Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > News Archive 2008 > February 2008 > News - February 2008
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 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 came to me like a lightning bolt," she said.

"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 involved."

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 said.

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 worship experience."

"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.

Seeds planted

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 nations."

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.”
–Marcia McFee

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 Ministries Network."

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.”
–Mark Miller
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 this."

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 together."

"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 newsdesk@umcom.org.  


Mark Miller: "United by God's Love"

Marcia McFee: "I'm Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing"

Related Articles

Music leader scatters seeds for General Conference

East, West Coast musicians to direct 2008 General Conference

Logo for 2008 General Conference keys on theme of hope

United Methodists seek change in tone at assembly


2008 General Conference

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW

Original text