A psalmist in the pews?
Finding places for different voices
By Abby King-Kaiser
This Sunday, a student came up to me after worship with a serious look on her face. Very serious. I-have-something-to-say serious. She spent has spent this year as a small group leader, our first small group in Common Ground, our Protestant worship service on the campus where I work. Filled with first years, they have been tightly bound as friends. During this week’s worship, half the group held a variety of leadership roles, beat-boxing, reading Scripture and playing the violin.
With all the seriousness and sincerity, the leader said, “This is how you feel isn’t it? When you sit back, and students are preaching, and you are in the shadows, and the service is beautiful?”
She was seeing how the seeds she had planted in these students, affirming them, encouraging them, empowering them, where blooming.
Yes, it is how I feel. It is the greatest privilege of my work, witnessing God moving in students as they find their voice in community.
One week at Common Ground, a student preached on a Psalm. A senior education major with a gorgeous voice and four years of worship leadership under her belt, she challenged us to remember why we sing. In David’s voice, she found her own.
This after another student rapped. You heard me right, rapped.
My sanity is leaving me
Running fast it got hustle
But I’m from the West booking it
Going hard in da’ paint
He’s the MVP
But I got my own most valuable
I’m talking bout JC
I was falling
He caught me like an interception
Never leaves me though sometimes
I go the wrong direction
— Tim Cyron
Out of his experience, in his language, with trust in God, tapping into his relationship with Jesus, he expressed, in community and in worship, how God moves in his life, what he gives praise to God for, while calling us to do the same.
By the end of this academic year, almost a dozen students will have preached during our Sunday night worship. These evenings give the community a faithful interpretation of Scripture, leadership through sharing the Good News, and challenging ways to recognize and engage God in day-to-day life… in a way that I, as an educated clergy person, as an outsider to the community, cannot. There is a unique movement of God that happens when each student in our community finds their own voice and shares it in worship.
The psalms were not sermons. Maybe you can’t share your pulpit (though read this about how need can beget innovation, one small church has half their members preaching), but maybe there are other places where poets, prophets and artists in your midst can use their God-given gifts, their Spirit-filled voices to lead their community higher and deeper in worship of our creative God.
I leave you with a spoken word poem, preached a few weeks ago at Common Ground, as a part of a collaboration with the Black Students Association. An interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13.
I cannot promise you much
But I can promise you this
If I can give you nothing else
I will give you love
I will listening to your problems
And speak on them only if you ask
I will be a shoulder to cry on
Your 2 am phone call because you couldn’t sleep
Your 5am ride from the airport
And your ride to work at noon
I will write a poem & perform it in front of thousands of people simply because you asked
I will be your helping hand
A friend that lifts the weight off your shoulder when you cannot bare it any longer
I will be your diary
and keep your secrets under lock and key
I will encourage you when you cannot encourage yourself
I will pick you up when your down
No matter how often you stumble or fall
I will be your safe guard when you are defenseless
I will be the small flame to lead you through the darkest of days
I will do all this
and so much more for those that I Love
Because Love is neverending
It knows no finish line
– Diamond Brown
Abby King-Kaiser is the assistant director for Ecumenical and Multifaith Ministry at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University. She returned to her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, for this call after a long sojourn in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a coffee snob, occasional painter, and obsessive, though amateur, Instagrammer (@revabbykk).