(Written while on retreate at Montreat Conference Center, posted later)
I’m sitting here in my little wooden chair, in my room at the Assembly Inn at the Montreat Conference Center, having just had a cold shower (hot water is an issue here, but the shower wasn’t that bad), with the windows wide open to the cold morning air of the mountains, watching the light creep up over the edge of the baby mountain in front of me. I’m sitting here in the dark, waiting for day that mostly involves driving and flying, and I’m thinking…I don’t care. I don’t care, because I’ve been fed.
And I don’t mean the exceptional local farm to table meal I had at the Black Mountain Bistro last night.
You see, I am here because I attended a one day session with John Bell. For any of you who don’t know who John Bell is, well, let me tell you (and let me tell you that my idea of an answer to that question has changed greatly after yesterday’s session). First and foremost, I would tell you that he is a pastor in the tradition of the Church of Scotland. Then I would tell you that he is a member of the Iona Community in Scotland, an ever growing intentional living community dedicated to the revitalization of the worship of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And then, most specifically I would tell you, that he is one of the principles of the Wild Goose Resources group, whose members travel the world, conducting classes and seminars dedicated to the revitalization of worship every corner of God’s kingdom.
No, he doesn’t travel with a guitar. And frankly, he can’t really sing. But it doesn’t really seem to matter. Because he really does know how to worship. And especially, how to be a conduit for the worship of others.
My first real knowledge about John Bell came during my class in music and social justice. Much of the music created by the Wild Goose Resources group is gleaned from sources they encounter the world over — people who are caregivers for the sick, who write hymns that talk of their needs and worries; transcriptions of hymns written by congregations in India, songs of comfort that sustained rebel youth in El Salvador through the dark days of war, which had never been written down.
But if there is one most important thing that I noticed about John Bell yesterday it is this — that he, with his gravelly voice and somewhat reticent Scottish presence, he is the embodiment of a pastor. I keep thinking about Barbara Brown Taylor’s description of what a pastor is, that is someone chosen by the community to act as a communication point between the community and God. Here was a person who really fit the job description.
So, despite the fact that, well, I’m pretty sure that there weren’t that many progressives in that room of 300 people, that I’m pretty sure we would have disagreed about some really fundamental concepts about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, I was fed. I heard the Word of God for the People of God. And I participated, and I was moved. I will never forget the moment, at the end of the day, when words and talking and music and praying all came together for that most special act of worship, coming to the table at Christ’s invitation. And the sound of all those people, each in a moment of private worship within a public context, singing the South African song, “Come Bring Your Burdens to God“, and the moment when the Deacon, who knew me not at all, looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “Susan, this is the blood of Christ shed for you”….I will endeavor not to forget.
Yes, I was fed.
And now, I’m ready to go one with my own work, whatever, that may be.