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Worship-arts symposium: Church called to help build City of God for all

December 3rd, 2019

Urban Doxology performing in Krehbiel Auditorium

David M. Bailey and Urban Doxology came across the country, from Virginia to Kansas, to bring “a foretaste of the Kingdom” to Bethel College.

Bailey and the music group Urban Doxology are involved in East End Fellowship in Richmond, Va., and were the keynote presenters at the 5th biennial Worship and the Arts Symposium, Nov. 22-23 on the Bethel campus.

The symposium theme, “Many Cultures, One Worship: A Foretaste of a Reconciled Heaven in a Broken World,” stemmed from Revelation 7:9-12, which Patty Shelly, Bethel professor of Bible and religion and the symposium planning group chair, read as part of her introduction.

The text begins: “… there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

Along with being a teaching elder at East End Fellowship, Bailey is the founder and executive director of Arrabon, named for a Greek word that appears in the New Testament when “the church receives the Holy Spirit as a foretaste of the kingdom to come.”

But instead of getting God’s kingdom, Bailey said, what the world got was the church.

Bailey believes the church is called to be a reconciling community, and that it has a long way to go. Arrabon, of which Urban Doxology is a ministry, seeks to give churches the tools to help move beyond aspirations to “effective engagement in the work of reconciliation.”

In his main symposium talk, Bailey moved through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, describing God at work toward that goal.

“God wants a people who reflect God’s image and likeness; a place where God’s rule and reign is enacted; a just society where God’s people are cared for holistically,” Bailey said.

“The Story starts in a garden and ends up going to the city – in other words, it’s about what people take from God’s creation, and then make.”

After the stories of Abraham, Joseph, captivity in Egypt, exodus, and then exile and conquest, “Jesus chose to come back as a member of an oppressed people,” Bailey said, “a society similar to the Jim Crow South, apartheid South Africa, today’s Palestinians in Israel.

“We [in this room] probably wouldn’t have been present when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. He didn’t go to the university, or to the rich people, or to the gated community. Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t to the people who were invited to the wedding, it was the people who were working the wedding. God’s vision and image is always revealed among the oppressed.

“We often see ‘Kingdom of God’ as ‘America 2.0’ [it’s not]. No matter what church or tradition or experience you come from, the Kingdom of God is the City of God, and it’s for everyone.”

One way in which Arrabon seeks to equip churches to work at reconciliation is through music. As Christianity Today noted in 2016, Bailey is “out to change the way U.S. … churches approach worship music.”

Arrabon has been hosting an urban songwriting internship program for the past six or so years, with the purpose of “telling new stories and creating new spaces of belonging, as well as to write [worship] music.”

The worship band Urban Doxology grew out of the internship program. Its website defines “urban doxology” as “any liturgy, preaching, or music and arts, that crosses boundaries in ethnicity, race and class [and] that prepares God’s people for the city of God.”

Urban Doxology stresses theology, anthropology and artistic excellence as part of what it means to lead worship (with music being an essential, never-absent piece).

These days, Bailey said, Christian songwriter Chris Tomlin is shaping more people’s theology than are the people who actually call themselves theologians.

“Leading worship is not only about the songs,” he said, “it’s about the entire experience. We bear the weight of that – how people understand their relationship to each other and to God. God’s Word is a part of every single [aspect].”

The symposium also included a chance to visit BRAID/WORK, the exhibit in Bethel’s Regier Art Gallery, a collaboration between Chicago artist Sarah Beth Woods and two professional hair braiders (Woods and one braider were present for the symposium), and to participate in one of two workshops.

One explored the story of a North Carolina congregation (divided about 70-30 between white and black members) and its work to address the reality of white privilege and white supremacy. The other dealt with reading the Bible, and telling the Story, from different perspectives and contexts.

Near the end of the symposium, a group of five people who serve in ministry or pastoral roles in a variety of ways participated in a panel discussion.

Michelle Armster, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee-Central States, observed, “The conflict the church has in the 21st century is the hope for a reconciled church vs. the reality of a divided church.

“Revelation 7:9 is the hope. Those of us who are Anabaptist believe the Kingdom of God is both coming and has come. In reality, there’s work all churches need to do.”

Said Brandon Redic, pastor of The Bridge church in Wichita, “Now that we’ve made up our mind to be a multi-ethnic church, the ‘church on Sunday’ part is easy. It’s after Sunday that’s hard. That’s where true reconciliation happens, where we take the time to listen humbly – no one comes to the table as an expert. We come to listen and to learn.”

The symposium closed with worship featuring both Urban Doxology and the Bethel College Gospel Choir – followed by a surprise: a literal taste of God’s Kingdom.

Symposium participants were invited to a “grazing table” created by Patty Meier of Mojo’s Coffee Bar that included foods from many cultures – curried chickpeas, couscous, chorizo sausage and corn tortillas, chai, hummus and much more.

The Worship and the Arts Symposium at Bethel College is made possible by the Reimer-Boese Worship and the Arts Endowment, which celebrates the lives of Katharina Voth Reimer and Thomas U. Reimer, and Maria Schroeder Boese and Abraham L. Boese. The former are the parents, the latter the birth parents of donor Dr. Rosella Reimer Duerksen, both of whose birth parents died in her infancy.

The endowment is intended to assist Bethel College in providing lectures, musical events, workshops or conferences which focus on the arts as tools for the communication of the faith. It is anticipated that, while some events may primarily serve the student body of the college, others will serve the broader community as well.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas private college, at #12, in “Washington Monthly,” Top 200 Bachelor’s Colleges; ranks at #23 in “U.S. News & World Report,” Best Regional Colleges Midwest; is Zippia.com’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to RNtoBSN.com; and earned its second-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star gold award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2019-20. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu  Melanie Zuercher

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.