A sense of worship
Encounters with the gospel
by Sue Washburn
One of the great things for preachers attending General Assembly is the opportunity to get out of the pulpit and into the pew. As someone who loves worship in its many forms, I was exited to see the similarities and differences between the small-town congregation in Pennsylvania that I serve and the Vancouver Korean Presbyterian Church in Washington.
For me, it’s important to understand the breadth of Christ’s church. I intentionally try different worship experiences. I’ve self-consciously waved my hands with suburban evangelicals and sat in silence for an hour one Sunday when the Holy Spirit neglected to move in the Quaker congregation. I’ve been a minority and a majority. I’ve worshiped with Pentecostals and Catholics and Baptists. I’ve sung songs that I call bloody hymns of the patriarch and chants that have taken me into deep prayer.
I’ve heard sermons that have made me want to stand up with a loud amen and those that have made me my jaw tighten and fists clench. I’ve heard preachers that have left me so frustrated that I take it on nothing but faith that God was present in that place. I’ve witnessed preachers who offer a word of grace so powerful it’s brought me to tears.
But, I’d never worshiped in a language that I did not know.
The Vancouver congregation was welcoming, gracious, and hospitable. The worship team provided on-screen translations for many elements of the service so that non-Korean speakers like me could follow along. The man next to me would also whisper some interpretation when he thought I would need it.
But it was hard to worship. My eyes were wandering around the sanctuary – to the screen for translation, to the microphones, to the symbols on the purple choir robes. My ears were straining to catch a word or two that I might understand.
I could see and hear the joy during the praise songs and the singers smiled and sang. I wanted to join in, but could only manage a little humming.
I wondered about the subject of the woman’s prayer that caused her voice to waver a bit. Did I hear other members of the congregation sniffling? I wanted raise my head to look around. What was I missing?
Worshiping in a language other than my own meant I was experiencing the gospel in two ways. The way of spirit and the way of words. But the two kept getting in the way of each other. I was caught between simply experiencing the spirit of worship without understanding what was being said and my own constant desire to know what was being communicated and participate. I could close my eyes and be carried by Word, song, and prayer or I could fixate on the screen and know precisely what was being said.
In the end, I surrendered to the spirit of worship. I let my heart listen, closed my eyes, and gave my head a rest. I stopped thinking about what was being said and remembered why it was being said. It was worship.
It was all of us gathered from different places joining together to glorify God in a PC(USA) church. The words, symbols, and songs may be different than the ones we use at the church I serve, but at the front of both sanctuaries hangs the cross of Jesus Christ. Worship isn’t about our languages and customs, but about the God that gathers us, inspires us, and leads us. The gospel is less of a formula and more of a feeling. It’s knowing in our hearts that God loves the world. It’s trusting deep-down that God in Christ loves each of us more that words can express.
Sometimes we have to close our eyes and surrender to hear the gospel most clearly.
Sue Washburn is the interim editor of Presbyterians Today and the pastor of Reunion Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, PA.