Participants sat around tables circling a potter’s wheel alongside a baptismal font. With two tables covered in burning tea light candles alongside one edge of Montreat’s Convocation Hall, and two guitars and a piano along the other side, Bronsink lead the group in what was called an “emergent worship” evening.
“This is a chance to drop your shoulders,” invited Bronsink as he metaphorically painted a vision for those gathered of their work and ministry in the church. “You are commissioned and free to take risks.”
The interactive worship blended together hearing the word, tasting of the bread and the cup, watching as a potter formed a lump of clay into a vase, listening to music, and joining in the chorus.
“When you are being thrown (as pottery on a wheel) it is not worth leveraging everything trying to be thrown into another form,” warned Bronsink. “The center is found and you are formed. It is an effortlessness that takes more effort than anything else.”
Bronsink, who co-lead a workshop for the conference with Adam Walker Cleaveland on Emerging Worship, helped those gathered embody some of the learning.
“When (Saint) Patrick went into Ireland he would infuse the practice of the people with meaning,” shared Bronsink. If banking the fire was a regular part of life, then Patrick would teach them to pray, “Bank the fires of my heart.”
“A regular practice means saying let’s be intentional about the things we do regularly, and that’s not traditional or contemporary,” he continued. A regular practice is, in a sense, a gimmick, but it is for a larger purpose. Bronsink used the example of placing his car keys near the front door as a way of always knowing where they are. It’s a trick that helps him remember.
“We often talk about a church service as if folks get serviced and then they are free to go,” he pointed out. What is needed instead is to invite those who participate in worship to be co-creators, part of the process. In this way, they come to worship, to something that has not already been created for them, and they are contributing to what is formed.
After watching the potter at work on the wheel, participants in the emergent worship experience were invited to take a chunk of clay from the center of the table and create their own ebenezer, their own symbol of how they had seen God at work.
‘“Is our worship pre-formed or reformed?” Bronsink wondered aloud. “A potter will sit at the wheel and begins to listen to the clay — a good potter listens to what the clay can become.”
Listening is essential, according to Bronsink. In discussing the idea of being curators of God’s art, he cautioned against jumping to easy conclusions before realizing that there may be much more to a situation than one might understand. “Something about being an artist and God’s artwork can get us a little big headed at times,” he admitted. But remembering that we are also called to be curators of God’s art means that God might just be doing something far greater than we can know or understand.
“A curator is one who is a fan of what God is doing in the world around us,” Bronsink explained. “In that sense the church is more of a means than an end in and of itself.”
Being a fan includes having a vision for the dreams one has for the church. Bronsink recalled an experience asking a group of church folks their hopes and dreams for the church. “Everybody’s dream was nostalgic because they didn’t have a vision for the kingdom into the future.”
People create in all areas of life, yet when they come to church we offer them something that is already pre-made, he explained. “The world is changing and we are called to be a part of it,” he said.
Worshippers, hands dirtied by the earthiness of the clay, bellies filled with bread and cup, and whose minds had been challenged, sang a closing benediction.