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About 250 join online worship hosted by More Light Presbyterians

Singing in a round online? Illustrating the Creation story? No problem

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — More Light Presbyterians held an extraordinary online worship service Sunday, the first Sunday in Pride Month. About 250 worshipers from Alaska to Virginia participated.

Worship included feats not easily accomplished online. Slats Toole led worshipers singing a four-line hymn in a round: “Listen to the word the God has spoken. Listen to the One who is close at hand. Listen to the voice that began Creation. Listen even if you don’t understand.”

Rather than simply reading the Creation story from Genesis 1, worshipers instead heard an inclusive version of “The Creation,” a poem by James Weldon Johnson (who also composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing”). A visual artist, the Rev. Shawna Bowman, recorded herself illustrating Johnson’s poem; her recording unfolded at breakneck speed as the words of the poem spilled out, faster and faster.

Musicians including Phillip Morgan, director of music at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, contributed greatly to Sunday’s service, as did the Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz, a Presbyterian pastor who’s the assistant dean of Admissions, Vocation and Stewardship at the Vanderbilt Divinity School. Cheifetz based her sermon on Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, which includes this amazing rhetorical question of the Almighty: “Who are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

The Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz

“Seriously, we are not that great,” Cheifetz told worshipers, who would eventually contribute more than 200 online comments, many of them praising Cheifetz’s sermon and urging her on.

“We’re a mess,” Cheifetz said, “and yet God is mindful of little old us, and not just God’s chosen people, either.”

It can be easy for church people to proclaim with the psalmist , “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the Earth,” and then “continue on our very way as our siblings are trampled under the greater good of a healthy economy,” Cheifetz said. We’ve also figured out how to make human-created systems work out of sync with Creation, she said, “so I can have blueberries in my smoothie in November.”

The structure of the psalm is clear, she noted: We are to care for farm animals and wild animals and even the creatures of the sea in the same way God cares for human beings.

“It stands to reason that when we do not love, we destroy God’s image within us,” Cheifetz said.

It’s important for members of the LGBTQIA community “to have this space” in places like Sunday’s worship service, “because too many of us still live, work and worship in spaces where we are made to feel deviant,” Cheifetz said. “Why else would we wear all this glitter and lamé with our loud music demanding to be noticed? Why else do we make our joys so in your face?”

It’s because every aspect of humanity reflects the glory of God, even “those considered deviations of the perfect human,” Cheifetz said, reading off a list of names that included transgender women who have been murdered just in the past two months.

“We in the U.S. don’t treat ourselves, let alone each other, as though we were barely lower than the divine,” Cheifetz said. Believing that all humanity is crowned with glory means we’d never stand for any number of tragedies, including missing and murdered indigenous women, black men and boys gunned down for “being in a car accident or working or caregiving or shopping or playing music,” she said, families seeking asylum being torn apart, or the fact that one-third of the nation’s transgender population lives in poverty.

“Siblings, all of us are crowned in glory and grandeur. Let us go out and act like it. May it be so,” Cheifetz said.

“Let this spirit fill you. Take it with you to your next protest,” suggested the Rev. Alex Patchin McNeill, More Light Presbyterians’ executive director, concluding worship with these traditional words: “God be with you till we meet again.”

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