I had a remarkable experience today helping lead an informal chapel service for a group of communicators from Africa. They were 12 clergy and lay from Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe. They were in the U.S. for a three-week training organized by Nancy Neelley, Program Manager for Central Conference Communications, UMCom. Stephen Bryant invited me to help lead singing in a morning prayer service in the chapel of The Upper Room.
The group has been together for a couple of weeks already and enjoy singing together. As soon as they found their seats in the chapel, they were ready to sing in that place. I was unprepared for what happened when I invited their informal song leader, Emmanuel, to lead us in an opening hymn. He started a song and all 12 pour out of the pews, gathered in the space in front of the altar, and began to sing, clap, dance, harmonize, praise God. Tears came to my eyes, it was so beautiful. As soon as one song wound down, someone in the back started another song. The energy was incredible.
Steven Bryant talked to the group about the mission of The Upper Room. And then, my colleague, Kathryn Kimball, the person who cares for the Chapel and Museum, gave a live interpretation of the carving. (Visitors to the chapel usually sit in the pews and listen to a recording that explains in great detail what is going on in the carving of the Last Supper. But Kathryn stood there and talked with no script.) She told about the story in the carving — the moment at The Last Supper right after Jesus has said, “One of you will betray me.” She described the different reaction of each disciple and invited us to ponder what we saw and where we might be in the story. Entering a time of reflection, I sang “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Finally, Stephen led the group in a short discussion of what was seen and where in the story persons might have seen themselves. We finished the service with more singing, led by our congregants.
I was moved by the experience, honored to have been present, incredibly blessed to have been given the gift of music by 12 young communicators from the continent of Africa. God speed, my new friends.
We’ve met and planned, shopped and gathered, packed and loaded the trucks, and today we’re heading to Lake Junaluska to host SoulFeast, the soulful retreat. Please pray for traveling mercies for all those who are making their way to the event. Opening worship will be Sunday night. Trevor Hudson will be preaching about “The Way to the Jordan” and we’ll celebrate our baptism. The youth will be assisting in the ritual for this service.
Jay Voorhees, Pam Hawkins, and I will be setting up the worship space, designed by Karla Kincannon. (Karla will be joining us on Tuesday and can take over the set up then.)
We’re expecting somewhere between 450 and 500 participants. Children, youth, and young adults will be participating in age-appropriate programs.
Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be participating in a book signing featuring all the Upper Room authors present at SoulFeast. That’ll be the first book signing for The Uncluttered Heart. (Wish you could be there!)
Blessings, everyone. Pray for us. We’ll be praying for the world.