I have the privilege of serving two churches.
I serve Seward United Methodist Church. It’s the larger, more established of the two. Because of its size and location in a larger community, it requires more of my time and attention. It’s where the office is. It’s a short walk from the parsonage. It’s more traditional. It’s in the town where my kids go to school and where my wife works. It’s where I live. It’s a small town.
I also serve Moose Pass United Methodist Church. It’s quite a bit smaller. The surrounding community is quite a bit smaller. The facility itself is quite a bit smaller. And the number of persons gathered on a Sunday is quite a bit smaller. It’s less traditional and kind of functions like a small group where the connections among church members are strong and they share the common bond of living in a community that defines them in many ways. It’s almost the “suburb” of Seward…making it a very small town.
Both churches are awesome. Both have their “issues.” Both are engaged in ministry to their surrounding communities in ways that make sense for their context. And yet they are different in several ways.
One of the things that makes the churches different is worship, particularly the use of music in their services. Seward has a bell choir for part of the year, it has an established pianist, and our “praise band” sings most Sundays. The music is strong. In Moose Pass we have three musicians—and while none of them are as strong as the pianist in Seward, they are all delightful. They are well loved and fit the church community very well.
The folks in Moose Pass live very active lives which often call them out of the community; to experience the great outdoors, or make trips to Anchorage, or to work in Seward. So, sometimes it’s unclear who we are going to have play for worship on any given Sunday. Occasionally we just do it a capella.
When our primary pianist is unable to be in worship, we have a married couple who play the piano together—one plays the right hand notes and one plays the left hand. It’s a wonderful metaphor about working together to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. While they are not as strong as our Seward pianist they are a joy when they sit down together to work through the songs. The husband will also play chords on the organ when our primary piano player is there.
But one of the things that’s wonderful is that the husband loves playing the “Amen” at the end of hymns, even those where the United Methodist Hymnal has taken out the “Amen.” So, often, at the end of one of our songs there is a little pregnant pause in the congregation as we anticipate the “Amen” that doesn’t appear in the text but we know will be coming from the piano. It brings a smile to the faces of those in the congregation and to me as well as we wait for that second or two until our small group joins in the “Ahhh—Mennn!”
But what’s really special is singing “The Doxology.” We go through all the words:
Praise God from whom all blessing flow.
Praise God all creatures here below.
Praise God above the heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
And then comes an “Amen”…WITH GUSTO!
(It comes complete with a piano flourish between the two syllables.)
This might not work in every place. It’s playful. It’s joyful. But it’s something that brings a smile on the face of those who gathered, those who have known each other for a long time, who love each other, and who can appreciate this one musician leading us into an “Amen” and really mean it.
This past Sunday I called attention to this “Amen” phenomenon that happens in that small church in Moose Pass, Alaska and what a joy it is.
So, this week I’m looking for my “Amen” with gusto as I go throughout my days. I’m looking for a chance to offer God praise for blessing. I’m looking for ways God is at work in this world of ours and in our lives. I’m looking to give my affirmation and say my “So Be It.” I want to remember to give myself to God with a flourish and remember the joy that is felt in that small congregation when that one musician gives us an Amen with gusto.