Lenten Study Session 3: “I Dream of a Church”

You can download the guide for this session by clicking here.

Watch the Video Clip (5 – 7 minutes)

Listen to Mark’s words of introduction and listen to the song. Listen to the song a second time. Feel free to sing along, joining in with “Make it so, make it so! We pray for that day, make it so.” If you have purchased the songbook Roll Down, Justice!, a reproducible congregational box of the song is found on page 89.

Mark Miller’s Reflection

“Truly I tell you, whenever you did it to the least of these you did it to me.”

A few years back I visited a church in the Chicago area. I was there as a guest musician and, as I sat in a pew preparing myself before the opening hymn, the minister moved to the front of the sanctuary to welcome us. I have heard greetings from different pastors many times over the years and didn’t pay too much attention – until I heard who she was welcoming.

“We welcome you here to this place if you are gay,” she said. “We welcome you to this church if you are lesbian. You are most welcome here if you are transgender. We welcome you even if you are straight! You are welcome here!!”

Unrehearsed tears welled up and starting falling down my face. In my 30 years of leading music ministry, week in and week out, I realized I had never heard a United Methodist preacher offer such a heartfelt, emphatic, intentional welcome to so many of us who have felt we unloved by the institutional church.

I wonder how many people in our faith communities go through our lives never hearing the words of welcome that stir our hearts and that make us feel as if we belong. What might it feel like to hear for the first time, “You are most welcome here if you have rolled here in a wheelchair – the differently-abled are welcome here. Welcome if you find yourself on the autistic spectrum.”

Jesus said, “You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Jesus is asking us to reach out to the stranger – those we have been taught are our enemies, maybe because their language and culture are different from ours, maybe because they are younger or older, or come from a different part of the world, or dress differently that we do or have a different political affiliation. Jesus comes to reconcile all people, making enemies into neighbors and strangers into friends.

My dream is for people of all races, cultures, sexual identities, abilities, ages, economic circumstances, and beliefs to be deeply welcomed and honored by the Church.

Moment of Meditation (10 minutes)

Using a notebook or a sheet of paper, respond individually and silently – to the video, the song, and Mark’s introduction. Jot down responses to this statement “I dream of a church_________.”

Write or draw thoughts and images that come to mind. Recall a time when you felt most welcomed and loved in church – and a time when you felt most rejected. What did you hear from Mark’s song and introduction that was affirming?

Provide an opportunity for two or three persons to give a “one-minute” story of feeling welcomed or feeling rejected. Acknowledge each presenter’s gift to the group by inviting all to respond, “Thank you for sharing; we hear you.”

Discuss the Scripture – Matthew 25:31 – 46 (10 minutes)

Have the Scripture read aloud in two or three translations. Invite members to “pair-and-share” with another person, discussing any experience they have with the text. For example, this passage may always remind someone of a childhood Sunday school lesson of sheep and goats.

Connect with the Justice Challenges: “Enter the Conversation” (20 minutes)

Watch the video a second time. Challenge the group to listen deeply to Mark Miller’s words and deeply to the words of the song.

Point the groups to signs that you have placed around the room. (Alternately, you may create signs and have persons hold up a sign to invite others to join her or him in a conversation on a justice challenge). Make signs for at least three naming the following “challenges”:

  • Autistic Children of God
  • Immigrant Children of God
  • Transgender Children of God
  • Gay and Lesbian Children of God
  • Homeless Children of God
  • Differently-abled Children of God

Ask members to select a topic for which they welcome being part of the conversation – even if it is to listen (not to argue). [An individual is free to be the only one in the conversation, but ask that person to be prepared to share.] In the conversation, discuss the fears and concerns (known, unspoken)? Name the opportunities, i.e., “What gifts do people in these categories bring to the church?”

Ask for a summary statement from each conversation which begins with the phrase: “I dream of a church___________.”

Confession (2 – 3 minutes)

Encourage the group to observe a moment of silence as they remember the words of the Scripture, the song, and Mark’s introduction [consider playing the video a third time], and their conversation. Invite them during the time of confession to speak aloud a sentence of confession of how they (their family, church, or community) have “fallen short of the glory of God” in being a welcoming church.

Lead the group in this prayer: “Lord Jesus, you have shown us the way to be your people. Yet we draw circles that does not include everyone. Forgive us. In this moment, we confess that we have not been all that you want us to be. Forgive us. Please hear our confessions at this time (silently or aloud): _________________________.”

Prayer of Intercession (2 – 3 minutes)

Lead the group in this prayer (or one from the heart): “God, we name the names of those who have not felt your welcoming love in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts. God we lift up ourselves that we may continue to grow as your people, to be more loving, to be more welcoming.”

Closing (2 – 3 minutes)

Play the video (song) one more time and sing along. Offer a prayer of benediction and an invitation to live a more welcoming life in the coming week.

Extending the Study

Ask the pastor if there is an opportunity to meet with a leader or member of a reconciling congregation.

Enter into a time of prayer for General Conference, for decisions that need to be made for us to be an even more welcoming church.

Invite the Stewardship, Evangelism, or Administrative Council Chair to lead a time of reflection for the congregation by completing the phrase “I dream of a church where ________________.”

Use the song as a prayer chant or prayer response on World Communion Sunday or a Family and Friends Day.

Additional Resources

The Color of Jesus: A poem by Lindy Thompson.

GCORR’s Lenten Biblical Reflection, Roll Down, Justice!:

 

Additional Resources

About

Faye Wilson, Ed. D
Study Guide Author

Faye Wilson, writer of this study guide, is a certified lay servant in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. For twenty-one years she was on the staff of the General Board of Global Ministries, mission agency of The United Methodist Church, leading seminars and writing books and articles to help people become more involved in mission work

She continues to work in the area and has written leader’s guides to the United Methodist Women mission studies Poverty, How is It With Your Soul?, and Food and Faith. She serves as the music leader at the Peninsula-Delaware Mission U, an initiative of United Methodist Women, where she teaches songs of “justice and joy” from around the world.

A pianist, she lives in Salisbury, Md., and is the minister of music and arts for Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Quantico, Md., and chairwoman the stewardship committee. She also is vice president of the Salisbury District United Methodist Women.

Her favorite scripture is Isaiah 58:6-12; she makes every attempt to live it literally. She has volunteered for ten years with HALO (Hope and Life Outreach), a shelter for women and children. Since establishing her own home in 1978, she has invited more than twenty-five persons to share her space for varying lengths of time.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller is a lifelong United Methodist with a passion for composing and performing music that brings about the beloved community that Christ desires the church to be.

He is associate professor of church music at Drew Theological School and is a lecturer in the practice of sacred music at Yale University. He also is minister of music at Christ Church in Summit, N.J. His hymns are published in several songbooks and hymnals including The Faith We Sing and Zion Still Sings.

Since 1999, Mark has led music for worship at conferences around the United States. He has been a lay delegate to three United Methodist legislative assemblies (“General Conferences”) and directed music for the 2008 General Conference, enabling him to join in Christ’s mission to break down dividing walls in The United Methodist Church through policy, prayer, and music performance. He deeply believes, as scholar-activist Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Mark earned a bachelor of arts degree in music from Yale University and a master of music degree in organ performance from The Juilliard School in New York.

Discussion

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