|Assembly music leaders branch out together|
Marcia McFee and Mark Miller rehearse before a November 2007
worship service with the Council of Bishops. They will team this spring
as co-directors of music and worship for the 2008 General Conference. A
UMNS photo by Harry Leake.
A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*
Feb. 25, 2008
The tree on the logo for the 2008 United Methodist General Conference
is serving as the inspiration for the music and worship directors of
this spring's gathering in Fort Worth, Texas.
"It came to me like a lightning bolt," she said.
It is also a symbol for how Mark Miller, of Plainfield, N.J., and Marcia
McFee of Truckee, Calif., are branching out creatively as they design
the worship experiences for the April 23-May 2 gathering.
McFee and Miller said their plans for the church's top legislative
assembly were shaped by the logo and the theme "A Future with Hope." The
logo was inspired by Jeremiah 29:11 and designed by Polly Shafer of
Pine Bluff, Ark.
McFee suggested using trees salvaged from Hurricane Katrina-damaged
Gulfside Assembly, a United Methodist retreat center in Waveland, Miss.,
for the altar, Communion table, pulpit and baptismal font.
"It was like throwing it in a wood chipper, and it all comes out in this
amazing, holistic way that is connected," said Miller. "The music feeds
into Scripture, Scripture feeds into images, which feed into who are
The holistic principle is evident in how Miller and McFee have teamed up
for the assignment of leading worship for General Conference. Each has a
lengthy resume, as well as experience leading worship at annual and
jurisdictional conferences. With General Conference, they decided their
individual skills would blend well.
"We complement one another because we have different skill sets (that)
enable each of us to do what we do better by working together," McFee
The Rev. David Wilson, vice chairperson of the program committee for the
Commission on General Conference, said Miller and McFee were
selected because "they bring so much talent, energy and experience
to this position" and that together "their creativity would enhance the
"Each brings their own unique experience when leading worship. Combining
talents like theirs would create an amazing worship experience for the
General Conference, and we certainly believe that they will," he said.
Throughout the assembly, the worship experiences will use the symbolism of the tree to maximum effect.
The tree is the symbol of "our salvation in a very deep sense," Miller
said. But the image of the tree planted by the river of light to heal
the nation, as found in the Book of Revelation, is most significant, he
said. He hopes the conference will help lead to a "healing of the
To emphasize the church’s global nature, trees from around the world
will be used during worship. Each day, a bishop will lead a prayer, and a
tree from his or her episcopal area will be projected on a screen
behind the altar.
The harvest from seeds planted last fall will be used as part of the
General Conference worship space. In 2007, McFee distributed envelopes
of seeds on which people wrote prayers, and the seeds were planted by
churches in the Fort Worth area.
"We are trying to connect the whole connection to our worship at General
Conference," she said. McFee and Miller also found numerous songs about
trees and seeds from across the world as they mined songbooks.
Worship will include more visuals and use of technology to give
delegates and visitors a multisensory worship and singing experience.
"We will use a lot of imagery and bring some of what is happening in new
frontiers in worship into our setting," McFee said.
Exploring new frontiers is nothing new for McFee, who is the author of The Worship Workshop: Creative Ways to Design Worship Together,
an interactive resource for worship teams and published by Abingdon
Press. She has preached, taught and led worship at a variety of United
Methodist gatherings in the United States, Europe and Asia as well as
for events for other denominations.
Loosening up delegates
A two-time delegate to General Conference, Miller said he has had
experience with the kind of spirit that pervades the gathering of nearly
1,000 delegates. He wants to help the delegates "loosen up."
"Having been there and felt that, I feel like I have a better handle on
what we are facing," he said. "Hopefully there will be different key
points where I can help people remember not to take themselves so
seriously and remember that they are not in control but that God is."
Like McFee, Miller has been a worship leader, teacher and performer of
sacred and gospel music across the church. He is director of music and
instructor of church music at the Drew Theological School, Madison,
N.J., and minister of music at Covenant United Methodist Church in
Plainfield. He is also a lecturer at the Institute of Sacred Music at
Yale University, New Haven, Conn. He has directed music for numerous
annual conferences and youth events, and he has composed hymns.
“We will use a lot of imagery and bring some of what is happening in new frontiers in worship into our setting.”
According to Miller, individuals may engage in personal devotion, but
worship is "gathering with people to have an encounter with God."
McFee defines worship as a place where people are transformed and made one in Jesus Christ.
"The intentional crafting of the liturgy, the pronounced words and the
way the words dance with the music and rituals are formative and
moving," McFee said. "If those pieces can really form us as a people who
are in dialogue together and know that the spirit is moving among us
and that God is present in a powerful way and that Jesus is walking with
us, then we would have done something grounding for the whole body."
The services will include many people sharing their musical gifts,
including a 23-member children’s choir from Uganda, techno-drummers, a
deaf choir, a praise band, and choirs from Texas and across the United
States. Music will encompass a variety of genres––Gaelic, Celtic, rap,
contemporary gospel, spirituals and traditional hymns––as well as songs
in African, Spanish and Korean languages. "We are trying to sing songs
from all over the globe," McFee said.
Responding to critics
After McFee and Miller were selected to lead worship by the
Commission on General Conference, critics questioned their lifestyles
and their efforts to champion the rights of homosexuals in the church.
The Good News organization, which describes itself as a forum for
scriptural Christianity in the denomination, addressed those concerns in
a Nov. 14, 2006, letter to bishops of the church, posted online.
"None of us would question the exceptional talent and gifts of Marcia
McFee of California and Mark Miller of New Jersey," stated the letter,
signed by the Rev. James V. Heidinger II, president and publisher of
Good News. "They are both musicians with impressive credentials. They
are, however, also activists for the pro-homosexuality Reconciling
The Reconciling Ministries Network advocates full participation in the
church by people of all sexual orientations. The Good News letter called
the Commission on General Conference’s selection "unfortunate" and
stated that it "implies an official expression of support for a
lifestyle that our (Book of Discipline) says is incompatible with
Christian teaching." Both the Reconciling Ministries Network and Good
News are unofficial United Methodist groups.
“Our role is to help people have an encounter with God.”McFee said her and
Miller's roles as worship leaders "is to simply facilitate the work of
the Holy Spirit and that is the great advocate, the Holy Spirit. My only
role is to open the way for God to work, for the Holy Spirit to work,
for us to be in tune with Jesus. That is the only advocacy I am about in
Miller offered a similar response. "The last thing I would want to do is
drive a wedge, and I do not want to be a hindrance to people’s
experience of worship and God," he said. "My agenda at General
Conference is to worship God and help others worship and praise God. I
feel like it is what I am made for. That is my agenda."
Miller and McFee compared their leadership at General Conference to the bishops who will preside over the conference sessions.
"Everybody is an advocate from their perspective. But in this role, we
are in a different role at this point. And that is to enable the people
of God to worship and facilitate that," McFee said. "It is the same with
bishops when they preside. Each of them has different perspectives, but
when they preside they are there to enable the people of God to discern
"And that is exactly what our role is at this General Conference," said
Miller. "Our role is to help people have an encounter with God."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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