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APCE’s Friday worship service features a look at the Children and Worship model

The Revs. Phil and Stephanie Doeschot lead worship while two church members present an inclusive way to view a dramatic gospel story

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Pavlo Semeniuk via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Friday’s next-to-last worship service at the APCE Annual Event featured the Revs. Phil and Stephanie Doeschot and two members of Christ’s Church in St. Peters, Missouri, Carol Jones and Ellen Vellenga.

The latter two demonstrated a Children and Worship model to go with the preaching text, John 4, the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria. “Instead of reading the text, we want you to be able to hear it differently,” Phil Doeschot said.

Jones and Vellenga used a tabletop to set up a verdant field, a roadway, a well and wood figurines representing Jesus and the woman as the clergy couple read a new take on the familiar story.

The Samaritan woman brought up for the two preachers the notion of how people sometimes use a single story to “limit our understanding of one another,” Phil said. Women and people of color are used to that happening to them, Stephanie said, but “every person is far more complex and nuanced than we make them out to be.” That’s why the couple asked Jones and Vellenga to tell the story in the unique Children and Worship way, she said, because “it invites curiosity. Children and Worship uses figures and props to allow for imagination. Anyone and everyone can see themselves in the story.”

With the Children and Worship model, each story is brought to conclusion with a series of wondering questions, like “What would it be like to be a character in the story?” or “I wonder what part of the story you like best or is most important” or “Where do you see yourself in the story?”

The Revs. Phil and Stephanie Doeschot

Stephanie wondered what kind of day the Samaritan woman was having, while Phil wondered the same thing about Jesus, who was just sitting at the ancient well waiting for his friends to return with lunch when he had the conversation with the Samaritan woman, the longest recorded dialogue anyone has with Jesus in the gospel record. The story Phil has traditionally heard is that Jesus was “primarily interested in pointing out her sin and then overcoming barriers to minister to her.”

But as Jesus and the woman talk, “it’s dawning on her she is in the presence of one filled with life-giving kindness, love and vitality,” he said. “She wants to know more about this living water.”

When she tells Jesus she has no husband, “there’s no hint of condemnation or judgment,” Stephanie said. “He understood that her life is not easy.” Most likely her first husband died, and the law required one of the man’s brothers or another relative to marry her. That “could have happened to her several times,” she said.

“Jesus shatters single stories all the time,” Stephanie noted. Note the many times in the gospels he says something like, “you think it’s this way, but it’s that way,” she said. “Jesus makes no distinction between Jews and Samaritans.” In John’s gospel, living water is equated with “the continuous flow of the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Or as Titus 3:4-5 puts it, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

“Kindness is the very essence of God,” Phil said. “The kindness of God gives us elevated identity.”

“The kindness of God never lets us go,” Stephanie said, before joining with her husband to conclude their sermon with this idea: “Correcting our faulty assumptions and always drawing us nearer to the heart of God.”

Follow next week for additional reporting on APCE’s Annual Event, which concluded Saturday.

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