Gifted artists bring diverse offerings reflective of the Matthew 25 movement
by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Communications | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — On the second day of the Matthew 25 Summit, the community again gathered itself at the New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton, Georgia, for a unique worship experience, in which gently evocative music flowed seamlessly into the creative force of the spoken word, the grace of liturgical dance, and again into poetry, song and silence.
“Sometimes God is in the silent moments,” said the Summit’s co-emcee, the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, at the conclusion of the morning’s devotions.
“God is in the dance and God is in the poetry and God is in the still, small voice,” they said. “Sometimes we have to quiet ourselves and say, ‘Holy Spirit, have your way.’”
Intended as “a devotional moment of varied worship expressions that [are] linked together,” Dr. Tony McNeill — the gifted conference musician who planned the service — said that the hope was that “each worship expression would flow out of the expression that comes before it with little or no interruption to become one proclamation.”
The contemplative service beautifully delivered on that promise.
“Here in the sanctuary, I sensed a lot of admiration for the spoken word and particularly the dance,” said the Rev. Wilson Kennedy, the PC(USA)’s associate for Special Offerings and Appeals. “The moment of silence was palpable and a very worshipful experience.”
In designing the service, McNeill, an affiliate professor of Worship and seminary musician (2023-2024) at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, worked closely with The Many, the vocal instrumental group in residence as part of the Summit, as well as spoken word artist, the Rev. YaNi Davis, and liturgical dancer, Debra Weir.
McNeill’s role might even be summarized by a word from Davis’s own powerful testimony.
“Earthing, birthing, working — that’s what we’re doing this week,” she proclaimed.
McNeill noted that all of the worship leaders were made aware of the tenets of the Matthew 25 movement and selected art, spoken word, sung word and dance reflective of the movement.
“I was excited to see how these particular artists conveyed the mission and the heart of the Matthew 25 initiative through their various worship expressions,” he said.
The closing silence not only gave participants gracious space for quiet reflection, but also an opportunity to ponder Davis’s poignant questions.
“What would happen if, as a kid, you had stopped dreaming?” she asked. “What will become of future generations if you stop dreaming? What will become of the collective dream if we all stop dreaming?”
Check pcusa.org throughout the Matthew 25 Summit for stories on worship services and plenaries. Plenaries and worship services are streamed here. Learn more about upcoming Matthew 25 Being Connected events here.
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