Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Bishop's Gathering: Clergy sense Spirit as they study


Marcia McFee holds aloft a candle as worship opens Sept. 24 at the Bishop's Gathering. Nancy McCullough folds her hands in prayer. Photo by Holly McCray

By Holly McCray

The worship leader carried a candle into the center of hundreds of people. The crowd quietly turned toward that light, and a banquet room was transformed into an intimate, sacred setting for the Bishop’s Gathering in late September.

More sensory worship intermingled with teaching and preaching for the 325 people, mostly clergy, who attended the two-day educational program hosted by Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. at the Reed Center in Midwest City.

A deep spiritual experience is Marcia McFee’s goal when she designs a worship program. She created 22 of them for the 2012 General Conference.

Worship planning "is not about what you can afford, not about bells and whistles, not about checking a to-do list," she told the Oklahoma audience. "Break away from surveys; worship is not about what you like and don’t like."

She suggested leaders ask worshippers to talk about what touches their souls, "then build on that. Prepare to soar."

She considers these aspects: verbal, visual, and visceral. Worship planning is about "deepening and heightening what we already do," she said. "Cut the small talk."

Announcements can seem merely small talk. But McFee said they help people understand that worship happens outside the church. To make them concise, she advised, limit each to three sentences: what it is, how it connects to the church, where to get more information.

Advice on preaching came from Pastor Jim Jackson of Chapelwood UMC, Houston. Preach the Gospel and not religious rules, he declared.

"The Gospel will make you surrender your ministry; grace breaks in on you," he said.

"Great preaching today is the unconventional Word made flesh through the exposition of Scripture that helps the congegation see what is being communicated."

Rev. Jackson was asked: How do you grow the church in a difficult climate and culture? He responded with several points.

  • Start worship services that fill a specific need, not simply duplicate services.

  • Write down daily a few illustrations from your life or from laity, and weekly read a book related to a sermon topic.

  • Use your personality and subjects about which you feel strongly.

  • Whenever possible, preach without notes.

  • Videotape what you do, then discuss with friends or trusted church leaders.


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