Students assembled into the gallery space at International Arts Movement on Friday morning after a night out on Broadway to see Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
The class began with a discussion about the play that included parallels to Biblical narratives, and thoughts about how the story can be used to understand relationships between people.
Professor Todd Johnson segued that conversation into a lesson on worship that emphasized relationships. His thesis was that just as theater actors tell a story by becoming a part of the story, worship is people telling the story of Christ by embodying it in the family of God.
"The problem is that most people haven't really thought through what worship means nor the implications of it," Johnson said. "So we have terms that are almost nonsensical when you put them in the biblical perspective."
People often refer to "my worship experience" or "my worship moment," Johnson explained, expressions that are possessive and interior, rather than the communal participatory form that it was originally in the Old Testament.
Taking the words of the apostle Paul to the people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:13-33), Johnson highlighted the interdependence of the gifts of God in worship, and how the whole church must participate.
The person at the front of the church, then, is coordinating the gifts of the body of Christ as worship, rather than leading the church in worship.
"Christian worship is organizing the gifts of the body of Christ in a theological order, and empowering all people to participate," Johnson said. "The primary actors are the congregation."
He cautioned students to be mindful of what they are communicating as they organize the worship times at their churches.
"You are making theological statements about worship that are forming people in the way they are thinking about God," he said. "The songs you sing and the way you sing them say more about what you think about God than even the lyrics."
Johnson also advised the class to have a decisively theological sequence in the way they set up worship times. If the theme of the worship time is to give thanks, everything needs to build up to the point where people are prompted to express thanks, he said.
He concluded with this statement: worship is performance art that is done for the building of the body for the glory of Christ.
"Once we were individual grains or grapes. Now we are connected as one in the loaf or in the cup," he said. "My prayer is that our identities will be so clearly grafted into the community that our gift will seem incomplete without the gifts around us."
The class was challenged to reflect on how the narrative of the Brehm immersion course intersects with their story, how the narratives of their peers interact with their story, and how all of their stories interact and find their home in God's story.
The second NYC immersion course titled "Calling: the History, Theology, and Experience of Christian Vocation" will begin on July 15.
To learn more about the Brehm Center and how to take the immersion course, go here.
To read more stories and student reflections from this week, go here.