How Do We Worship // Food

This might seem like a really strange topic. Worship and food. These two things do not seem to go together at all, at least not in a healthy way. We might think of people who, figuratively, worship food with their lifestyle, or who rely on food to deal with emotions (chocolate and cheese, anyone?) It could also spring to mind images of religious groups who do, quite literally, worship what we might see as food - viewing animals as gods and reveering them as being sacred above all else. 

The kind of worship I'm thinking of here, as you might have guessed, is not either of those. It's not even the act of thanking God for our food before we eat it, as much as that is an important thing to do. 

An act of worship that includes eating together is something we have been talking about for a while now - but which I have only recently really come to grasp on a new level. 
When we started moving towards our CORE bible study becoming an evening service, there was a great deal of planning, praying, and a lot of enthusiastic dreaming. For many of those involved in this process, it felt like a monumental moment and a really important first for us. It was the first time many of us had been part of starting something completely brand new. 
So we did what perhaps all twenty-to-thirty-somethings would if given the opportunity to start a new church service. We looked at the book of Acts. 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled will awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
— Acts 2:42-47

In a very simplistic way, this became our template. We deliberately included the breaking of bread and prayer in our service - in the form of communion once a month (some of those who attend in the evenings don't get the chance to go to a morning service, and this is also something we enjoy sharing with one another as a smaller family within our wider church family). But we also very deliberately decided, from the very beginning, that we would eat together after our service. We break bread in our homes and eat together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of one another. 

Over the course of my life, I remember some significant times when I have shared meals with people after church services. As a young girl, I can very distinctly remember Fellowship Lunches (90's church lunches were the bomb). In fact, I am so eager to bring these back that I've almost volunteered myself to organise one several times before realising that maybe someone who enjoys and is gifted in food preparation should handle that one. There is something about the amazing smell of sausage rolls, bread, soup and casseroles wafting out of the church hall as you leave the morning service that is just amazing. Whoever can bring, does. Everyone shares. Everyone has enough. There are usually leftovers. This, to me, is a perfect example of biblical bread-breaking. 

Another strong memory is hot chips at our (very aptly named) After Church. Yes, this was the teens and young adults who would hang out... after church. It was held at our house, and for years I waited (impatiently - brushing my teeth in the doorway for 15 minutes just to watch them hang out) to reach high school and be allowed to stay up. Someone bought chips. Everyone shared. There were never leftovers (because teenagers and hot chips).
Breaking bread, forming community. 

During the years we lived in Canberra, before marriage and children, we ate together with our friends after both the morning and the evening service. This probably had more to do with having disposable incomes and fast metabolisms, and usually involved Fortune Box for lunch and KFC while watching the F1 for dinner. We all brought our own, but I don't think anyone ever missed out, and I'm sure that people bought for one another over the years if there was ever need. This is a very different picture of breaking bread, but it's a part of what forms my experience of eating together in fellowship, and formed some of the strongest friendships of my lifetime. 

Obviously, food and friendship have a strong connection in my mind. 
This has shaped so much of what we have done with CORE. Everyone contributes if they can (if not, no one notices) as we all put in $5 towards the dinner. We often take it in turns cooking. Afterwards someone washes up (most of the time).
Over the course of the last year, this has particularly shifted from being a lot like our time in Canberra where we hung out in friendship, eating, and has become more like fellowship. 
The conversation will often follow on from what was spoken about at the service beforehand. Or what is happening in people's lives. It's encouraging and uplifting. We pray together. Someone turns on the computer and plays 90's worship music in the background. People break off into smaller conversations. There is often a conversation around the hammock in the backyard, sometimes about philosophy, theology or just ideas about life. 
The kitchen is where dreams are shared: it's where our prayer group started a few years ago. It's where realisations about who God is come about from passionate conversations. It's where people have begun to fall in love. 

It has been a deliberate decision. Not to just eat together. Or even for everyone to bring their own food and eat what we can individually afford, together in a room, but separate in ways that are unspoken. We share in everything. We share in the decision to create a culture where dinner is an extension of the worship service - it's a time to glorify God in our conversations, in our jokes, in the advice we give to one another, and in the spirit of correction that sometimes has to be gently meted out. 

Through this time, food and fellowship have become one of the most beautiful expressions of worship I have experienced. Every Sunday night as our home is filled to overflowing with hungry stomachs and full hearts, we see the beautiful expression of a God who created us to be like him: to be in relationship. When I think of our church, and the ways in which we worship God, sharing food is one of the most defining aspects of who we are and how we love. 

Skye is our Worship Coordinator, and is exploring the beautiful challenge of how to worship when you can't even play the triangle. 

How Do We Worship // Music

When I was appointed as the Worship Coordinator for our church, I actually laughed out loud. Not really in a 'ha ha' way, or even in a joyful way (as much as serving the church does bring me a lot of joy.) I was probably more comfortable in the role of Youth and Young Adults Rep (a role my husband is now doing a great job at), and Worship Coordinator was a title I believed fell about as far from my skill set and abilities as possible. I would almost feel more qualified to be the Men's Rep than the Worship Coordinator (I'm joking - mostly). 
If you can picture the laugh of Sarai when she was told she would be a mother: that's the kind of laugh that escaped from my mouth. It was a you-don't-realise-how-impossible-that-is laugh. 

But a little while before this, I had seen a post from Lisa Bevere on Facebook (around the time we were starting up EMPIRE Youth) that resonated with me so loudly that I saved it on my computer and have gone back to it routinely since then. 

Maybe in the past there have been times you have felt unfit, but never forget this. It is GOD who makes you FIT. He does not call the qualified. HE QUALIFIES THE CALLED.
— Lisa Bevere

So, with a bit of prayer (and a lot of encouragement), I set out to see how I could bring something different to this role. How I could do it from the abilities and gifts God had given me, and how my perspective of being completely untrained in music could be of benefit to serving the church, not only as part of the worship band, but also in leading the various bands and the church in the administration of worship. 

We are in the process of exploring as a church who we are, and what we believe. For me, in this role I'm still learning to do well, a big part of this is how do we worship?

I have a bit of a series of blogs brewing in my heart about the different ways we worship (because one benefit of having a non-musical Worship Coordinator is that they might also worship God in very non-musical ways) but to start with, let's look at music.

One of the practical things we have been doing is to find out the music people love to worship to. This comes as part of a balancing act: the focus should not be on us and what we 'like' or creating a culture where people are only happy to worship if they know (and enjoy) the songs, or the way they are being sung. But for most people, I believe there are certain songs that speak their heart, their love of God, and release an ability to worship in a way that is personally more powerful than others. Seeking out these songs has been a process of joy and I'm hopeful and prayerful that it will lead us into a place where we, as a church, can worship wholeheartedly throughout the entire worship portion of the service. Why? Because as we begin to consciously realise that through certain songs we are able to express our worship in a deeper way, we might also realise more profoundly that this is also the case for others. Through this, I really believe, we can find joy in, and worship along with, the heart cry of others even through a song we don't know or particularly find inspiring or relevant to our personal experience with God. I believe that when we see and hear the people we love - our family - worshipping God through words or a melody we aren't familiar with, it stirs up something in us and we want to join together with them.

One of the things I have learnt over the last few years is that I can choose to worship through a song I don't know (or can't sing well) or I can let my heart grow hard against it. But if I choose not to worship in these moments that don't fit my idea of 'worship' then I am basically making worship about my own experience, my own encounter with God, and wanting to bring Him to my level rather than being able to stop and see Him in a new way. I've practiced over time being able to enjoy worship even when I don't know the words. Many years ago, I met a young man who would routinely sit down during the worship session at our big, Pentacostal church in Canberra. I'm sure you can imagine that this was an unusual thing in a church largely made up of young adults to middle aged couples who really liked to worship. I can't remember if I asked him if he was okay, or how the conversation came up, but he told me that he felt free to worship in silence or in song. Sometimes he just needed to sit and listen, or sit and pray. 
In those moments, he wasn't an isolated person in a room full of worshippers. He was part of a family who were worshipping God. He just wasn't singing with his mouth. He was playing a different part in our melody to God. His heart might have been praying, or he might have just been sitting back, joining God in admiring the beautiful sound of a group of people lifting up their magnificent God in worship. There is freedom when you realise that a heart focused on God is in worship, even if the outward appearance might not be of joyful song. 

Over the last few weeks I've had the secret pleasure of sitting in the service a few times through worship when a song someone has chosen as one they love has been played. I've known who wrote that song down on their list after serious deliberation, and I've been able to quietly watch as their face lights up and they sing a song they may not have heard for many years, or one they've only ever been able to sing along to a recording of, because it was written quite recently and we haven't learned it as a church. In some instances, I have never heard these songs before. I've joined in those moments with a private joy shared with God, where I really feel like I'm partnering with Him in a way I couldn't if I was able to force the production of perfect sounding music, with rules around the quota of Hymns, newly-released songs, and songs that are themed with the bible reading. If I could do this perfectly, I would probably get caught up in it. I like to do things perfectly. Instead, I get to focus on what I can do well: people and relationships. 

My role as a worshipper is to worship God. That is fairly simple. My husband's role when he is worship leading is to worship and do everything he can to make it easy for others to enter into worship alongside him, if they choose to. But my role here is different. It's very people-focused at the heart of it, at least until I begin worshipping. It's creating a culture where people are tapping into their ways of worshipping, both at church and in their personal lives. 

And I'm excited to see the ways God equips me, the very unequipped. 

Skye is our Worship Coordinator, and is exploring the beautiful challenge of how to worship when you can't even play the triangle. 

Empire Youth / that's my jam

A few weeks ago, our church got to celebrate launching our new youth group: Empire Youth

We launched with a group of leaders from our Sunday night CORE service (5pm, Sundays) and a crew of very excited youth. A lot of these guys had been coming along in term two, before our official launch, to help us build some stage decorations, dividers, and shields for our PACKS. The result was an already tight-knit group of young people who had actually built this ministry from the ground up. We were nervous and excited.

As much as it's exciting to bring youth together into one place, give them a space to connect with each other and with God in a relevant way, and be in their lives, there is another aspect to this new ministry that has had a surprising result: social justice. 

I've got to admit that social justice is my jam. Those who know me well know that I rarely am without a cause. And I dive in deep. The last time I grabbed hold of a cause with all my passion, we ended up starting a local, non-profit, handmade market and running it for almost three years. This time, I think I might be in real trouble because I've found a social justice cause that resonates so deeply with my heart.
And it is, of course, related to food. 

I really love food. And I've also experienced periods of my life where there's been just barely enough to survive on. As a uni student living in Canberra, I used to buy a few things every week: a packet of rice, a block of cheese, a loaf of bread, packet cheese sauce, and a bottle of milk. I would cook up a huge bowl of rice, mix the cheese sauce through it, and eat it with a little bit of cheese on top for lunch and dinner almost every day. Breakfast was toast and a cup of tea. As a young married couple, my husband was working a job he loved but which paid very little, while I went back to university. We lived off exactly $270 a week after our rent was paid, and this had to cover everything: bills, food, petrol for commuting to Canberra each day. We were also paying $300 a fortnight off a loan. For some reason, we didn't receive any gas or electricity bills for eight months. The week after I started back at work, our bills showed up and we were able to pay them. We stayed afloat. But I can't imagine what would have happened if my husband had lost his job or if I hadn't had the option of going back to work.

Our church partners with a program called Revive, which operates out of the front of our church building and opens three days a week to meet with people from our community who are struggling. People who have run out of food or had their electricity disconnected, who have just been released from jail, or who are trying to leave abusive relationships. People who need someone to listen and to help. People who don't have anywhere else to go. 

For a while now, our dedicated volunteers have had to turn people away or close the office because the resources and food are just running out too quickly each week. They might open on a Monday with a full cupboard and with vouchers to give out, but they often go through everything in one day. The need is just so great.

When we proposed our concept for Empire Youth a few months ago, a footnote in the plans was the idea of incorporating Revive into our ministry. Instead of asking for an entry fee to cover the costs of hot chocolates, snacks and games, we provide those things for the youth and ask them instead to bring a can of food or other non-perishable food so we can donate it. 

What I had expected was to have this little tiny facet of our Youth ministry that only I really cared about. I'd expected this to be something that I would try every week to convince people was important. I thought maybe they would humour me, maybe a few kids would remember to bring donations. What I didn't expect was that with just 20 young people (youth + leaders, all under 30yrs) we would have almost 100kgs of donations in the first two weeks alone. 

What I didn't expect was a group who didn't need to be taught to think about others. I didn't expect a group of people who didn't need to experience not having enough in order to want to give to those in need. I definitely didn't expect to have leaders figuring out what they could cut from their grocery shopping in order to replace that part of their budget buying rice and canned foods for others. I didn't expect to have people researching where the best sales were each week, or thinking of different types of things they can donate to make sure that there is a good variation of options, or so that someone might be able to feed their whole family. 

In 2 Corinthians 9, it says that God loves a cheerful giver. I've never seen anyone give so cheerfully as this group of young people. You should hear the shouts as we announce how much each PACK donated. We want to be a practical church, who reaches the needs of those around us. 

This week's theme for EMPIRE is jam: because when people run out of food, often the first thing they will go to is toast. A jar of jam and a loaf of bread can go a long way for someone who is desperately hungry. Join us. Bring some jam to church. Empty your pantry of (unopened and in-date) food. Talk to the volunteers. Find out what they need. Let's be a church that welcomes strangers and feeds the hungry. 

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:35