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The church from a doorkeeper’s perspective

APCE closing worship features an insightful tour of the doors inside a Houston church

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Keatan King is associate pastor at St. Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston. (Photo courtesy of APCE)

LOUISVILLE — Psalm 84 contains at least one oft-quoted line: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.”

The Rev. Keatan King figured she’d show, rather than tell, a crowd of 1,000 or so people attending closing worship Saturday during the first-ever online national gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. Her sermon, “Hope,” took APCEans from station to station inside the church she serves, St. Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston, from the perspective of a doorkeeper.

“I have wandered these empty halls for months,” King said, “remembering with gratitude the thresholds we helped people cross.”

On her video journey, King first stopped at a Sunday school classroom, where “popsicle sticks, glue and glitter are full of the glory of God.”

The tour also included a middle school classroom, where students waiting outside the door are “skeptical and maybe a tad nervous,” she said. “The doorkeeper beckons them to a greater knowledge of God and the meaningful relationships inside.”

King showed worshipers the room at St. Philip where nervous brides and grooms wait to say, “I do.”

“They take a deep breath to calm their nerves,” King said, before “crossing the threshold to make their vows to God and their partner. Here the doorkeeper leads the people into covenantal life.”

Another room is for grief-stricken families about to say goodbye to a loved one during the funeral service. The doorkeeper “leads them into a room of loving people to commend the departed saint into God’s eternal care and to proclaim that death is not the end,” she said. “Here the doorkeeper guides people to the tomb and far beyond.”

Then King swung her camera to the church’s front doors.

“These doors face the world,” she said. “The doorkeeper posted here knows the power of their presence in this place. Why a doorkeeper stands here can reveal or obscure the kin-dom of God. Will the doorkeeper be a host or a bouncer?”

From where King was standing — as a “white doorkeeper in a predominantly white congregation in a predominantly white denomination” — unless “we teach that God has a particular and wondrous love for Black lives, we can say, ‘Welcome, welcome,’ but there is no welcome.”

“We can’t keep acting like pain and injustice are someone else’s door to keep,” King said. “No person or circumstance is coming to make all things new. Only God will make all things new, and God has chosen her church as the instrument of her renewal.”

“God refuses to withhold good things from the world, and you are the good thing God can’t hold back from the world,” she said to the online crowd of Christian educators. “Your smile is the good thing God wills for the lonely child of God. Your innovation in teaching is the good thing that God intends for those whose health prevents them from gathering.”

But keep in mind, she said, that “You could not serve the church as you do without a blessed doorkeeper whose love for Christ opened this life to you. Think on that doorkeeper, the one who got you where you are now, who nurtured your gifts, the one who did that for you. Think on that doorkeeper, the good one that the Lord would not withhold from you.”

And gather and hold onto all the experiences online conference-goers have taken in throughout the three-day event, she suggested — the workshops, the resources, the camaraderie, the “powerful plenaries, passionate preaching and precious liturgies. Call on them to cross the next threshold God needs you to cross. Trust in God who is making a new threshold, new ministries, a new world and is indeed making you a new doorkeeper, renewed in Jesus Christ.”

King’s travelogue sermon was enhanced, as was the case during APCE worship services on Thursday and Friday, by other remarkable worship elements. Musicians from Bayside Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, sang and played an upbeat “This is the Day (Este es el día).” The Rev. Kendra Buckwalter Smith, a member of the conference’s Worship and Liturgy Design Team who is coordinator of the Worship Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is the associate pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh completed her engaging three-day run of leading worshipers through the liturgy.

A group of young performers from the Minneapolis area, VocalEssence Singers of this Age, elicited dozens of online comments of thanks and praise for its rendition of “Hope Lingers Here.” Group members sang and danced their way into the hearts of worshipers.

Worship organizers also took time to remember church educators who died since the last national gathering as well as some whose death preceded that 2020 gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas. The names were displayed and read as hand bells played Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “For All the Saints.”

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