Excellence in Worship
To celebrate FSBC's 175th anniversary, our May 21st, 2023 worship service comprised of four different meditations from minister and church members alike. Below is part one of our anniversary celebration from our Associate Pastor, Caitlin Childers Brown.
It was the hot and muggy summer of 2018, squarely in July that Ethan and I had settled into Norfolk and began church hunt as we made this new found city our home.
Most of you know my story, how we finished seminary and moved to Norfolk knowing practically no one, coming in view of my call to ODUBCM. Our green little selves were filled with high hopes of what may come and we longed to make this new place home. Summer in college ministry means that students were home for the summer, and so I attempted to make heads of tales of this new place I connected with the people who were still in town: the churches.
When you work for a Baptist campus ministry, your ministry partners are churches all over the state, and all over the region and so no Baptist church was off our list to visit and join. We had a bit of a parade of churches, if you will, and it turns out that Hampton Roads is home to every flavor of Baptist church. But each time we landed at Freemason Street on a Sunday morning, I felt like I could breathe. We came in and sat towards the back, in fact right behind the Hollowells. We were welcomed with some friendly faces but tried to slip in, hoping to make heads or tails of yet another church on my list to visit.
The churches of my youth had hymns, praise and worship and many had their fair share of contemporary christian songs, but as I began to own my own faith, I craved more spaces for hymns and silence and prayer, and less flashing lights. As a choral student for 10 years, I also wanted the music to be in key, and I have to say purely on that fact alone I whittled through many hopefuls. There's just no restful worship when you're shuddering from off key music.
So as we entered Freemason Street's worship, we found a place where it not only was on key and has been for all of my time here (thank you Brandy). We found a place where the music was lovely, the prayer meaningful and the words thoughtful. We could breathe and rest our weary souls in worship with other thoughtful folks from different walks of life. And it was lovely.
My move from a contemporary church to a “high church” as those with labels would call us, with our robes and hymns and candles and liturgies, is not as unique as I wanted it to be. You see, there's a whole movement of younger people, seeking a deeper well of worship shifting towards the liturgy and creeds and hymns. Winfield Blevins, who wrote a book on the movements calls it the “New Great Awakening” and a “spiritual revival movement that’s drawing people back to ancient traditions.” It raises a lot of questions such as how many people are moving to these kinds of worship, and how might we better serve them. The sociological studies prove various results of answers, but suffice it to say, my cravings of a meatier, more thoughtful worship with more times for my soul to rest in God alone, were not a thing unique just to Caitlin and Ethan. It’s a whole movement.
The gifts of worship in Freemason Street, and why we chose to come here as often as our itinerant preaching would allow us, is the warmth of fellowship, but also the beauty and thoughtfulness of the worship. It’s a gift I still enjoy today.
To me, worship at Freemason Street is marked by its meditative songs guided by Brandy and the choir, hearty hymns of the congregation, and thoughtful words of the preaching and anyone else who speaks. It’s not often that a worship service allows a minister who is leading to breathe and pray and worship in song because we are doing the mental tasks of planning what’s next or ahead to guide. But here, even in the midst of work, I find my soul nourished in the songs of the choir, or the prayers of our members, or even the way some read scripture. From what I can gather of stories and readings, is that this thoughtful and meditative worship has long been a part of our DNA- from sermons from Dr Melton, to the singing of the 1970;s this has always been a place that values thoughtful and excellent worship.
In that excellence, in that striving for good thought and mind for our worship, we give space for people to prayerfully engage with God. Knowing they wont be pulled out of a prayerful spirit with a strange note, or an angry voice from the pulpit. Its using our gifts and talents to make our Sunday morning hour as not just a beautiful place all around us, but a sacred one in our words and deeds. In our excellence in worship, its ok to breathe out the stressors and other things that distract us from God, and to breathe in the hope of the Holy Spirit.
In preparing for today, I was trying to think if I had just one verse that might encapsulate so much of my understanding of worship, and I thought I might leave you with this Psalm as a prayer of worship.
And so we breathe out our worries of the week, of time rushed and hurried. And we breathe in, and we pray:
Psalm 138 I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
3 When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed.
5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.
6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me.
8 The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.