Virtual worship and technology are a blessing and bonus, particularly during times like this. They have enabled churches to stay together, stay connected, reach people, and continue to worship together. But they will never take the place of actually being together in worship in the same location. There is nothing on any screen that will capture the passion of God’s people when they come together to worship. If you’ve experienced this in any setting as a believer, you know what I mean. It’s one of the closest things to a preview for Heaven that you can experience on earth. If there is one good thing I hope this COVID pandemic does, is that it changes the way we approach worship. I pray that no one will ever approach worship with ritualistic boredom again. I pray and hope that any apathetic routine will be broken and give way to a renewed passion like no other. I still remember the first time that happened in my own life. It was in an organ loft in the old Methodist Church I grew up in as a child.
My mother played the organ there when I was a kid. She played the organ with force and passion. Not force like you’re forcing something against its will, but force with such great intent and passion that it becomes graceful at its end. Many Sunday Services, she would allow me to sit in the organ loft with her. I would sit low at her feet. I remember watching her thick calf, panty-hosed legs and feet press against the organ pedals with great vigor and potency. Sometimes, she even let me press the pedals. Then, I would watch her upper body sway back and forth from side to side, then forward, then back, almost like a locomotive. Her robe would sway in the air with fashion and poise as she did all this. At times I was in awe. Many Sundays, it was likely the most exciting thing happening in those old traditional services, so my eyes were fixed and my gaze captured.
As I grew with age, sadly, I also outgrew the place at my mother’s feet in the organ loft. One Saturday morning, my mother had been asked to play the organ at the local Waxhaw Women’s Club Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser. I was a pre-teen at this point and childlike innocence was slowly edging out of my system. As I ate my pancakes and syrup with delight that morning, something caught my eye and swiftly swiped the delight from my heart. I saw two girls mimicking what looked like the Bride of Frankenstein playing a haunted organ and laughing. Much to my horror, they were mimicking my mother as she played the organ, and their impression was spot on. I know those two girls meant nothing by it. They loved my mom and were just being teenagers, but my mom had become the object of their parody, which ultimately meant, so had I.
In the blink of an eye, the feelings of awe I once felt in that organ loft were replaced with shame and embarrassment. Sadly, I felt my mom was being a source of humiliation for herself and for me. So on the way home, I asked my mother, “Mom, why do you have to play the organ that way? Why do you have to move around so much and make those faces when you play? Why can’t you just be still, calm, quiet, and not move so much?” She looked at me and very calmly and delightfully gave me an answer I was not prepared to receive. She said, “You know honey, I guess it’s just because that’s the way I express my love and joy for the Lord. I’m so thankful for all that He has done that it just comes out of me naturally that way. I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s my passion for Him that drives me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I quickly replied, “Yeah but, what about what all those people think…even the ones making fun of you?” Appropriately, she said, “Let them laugh and have their fun, they’re not my audience anyway. Jesus is my audience.” Perfect. It was an answer that nullified any further response. We never spoke of it again.
There are still Sunday mornings before I get up on stage to worship with a Body of believers that I reflect back to sitting in that organ loft as a child at my mother’s feet. The hosed feet pounding the organ pads, the shoulders passionately swaying back and forth, the many faces of splendor across her cheeks, the choir robe swaying across the organ seat over my arms. I pray, “Lord help me worship with force today. Not with the force that makes people do something they don’t want to do, but the kind of force that displays a passion so longing for Your pleasure that it produces graceful intent among Your people so fervent and zealous that it brings You joy and excitement, and changes Your people.”
I’ve now spent almost half my life designing and leading worship services. I never asked my mom, the one-time worship organist for any advice. I never had to. That’s because she gave me something better than advice. In that organ loft so many years ago, she gave me and the congregation a piece of herself, and that ended up being the best piece of advice I ever received for any worship experience. So be it for us all when we gather for worship again.