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A biblical story with ‘all the makings of a Marvel movie’

Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference digs into Elijah’s triumph over Baal’s prophets

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

MONTREAT, North Carolina — With a nod to the rain that’s pounded Montreat Conference Center since the start of the Presbyterian Association of MusiciansMusic & Worship Conference, those gathered to worship Wednesday opened the service by singing “There Shall be Showers of Blessing” and “Rain Down.”

Then it was time for the Rev. Rachel Whaley Doll, a biblical storyteller and musician who’s the pastor for faith formation at Winter Park Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, to share 1 Kings 18 by telling it in story form, acting out the part of Elijah besting the 450 prophets of Baal by committing the entire chapter to memory.

The Rev. Rachel Whaley Doll gave a dramatic presentation of I Kings 18 during worship on Wednesday at PAM’s Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The special music was especially glorious. Phillip Morgan, the conference co-director, sang William B. Bradbury’s “Even Me,” accompanied by Dr. Tony McNeill. The Adult Choir did a terrific and rousing “Thanks Be to God” from “Elijah” by Felix Mendelssohn. The Senior High Chamber Choir took a lovely turn singing Karen Marrolli’s “Rivers of Living Water.”

The Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, who’s been preaching all week, said the scene described in 1 Kings 18 “has all the makings of a Marvel movie.”

“This will be a quick bout — or so we think,” she said. But “if 450 prophets couldn’t bring their god, what could one prophet do on his own?”

Elijah has the people draw near, digs a trench deep and wide, stacks wood, cuts a bull into pieces and places them on the wood. Despite the drought, he calls three times for four jars of water to soak the wood and the bull.

“Whew! Does God show up,” Kwong Abazia said, sending down “an undeniable fiery witness to the presence of God.” The people fall to the ground and proclaim the Lord their God. “Faith is anything but a spectator sport,” she said. “Elijah invites people into the work.”

Conference Co-Director Phillip Morgan sings “Even Me” during worship Wednesday at PAM’s Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“There’s something about worship that draws us into the glory of God,” Kwong Abazia said. “We are children of God not because of what we do or create, not because we have perfect words and can harmonize with the people around us. We are children of God simply because God has said it.”

“No matter what we bring, the showers of God’s presence drench us,” she said. We dwell in the shower of God’s presence in the cries of a newborn or in “the final breath of a loved one being released from this world.”

“My friends, come closer,” she said, echoing Elijah’s words while at the same time inviting worshipers to partake in communion. “Come to this table to quench your thirst at the wellspring of life.”

Artist in Residence Steve Prince, at right, displays one of the large pieces of art he’s created to adorn Anderson Auditorium during PAM’s Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

That afternoon, conference leaders held one of their daily worship reflection sessions. That gave Steve Prince, the conference’s artist in residence and the director of engagement and distinguished artist in residence William & Mary University’s Muscarelle Museum of Art, the chance to discuss the impressive art he’s been creating every day for worship in Anderson Auditorium. His tool of choice is a Sharpie.

On Friday, the final day of the conference, “we’ll make a substantial shift” in the art that’s been created to date, Prince said.

“The intent of art is to engage it and to enter it where you’re at,” Prince said. While Prince doesn’t “intend you to get everything” about what goes into every piece he creates, “one thing we know is the Holy Spirit is present.”

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