far to say that they were all Christians, or followers of Jesus - who knows?

But this I do know: they came ready to participate. There was never any intention of sitting and watching.

I say, "they" because, honestly, I didn't plan on standing and singing all night.

But that's exactly what I did. And it was transformational. And extraordinarily spiritual.

Not every moment. At times, it was just cool: standing with thousands of other people, feeling that sense of community, singing together. Hearing bits and pieces of harmony. Appreciating the beautiful sound of a melody in octaves, the resonance of male and female voices together. That was cool.

But there were a few other intense, more personal moments. We sang "Cornerstone", something familiar from our church, and at the "normal" ending point of the song, it just sort of continued on its own.

Christ alone / Cornerstone / Weak made strong / in the savior's love
Through the storm / He is Lord / Lord of all

We sang it once. And then again. And then a third time. And then a fourth. And that's the natural spot for it to end, you know...four times sort of puts the lid on the song, and you can transition to the next tune.

But again. And again. And again. And again.

No band leading, just voices. Over and over and over. Four minutes, maybe five, just singing the same nineteen words again and again. Until everything else began to fade, and what was in front of me came into focus. Clarity. Peace. An unusual quiet, deep inside.

And I felt the truth penetrate my tired heart, the truth of a love that is higher and wider and deeper than anything else, slowly dripping from the intellectual appreciation of my head to my heart. I sang these words, and then I could not sing and I began to whisper, and I sank down to my seat and changed the pronoun as I mouthed the words and felt the tears.

Through the storm / You are Lord / Lord of all

It was not a concert. It was church. It was an encounter with God, a few sacred moments wrapped in lights and speakers and over-priced parking and a very long drive.

Just a few moments - the kind of moments that sear a memory into your soul as a reminder of why you are here, and why it matters that we come together expectantly. Something beyond the ordinary, something that happened only because I was willing to stand for two hours and trust that something extraordinary might happen.

It did.

I'm grateful.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

You Have To Come Out

I just changed the settings on my blog comments. And I am going to tell you why.

I blog simply to share what's going on in my world. I blog so extended family members and friends can catch a glimpse of our lives. I blog to tell stories about our life. I blog to share what's going on in my church.

I blog so that my three children who are living away from home can keep up with what's going on here.

I blog because I believe it often gives God glory.

Sometimes, I blog because I think what I have to share might help somebody else.

And honestly, sometimes I blog simply because I like to write. I work things out with words. Sometimes, it's just all about me, writing for the sake of writing. Sometimes, I probably sound like a self-absorbed jerk.

I do not blog to gain admirers or build an audience. I do not blog to make you think I'm awesome; I am well aware of my own lack of awesomeness, and I know full well how broken I am. 

I do not blog to pontificate, or to declare positions. I do not blog to provoke conflict.

If that ever happens - on my blog or in real life -  my desire is to do everything I can to fix it; I am motivated by this quote:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, 
live at peace with everyone. Romans 12.18

That is who I am; it is how I am instructed to live by the Bible and by the tenets of my workplace. I take it seriously. I have sorely fallen short too often in my life; this mandate is one I cling to in the years I have left.

I am a Christ-follower. I am in ministry. I care about people.

But I am not perfect. I have made plenty of mistakes.

Hear me well here: I care about people, but I don't always get it right.

But I want to. I want to get it right. When I get it wrong, I want to make it right. I want to live in peace, at peace with everyone. I want to apologize when necessary and right wrongs and bring resolution.

If you enter your place of worship and, about to 
make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge 
a friend has against you, abandon your offering, 
leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. 
Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. Matthew 5.23

I take this seriously. I want to be a peacemaker.

When I started blogging here, I left everything wide open; who can read (anybody), who can comment (anybody), whose comments are moderated (nobody's). It felt like a safe place. There have always been a few anonymous commenters, folks who don't have a google account ID, who aren't registered with blogger. Sometimes the anonymous folks identify themselves, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I know who it is and sometimes I don't.

It's never really mattered.

But it matters now.

You commented recently, and it was harsh. It was rooted in truth - but only partially. You don't have the whole story right. But I understand - what matters to you is what you perceive to be true, and I get that. There's hurt and anger there, and it matters. I get it. And I'm not opposed to addressing it; I am not one to fight back and refuse to hear criticism. I am glad to hear how you feel.

I care about people. I care about you. I respect your opinion.

But right now, I am stuck. You made a statement, it was strongly worded and seems to reflect that there are some big issues with what you perceive to be attitudes and motivation in my area of responsibility, and there is nothing I can do. And it's not because I disagree with what you said, or because I disregard your anger or frustration; it's because you're hiding. And I get that, too; maybe it would be hard to say those things across a cup of coffee, or in the hallway. Maybe you don't think I'd listen.

But I did. I listened. I heard you. And it has wrecked me, for days now. Maybe that's sort of what you wanted. It wrecked me.

It's not because it was mean, or harsh, or untrue.

It's because I feel trapped, unable to do what I want most to do, what I feel we are called to do. There is no peace.

Maybe I'm wrong; maybe you are at peace, because you've had your say, you made your point. Maybe that helped you.

But there is something between us now. Sunday morning, during church, I wondered where you were, if you were out there, if you were distracted because of the conflict between us. I wanted to make it right. I wanted to sit face to face, sister to sister or brother, hear your heart and own my mistake and make peace. This will sit between us now, like a burr I cannot dislodge. I may see you in passing and never know it's you, but it hangs there, in the air around us.

And because I care about people, because I respect your opinion, because I am called to peace, it matters.

You wrecked me. But it's not because of what you said. It's because I am rendered helpless.

So I have prayed, and prayed. I have struggled with my calling. I have wondered what I can and should do as we move forward. I wrestle with what is true and what to do as we continue to adjust and plan for the future.

I know that I have to simply let this go. I asked to connect and got no response. It may never come. You have that right. But I hope you understand this about me:

I believe there is great profit in listening to criticism. Just yesterday, I sat across from someone who called me out on something I've done that they found offensive. I have done it repeatedly. It never occurred to me that it was offensive. It hurt to hear, but it helped so much. It hurt because I offended someone, not because I was called out for doing something wrong. But the gratitude for somebody willing to hold me accountable, to call me to a higher standard - that far outweighed the embarrassment. The relationship is solid and we're both focused on living at peace and building a stronger community. And I will change my behavior.

I'll never be perfect. I'll make my share of mistakes.

But you're going to have to take a deep breath and come out from behind the curtain if you want to call me out. I'll hear you. I promise. And we'll all be better for it.

No more anonymous comments. Of course, if you're determined, you can make up an ID and still remain unknown. But I'm not sure it is in my best interest to give you such a wide open door without the privilege of honoring your opinion by looking in your eyes.

Bottom line: if you want to connect, I'm open. I'll hear you. We will seek peace.

But you gotta come out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

God Wants Us To Grow Up

When we started coming to this church, he had just turned five.

He has essentially grown up here, in and around the people and ministries of PCC.

Tonight, he starts his first Student Ministry small group.

Disregarding the fact that I am slightly biased, as I serve here full-time, I want to say this:

This church has made a tangible and indelible imprint 
in the lives of all my children. 
I am grateful.

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. Ephesians 4.15 (The Message)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Worship Recap 9/9/2012

I spent most of Friday and Saturday in bed or on the couch. Bad head cold.

There was no way I was going to miss church today, with our pastor back for the first time in three months! However, an 11-hour day might have been a little's back to the couch for me.

Here are the songs we did at the Powhatan campus today:

Sing to the King is a great, older song from the early days of the Passion movement. One of the first "contemporary" worship songs I ever learned, it's always been one of my favorites.

Rise and Sing by Steve Fee also gained popularity out of Passion. It's a great, energetic tune.

Cornerstone came to PCC via Hillsong New York City. Matthew O'Donnell visited Hillsong Church while on a spring break trip to New York last year. He came home saying, "We have to do this song", along with my sons and daughter who made the trip with him. We've been singing it for the past several months. If you grew up in or around a traditional church, you might recognize the lyric; My hope is built on nothing less / than Jesus' blood and righteousness is the lyric from a hymn written in the early 1800's by Edward Mote. It's been reworked many times, and I think this is my favorite version.

You Are My Passion is a Jesus Culture tune, and a strong worship song for our female singers. If you like this, and if you are familiar with Your Love Never Fails, you're likely a Jesus Culture fan. They're a great, creative worship band. Check them out here.

The final song today was another old hymn (if anyone asks, yes we DO sing hymns at PCC!) Be Thou My Vision is an Irish hymn from the early 1900's; very fitting for Matthew O'Donnell to sing, with his Irish background. The version we did today was quite faithful to the original melody, but had an additional bridge added. I'm not sure where this version originated, but I learned it when I picked up Take the World But Give Me Jesus by a band called Ascend the Hill. The entire album is full of standard, traditional hymns with minor updates - different instrumentation, an extra bridge or chorus. Having grown up in a traditional church, I find that music like this really speaks to a unique and powerful place of worship in my soul. It gets a good amount of airplay in my house. If you like hymns, or are interested in looking back a bit in church history, check out Ascend the Hill. You can buy the entire album for $8.91 on iTunes, with songs like Rock of Ages, I Surrender All and Be Thou My Vision. You'll like it.

As an aside; my kids are accustomed to Sundays being church day. David likes to get up and come in early with me. Sometimes he skates in the parking lot, sometimes he sleeps in the atrium. Today, he was apparently exploring with his buddies Courey and Ryan, and they came in to say 'hi' during our morning rehearsal.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Worship Recap 9/2/2012

I'm a little late, but here's the worship recap for the PCC's Powhatan campus Sunday, September 2:

We wound up our Imprint series on Labor Day weekend with a stripped-down service instrumentally. Sometimes, it's just nice to change things up a bit. Tony was the band leader, and he suggested we schedule a few extra vocalists.

It was a vocal extravaganza! It's always a challenge to mix more than two up-front vocalists; we've backed away from a larger vocal group in the past two years in order to focus on building a stronger instrumental team. We've definitely made progress in that area, and it's nice to be able to add a few more singers now. Kevin, Lindsay, Laura and Brenda did a great job; they were all willing to listen to one another, to be patient and use their voices as instruments. Humble spirits and excellent voices - it was a blessing to hear them.

Todd added a great touch on percussion, Tony played guitar and I played piano. John added the perfect touch with his exquisite cello playing. If you've been around PCC for a few years, you might remember John as an electric guitar player. It's been wonderful to watch him transition into a different role, one that requires less time on the stage, but the perfect touch at the right time. Nobody can bring out the beauty of certain melodies like John does with his instrument. It's a blessing.

So we had piano, guitar, a box and a djembe and a cello - and four voices. It was a bit more challenging to manage the energy level, but the greatest benefit was hearing hundreds of voices singing together.

How Great Thou Art This great old hymn is one of my favorites; it's often tagged onto the end of Chris Tomlin's "How Great Is Our God". We chose to reverse the order; initially we planned to do one verse and a chorus, but it was powerful and we felt like people would really be happy to hear it and sing it. We ended up doing three verses. There are a gazillion versions of this song out there, but one I like is by Chris Rice. Find it here.

How Great Is Our God Chris Tomlin has written many timeless songs that resonate with the contemporary church. This is one; the lyric guides us to focus on the majesty of God, and the bridge gives a great opportunity for exuberant worship: You're the name above all names / You are worthy of all praise / My heart will sing how great is our God!

God Is Able A no-brainer for this service, the bridge was one we knew needed to be part of the support for John Ivins' message, since it echoed the scripture he planned to use. This song has become familiar to our church, and it's one that works well for either a male or a female singer. We love this acoustic version.

Revelation Song Again, such a powerful song. Honestly, I wondered how we would pull this song off with only two instruments and some hand percussion. It was humbling to hear how beautifully it worked, simply with voices. It was incredibly powerful.

Beautiful Things seemed to fit the message and the scripture. I'm not sure anybody can match the flawless beauty of the original version, but striving to make it a moment of worship allowed us to focus on simply honoring God with the lyric and the simplicity of the chords and instrumentation. If you haven't listened to all of Michael Gungor's album, I encourage you to spend an hour alone with this music. It is incredibly worshipful, no matter where you are when you listen.

Already There was a bit of a challenge. It was John's pick for the closing song, one that would help bring home the point of the message. The original version is heavily orchestrated - big, loud and powerful. With an acoustic set-up for the service, we decided to strip the song down completely. We actually laughed a bit, because the influences of U2 and One Republic were so obvious in the melody and arrangement of the song (listen to the radio version of "Already There", and then check out U2's "Beautiful Day" and One Republic's "Secrets" and tell me you don't make the connection....) It wasn't so blatant with only a piano, but the song is still infectious.

John's message was vulnerable and transparent and very moving. It was a good way to end the series.


An addendum; a comment on a post from earlier this week suggested that what happens every week at PCC is a production - a show. If I read the comment correctly, the anonymous poster suggests that we are not truly worshiping. I've thought a lot about what might give that impression, and I truly hope that these back stories and explanations of the services are not contributing to the idea that what we aim for is anything other than worship. We believe that prayerful and careful preparation and attention to detail allows us to freely worship; what I share in these "Worship Recaps" is simply the process we go through, some reasoning behind why we do what we do. It may be less interesting than I assumed! I do hope it doesn't imply that we value cool songs over focusing on Jesus. We don't.

We don't always get it right. We do pay attention to production values because of the environment we have chosen to have our services. But let there be no mistake: our primary goal is to worship God and elevate Jesus. We have been given the responsibility to "lead" in this area; we believe we do so best when we lead by example. That's why we do what we do. We are far from perfect, but we believe in the God who was. And is. And is to come.

Looking forward to next week, when Brian Hughes will return with a message about Jesus!

You can watch last week's service here. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Boys

Today is the last day of summer break. It is Labor Day.

The boys are headed out the door in the morning for another year of school.

I have mixed feelings.

We took them to PF Chang's today for lunch to celebrate the end of summer; or, more properly, to mourn it, as David said.

We had gift cards. It was an extravagant lunch, with lettuce wraps and ribs and soup and big plates of food. It was a gift to me, to encourage them to try something new, to eat and enjoy.

PF Chang's that has marked some special occasions for me; Tony and I celebrated our first anniversary there. We had a memorable birthday celebration for him on the patio one year. It's "our" place.

Today, I sat at a table for four and watched my boys order and eat a good meal. The conversation was good - not crazy and loud and nonstop, but good, and sensible. Funny at times.

I love the men in this family. I love my sons; the privilege of watching them ease into manhood with confidence and a command of themselves often causes my heart to quiver.

It's different.

Tonight, Daniel walked out of the kitchen, headed for bed; he glanced over his shoulder in response to a joke I made and I saw his father, framed in the space between the doorway and the hall. The tilt of his head, the slight upturn of his grin. It was fleeting but true.

The boys are the best of me and their father. The honest love and wit of their stepdad seeps into them through the conduit of time; lunches like today, moments of repair and respite in the day to day movement of the house. They accumulate it all and gather it into themselves.

They live it out as they grow.

How is it that my mom-of-five heart continues to expand? This is surprising to me. But it happens daily.

I love my boys.
This is stellar. All the "we love to pose for photos" genes were dumped on the girls....

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The New Girl

"Who's the new girl?"

Recently, you may have noticed a new face amongst the musicians at PCC. She sang and played at Westchester last week to set up John Tiller's message. She sang as part of the vocal team today at the Powhatan campus.

Let me introduce you to Laura Krzyston. Laura is our new - and PCC's first - Artist In Residence.

Laura holds a music degree from VCU. She teaches privately (voice, piano and guitar ), is an accomplished songwriter and is passionate about serving God with her gifts. Laura partnered with Eli Tiller to write and record his recent EP. She has spent several summers leading worship at area camps.

I worked with Laura at PCC's Blue Christmas last year, and found myself impressed with her skill. But I was most taken with her attitude. She is humble, gentle, kind and committed to her faith. She loves Jesus. She is authentic.

Laura's role as Artist In Residence will, as the title suggests, allow her to "reside" as part of our community while pursuing her art. You will see her on the stage as a worship leader from time to time, but you'll also hear from her as part of our creative team. Recently, Laura was part of a brainstorming session. We walked away with a plan for the next series; Laura walked away with two new songs she wrote while we worked.

We will build into Laura's life with coaching, mentoring and support of her craft. She will be a part of our community, building relationships and expressing what she experiences through her writing and musical expression.

Welcome her. Get to know her. Ask her to share some of her songs wtih you.

And rejoice with me in the way God works things together. It's way cool.

Read Laura's blog here. See her lead in worship with us here (that's her, leading the second verse of "How Great Thou Art"). And check out the music she recorded with Eli.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Which I Confess: There Is No "They"

I've had a little space in my head to think today. There was no specific purpose or aim in my thinking, just space. I've learned that if I give my head / soul / heart (whatever it is ) a little room, it always finds its way. Right where it needs to be.

So thoughts have been tumbling in my head. This evening, I've turned my attention to my job; vocational ministry means that Saturday night calls for preparation for what comes early every Sunday morning. Which is to say, church.

Tomorrow's music lineup is appealing to me; some of my closest friends will be making music with me on the stage. I am looking forward to it; there was magic in the music for us in rehearsal earlier this week, and I know that will translate to a great time of singing and playing tomorrow, one that will be especially fulfilling for me as a musician.

Running through the songs and lyrics and order and transitions and all that in my head, a thought slipped in. It was a reminder, really; it was myself making note of something I've said from my position of leadership for years.

"God has equipped us to worship through music because often, they can't. We do it because they can't. We are called to lead the way."

Now, that statement is a loose paraphrase of something I heard Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek Community Church) say six or seven years ago. Hybels spoke directly to artists and used these words to encourage us to strive for excellence, to keep creating, to pursue art. I believe that his goal was to inspire the artistically gifted folks to live fully into the truth of their calling, to create.

I adopted that phrase and have used some version of it for the past six years I have been in leadership of the creative arts team at my church. These were the words I've used many times prior to a church service, in an effort to inspire a team of musicians to worship freely, to play and sing without fear of making mistakes or forgetting words. I've challenged our teams to lead the way by singing and playing and worshiping with all their hearts, freely, with a holy confidence that comes from knowing that they are called and equipped by God. I've encourage us all to demonstrate our worship before the congregation, in the belief that our demonstration will encourage participation.

But tonight, something caught in my throat when this phrase snuck into my head, unbidden. In the space that I've allowed myself today, some other thoughts have been swirling around.

Thoughts about what I see from the platform as we sing and play every Sunday, as I look out into the crowd at faces of people from this community who are striving to learn more about God and the church and community and life. I see many faces that represent stories I know, pain I have heard, prayers we have offered together. I see our community.


(Let me preface the following by saying that I know full well that people worship in their own way. Just because someone isn't jumping around, singing loudly or raising their hands do not mean that they are not having an authentic experience of connection with God. I know that is often happening; I know it is not my place to judge.)


I have to say this, with no small amount of fear and trepidation:

I think the majority of people are simply watching.

And I feel conviction. I have a part in this.

I think this mentality that we (on the platform) have to lead in worship because others "can't" is missing the mark. There is some truth, in that not everybody is called to skillfully play an instrument or sing. But this idea that we have to lead because of some deficiency has, I think, contributed to creating a deficiency.

There is no "they".

There is only "we".

I will play the chords on the piano; I will sing. I have practiced and prepared.

But you, who sit in the seats, are just as well-equipped as I am to worship. We are declaring truth about God; we are singing gratitude and seeking mercy. We are clapping, together, to the rhythm of grace.

Or at least we should be. Because I just wonder: if you are a believer, if you have declared that you are a follower of Jesus, and you come to watch the musicians worship tomorrow morning, what kind of experience is that? Of what value is watching others worship? Even if you pass no judgement; even if you are appreciative, thankful, love the band and love the songs - does worship simply become 20 minutes of pleasure? Like listening to the radio? Or watching a Youtube video?

At the risk of sounding very pompous, preachy and pedantic, I humbly ask you: if you're going to church tomorrow - whether here where I live or anywhere else - walk in prepared to fully engage in worship. Whether it's your favorite song or the one you hate; whether it's the singer that annoys you or the one you really like. Regardless of what or who, engage. Participate. 

Bring your voice and your hands to the community of people around you. 

We have one hour every week to come together, to experience something as a group of like-minded people that our souls long for.

Let's make it count.

Come singing.

Your thoughts, comments, and ideas are welcome in the comments below. I am learning, daily, about this life to which I am called. God often refines us best through one another.