AC2022 interactive Opening Worship service offers a message of hope
How can an online worship service for the Upper New York (UNY) Annual Conference be interactive? Leave it to the Rev. Nancy Dibelius, UNY Conference Assistant Director of Vital Congregations for Spiritual Life, to make it possible. Prior to the service, Annual Conference registrants were notified on the Conference website to bring a candle, matches, and a rock in order to be able to fully participate in Opening Worship, which took place at the start of Annual Conference on Thursday Oct. 6.
The service began with the four-member worship team (Rev. Dibelius, Rev. Chad Sayers, and Licensed Local Pastors Rebekah Solar and Kevin Kitto) singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Each member lit candles and sang this popular hymn with a note inviting listeners to light their candles as they sang along.
The powerful call to worship followed; one portion was particularly poignant:
Pastor Kitto said, “We come bearing the weight of exhaustion and fear. And yet, somehow, we have each arrived here with the flickering flame of hope in our hearts. If it were not so, we would not have come."
UNY Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb, delivered the Opening Worship sermon, entitled “The Breath of Hope,” beginning by quoting Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the Season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Bishop Webb explained that today’s times are not much different than the time portrayed in The Tale of Two Cities and that the current state of the Church is relevant.
Referencing the best of times, Bishop Webb reminded people that they are continuing to be the hands and feet of Jesus, that God is using their lives “to speak into the world the hope of Jesus Christ as you remain unashamed of the Gospel.”
He reminded people that they are continuing to use their gifts to help transform the world. And that people in their circles and communities are becoming open to learn about Jesus. Bishop Webb said, “It very well may be that there has never been a time in history where people are more open to receiving the life that is offered through God in Jesus Christ. It is the best of times.”
Bishop Webb explained how today’s conditions make it the worst of times, “We have been living and continue to live in a season of turbulence, turmoil, and swirl. An unrelenting global pandemic. A society that seems to thrive on and perpetuate acts of aggression, violence, bias, and isms of all kinds. We live in a culture that is divided in ways most of us have never experienced before.”
Bishop Webb spoke of how the United Methodist Church adds even more turbulence and turmoil being in the midst of a separation where sisters and brothers in Christ are drawing lines against one another.
He used Ezekiel 37: 1-10 to illustrate that the duality in The Tale of Two Cities and the duality today was experienced in biblical times.
Ezekial found himself in a field of very dry bones and asked God if they can live and God commands Ezekial to prophesize flesh to come upon the bones and breath to come into the slain, Ezekial does as he is commanded and the bones were reassembled and life was breathed into them once again,
Bishop Webb said, “Some of us have been experiencing a valley of dry bones. The Church has been experiencing a valley of dry bones. The world around us is filled with people who are experiencing a valley of dry bones…God says to us, just as he revealed to Ezekiel, ‘These dry bones will live!’ That’s a promise for the worst of times and it’s a reminder in the best of times.’
Bishop Webb concluded his sermon by asking people to decide “to trust the truth and promise of our God—'‘I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.’”
Rev. Dibelius and Pastor Solar finished the service with beautiful drapery in the sanctuary laid out to resemble a river.
Deep, rich brown drapey represented a dry riverbed,
Rev. Dibelius referred to Matthew 6 where Jesus calls us to not worry about our life. She said, “In the past couple of years, those have been difficult words to live by…we’ve felt more like the Psalmist who cries, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ The writers of the Psalms knew that God was big enough to hear their groanings. Nothing was unacceptable or inappropriate to God.”
Rev. Dibelius invited viewers to offer up rocks as symbols of heavy burdens to lay on the dry riverbed.
She said, “Just like the dry bones, we believe that God will put new life into these rocks and our lives if we offer them to God. As we do this, God is reminding us, ‘I am about to do a new thing!’”
Pastor Solar reflected on Revelations 21: 5 where Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new. Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true,” where God freely offers a life through a spring that is as clear as crystals.
Pastor Solar placed golden flowers over royal blue drapery representing a river of life, and said, “These flowers become for us a symbol of our hope, the promise of healing and restoration offered to us in Christ.”