A Look Behind the Scenes of AC2019 Worship

June 18, 2019

By: Rev. Juston Smith

Have you ever wondered how the worship services at Annual Conference are planned and implemented? Well, I’ll give you an inside look of how it all comes together. I am Rev. Juston Smith, and I have been a member of the Annual Conference worship team for three years now.  The past three years have been eye-opening as to how worship comes together; as planning begins the day after the preceding Annual Conference. The worship team is given a theme for the quadrennium, and within that theme we are tasked with making all of the worship and recognition services congruent in telling a story.

For this quadrennium, Bishop Leeland shared that he wanted the theme to revolve around the four parts of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Common English Bible).  Thus, the breakdown becomes: 2017- Baptize, 2018- Teach, 2019- Obey, 2020- Go.  We have been thinking for two years on how we as a team would convey the word “obey” in liturgical, thematic, and visual design.  We decided, then, to go back to the basics; and for many of us on the team, it means looking to music.  Of course, we recognize the importance of music in our Wesleyan heritage, so what better place to look?  The first hymn that resonated with all of us was, “Trust and Obey.”  This hymn is very familiar to many, and we thought this was a good starting point.  However, we knew immediately the hymn could not be the sole focus, and if played or sung to much it would become a hinderance in the act of worship.  Let’s be real for a moment, we’ve all had the thought at some point before, “we’re going to sing that again?!”  In this light, though, you will notice the hymn text scattered throughout the various worship services in the liturgy, prayers, and eventually as the hymn itself in congregational singing. Another place in which the hymn written by John H. Sammis in 1887 became an imaginative factor was in the visual design planning.  Especially verse one and four:
When we walk with the Lord 
in the light of his word, 
what a glory he sheds on our way! 
While we do his good will, 
he abides with us still, 
and with all who will trust and obey. 
Then in fellowship sweet 
we will sit at his feet, 
or we'll walk by his side in the way; 
what he says we will do, 
where he sends we will go; 
never fear, only trust and obey.[1]
These verses, written with 1 John 1:7 in mind, “But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (CEB), helped the visual design team to share the theme of “obey.”  When you look at the stage of Stuart Auditorium, look at the backdrop of the blue flowing fabric.  Upon the fabric, you will notice the projection of a compass (we’ll walk by his side in the way).  The compass is a visual image of God’s guidance upon this journey of life. Along with the compass, sparkling around the backdrop you will see night stars shining from above (in the light of his word).  The stars have been and continue to be a way of telling direction.  We read in scripture in the birth narrative of Jesus the importance of the stars that guided the way.  Upon the many boats Jesus sat or napped in, the stars were a guidance and dotted the sky with beauty, even as Peter failed to see the true presence of Christ and floundered in the water.  And then, you will notice the large boat.  The boat acts as the anchor of the theme.  The boat obeys the wind; and in our Trinitarian language, we liken this to the Holy Spirit.  The fishing boat is adorned with fabrics, nets, baskets, and custom oil lanterns to help share in the experience where a command from Jesus was obeyed, “Jesus called to them, ‘Children, have you caught anything to eat?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net” (John 21:5-6, CEB).
It is the prayer of the Worship Team that all who enter Stuart Auditorium are able to experience the presence of God through the visuals, the music, the words, and that the theme of “obey” will surround you all.  From the beginning of this work in August of 2018, to the conclusion of Annual Conference 2019, this team has worked diligently to find and work with local artist, Lake Junaluska Stuart Auditorium crew, with the Bishop and Cabinet, and with laity from all over Western North Carolina to create this atmosphere of worship.  This is a task that is not taken lightly, and during the days leading up to Annual Conference, and following the conclusion of the closing worship service on Sunday, this team will spend hours behind the scenes making sure all of the worship services convey the Spirit of God.  

[1]The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 1989.

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