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New Just Worship documentary explores deep connection between justice and worship

 

Worship compels the congregation to be part of God’s mission, which is justice in the world

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

In the new Just Worship documentary, the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long, shown here walking up the center aisle, encourages congregations to recognize that what they do in worship is an enactment of the coming reign of God. (Photo by InLighten Films@InLightenStream.com)

LOUISVILLE — Do you love Jesus? Or are you more into the social gospel?

I still remember those questions that came from people in the church receiving line following worship during my first year as an ordained minister serving a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation.

After a 20-year broadcast journalism career, working with those who felt called to be a pain to those in power and a voice for the afflicted, I didn’t really understand what the church members were asking. Almost as important — why were they asking?

As if one could choose to love and worship God without justice? Or work for justice without worship? It seemed like a false dichotomy. Which is probably why I felt like one of the most meaningful events I covered in 2019 was the October Just Worship gathering held at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Now a new documentary about that gathering, which is collaborative effort of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)’s Office of Theology and Worship, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM),  Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, explores the deep connection between worship and justice.

The 33-minute film, available now along with an accompanying discussion guide, urges the church to answer God’s call to work for justice. It also reveals how taking part in worship is doing justice and encourages the church to enact Spirit-filled worship that welcomes the coming reign of God.

“Working for justice and worshiping God are not separate things,” said the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long, who gave the closing plenary at the gathering.

Long, who edits the PC(USA) quarterly journal “Call to Worship: Liturgy, Music, Preaching, and the Arts,” said that when we worship, we’re both proclaiming God’s justice and hearing God’s call to work for justice.

“In all of our praying, singing, gathering and baptizing, we’re actually acting out the justice of God and being a part of God’s justice-making in world,” she said.

The preachers at the Just Worship gathering, including the Rev. Dr. Paul T. Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, are featured in the new documentary, which urges the church to answer God’s call to work for justice. (Photo by InLighten Films@InLightenStream.com)

Johnson C. Smith president the Rev. Dr. Paul T. Roberts was one of the preachers at the Just Worship gathering. He said participating in the 2019 event — as well as at the first gathering at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2018 — was remarkable, like “a sacred moment experience.”

For Roberts, just worship reflects the very diverse people of God — in all of their variety and richness — and quickens us to the commonality and unity found in the gospel.

“This empowers us to speak the truth, and live the truth when we lead worship,” he said.

According to Theology, Formation & Evangelism (TFE) director the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III,  the new Just Worship documentary and digital resource will help churches live into the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation, which encourages mid councils and churches to work at building congregation vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

“This intersection between justice and worship is critical for the life of the church,” Jones said. “To love God is to worship God. And as we go deeper into worship, we are compelled to be about God’s mission, which is justice in the world.”

This is why the Presbyterian Association of Musicians has partnered with Just Worship since the latter’s inception in 2018 — because PAM members believe that all worship leaders engage in justice while leading congregations in worship and music.

“Loving God and loving neighbor include crying out in song the injustices that prevent us from doing so,” said PAM’s executive director, Kelly Abraham. “We sing these songs to name them, to own them, with hopes that we come together at the table to act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly together with God.

 The Just Worship documentary is free and can be downloaded here. You can also watch it and find  a discussion guide by clicking here.

 Support for the making of the Just Worship documentary and discussion guide was provided by the Presbyterian Mission Agency and New Castle Presbytery.

 The third Just Worship gathering will be held in Chicago at McCormick Theological Seminary, Nov. 9-11.


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