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Music supplied by children’s choirs sends the first wave of Worship & Music conferees home on a high note

Artist-in-Residence Steve Prince and his students create a stunning backdrop for closing worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

MONTREAT, North Carolina — With the final work by artist-in-residence Steve Prince and his students welcoming everyone gathered in Anderson Auditorium at Montreat Conference Center to “come unto me,” Friday’s worship at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference capped a week of thoughtful, prayerful, community-building worship that put glorious music by people of all ages front and center.

The final work by artist-in-residence Steve Prince and his students was assembled and hung for the final worship service of the first week of PAM’s Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Accompanied by piano and clarinet, the Middler Choir sang “Like a Tree” under the direction of Ellen Woods Bryce. The communion anthem, offered by the Children’s Choir, was “May a Rainbow Run Beside You.” It was directed by Mark Burrows, who composed the song as well.

After reading John 4:31-42, the conference preacher, the Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, set the scene as recorded in John’s gospel: the disciples were returning to Jesus with food and snacks when they spot him talking to a woman. What are then even talking about. When she finally leaves, she goes off without her water vessel. “She is walking with a sense of urgency and purpose,” Kwong Abazia said, “every once in a while glancing back at the well and Jesus.” The disciples urge Jesus to eat something, and he tells them he’s fed “by doing the will of the one who sent me. Open your eyes,” he tells his disciples, “and notice the fields are already ripe for the harvest.”

Youthful singing was on display during closing worship Friday at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“The disciples had walked into town, gotten enough food for 13 men, and came all the way back. You can’t get more hospitable in a foreign land than this, and Jesus rejects their gifts,” Kwong Abazia said. “What are they to do? Like the women at the tomb, these men find themselves weighed down with a picnic lunch and are told their labor is needed now in this Samaritan city.”

The people there bid Jesus to stay for two additional days. He agrees, “and many more believed because of his word,” John tells us.

“The disciples have no choice now. They are staying in this Samaritan city alongside Jesus,” she said. “Imagine what it must have been like for the disciples,” with their wrong belief system, wrong place of worship and wrong culture for their present environs. Even as they “tiptoe in the homes of Samaritans, feeling in their bodies a sense to move on, everything seems not quite right,” Kwong Abazia said.

“You’ve been in this city, collecting supplies for a nourishing meal,” she told the 700 or so people attending the first week of the Worship & Music Conference. “I hope the conference has provided you inspirational and practical tools to bring home.”

The 700 or so people in closing worship Friday took communion near the front of Anderson Auditorium. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“You’re carrying sustenance with you. Where will this journey take you next?” Kwong Abazia asked. “What are the unexpected places on the map? Will you be ready to put down the things you so worked so hard to do for whatever is to come?”

She said she told stories during the week that she’d witnessed “because lives are at stake. Children and youth want to be seen and heard and known on their own terms. They are actively teaching us if we will only listen,” a statement that drew applause from some worshipers.

Outside Anderson Auditorium was a hint about what’s in store during next year’s Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)


“We’re told the status quo is the best we can ever do. I can go on — I know you know I can,” she said with a smile. “You know what brokenness awaits us, so don’t squander the privilege you have had to dwell at the well this week. It’s an oasis for you but a mirage as soon as you step outside those doors.”

“Can you put down what you’re carrying and go toward where Christ is calling? Can you do that? Are you ready?”

The service concluded with the congregation singing “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in This Place,” accompanied by Dr. Tony McNeill on piano.

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