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New life emerges at Just Worship conference

 

‘It’s like God wanted to baptize the whole world,’ says participant

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Seyeom Kim is with his wife, Ji-Hye Han, and two daughters, Nuri Kim, 6, and Yeori Kim, 4. Photo provided

LOUISVILLE – Before Seyeom Kim went to the recent Just Worship conference at Columbia Theological Seminary, he had been feeling very much alone — unsure of where he belonged.

The 35-year-old South Korean pastor moved to Atlanta two months ago, with his wife and two children, to study in Columbia’s Master of Arts program in practical theology. His residency in Atlanta allowed him to attend this innovative event, sponsored by three seminaries (Austin, Columbia and Johnson C. Smith), as well as the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship and the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.

“My English is not good yet,” he said, “and because of that, I feel like I’ve been just watching others in the classroom — instead of participating in conversation with them.”

But at the conference, something began to awaken in him. He began to find common ground and sense deeper connections as participants wrestled together with questions about the relationship between worship and justice.  

“The recognition of the real world’s struggles, the explanation of America’s culture and current problems — and all of our longings for justice — was so moving,” he said.

During closing worship, Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Call to Worship editor, the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long, spoke of God restoring creation through the river of life in Revelation, connecting that image to the waters of baptism. At that moment, Kim says he felt as if God was real to him. He could see that God really cares about this world — the violence, its problems and dangers.

Previously, Kim had thought of baptism only as a human action. At the Just Worship conference, he found a deeper understanding of God’s action in baptism. He felt as if he was “being born again” into new life — into God’s restorative work, which involves justice.

“It’s as if God wanted to baptize the whole world,” he said.

Just Worship conference participants gather around the communion table. Michael Thompson

For participants at Just Worship, the conference spoke to “the urgency of all facets of justice in our churches and world and to the deep ways worship transforms us into just persons,” said the Rev. Dr. Jennifer L. Lord, professor of homiletics and liturgical studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The goal is “to become persons for whom justice is our ‘habitual way of relating.’”

Just Worship participants struggled together over questions over the relationship between sacrifice and service, doxology and human dignity — questions at least as old as the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. They spent time eating, drinking, praying, singing, laughing and even weeping together. They confessed and lamented the sins of prejudice and privilege. They gave thanks for new partnerships and imagined fresh possibilities.

“What is the worship God desires?” asked the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “Worship that seeks to serve the Spirit’s work in the world, with captives set free, barriers broken down, lives transformed. Worship that reveals glimpses of Christ’s coming realm of righteousness, justice and peace. Worship that engages heart, mind, soul and strength in giving glory to God. In other words, ‘just worship.’”

And that’s just the kind of worship that brought new life to Kim.  

“After the conference, I feel like I’m part of this country now,” he said. “Like a member of this diverse family through my baptism.”

Audio highlights of the Just Worship conference will be available Oct. 12 as a podcast episode of Aijcast, which is one of the PC(USA’s) 1001 new worshiping communities.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly declared a churchwide commitment to create 1001 new worshiping communities by 2020. At a grassroots level, more than 400 worshiping communities have been formed across the nation.


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