Church leaders look past barriers to find common ground at Warner Robins conference

January 30, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- When Red Clay Worship’s first-ever worship conference ended Saturday, one of its organizers stood and asked participants to make sure they exchanged phone numbers or e-mail addresses with at least one other participant to stay in touch.

She said if that happened, a basic goal of the conference would be accomplished.

“I think the original intent of doing the conference was not only to nurture and encourage worship leaders and team members, but it was to foster an ongoing conversation among them across church and denominational lines,” said Nikki Collins MacMillan, who made the last minute request.

Brandon Carter, another of the three main organizers of the conference, said Red Clay Worship was born out of grass-roots relationships already being formed across Middle Georgia.

“This probably had its beginnings two years ago,” he said. “Some of us were working together in various ways, and a lot of us came together through the early open mic nights at the Bare Bulb Coffee shop. Initially, those nights involved a lot of worship leaders who came and did things they weren’t doing on Sundays. Friendships were formed, and discussions about worship began. We began to celebrate things that tie us together rather than the walls that divide.”

In fact, it’s MacMillan who runs Bare Bulb Coffee, which is located off Ga. 96 in Kathleen. It’s also a Presbyterian (USA) exploration in new ways of planting churches and forming faith communities. Carter is a member of Christ Chapel on Moody Road where the conference was held. There he leads a ministry he says works to prepare the hearts and develop the skills of would-be worship leaders and team members.

Carter, who works at Robins Air Force Base, said people from numerous churches take part in the program. MacMillan said Bare Bulb often uses those from Carter’s ministry to lead worship at their gatherings.

Many attending the conference Saturday, and many leading it, said although there were a lot of different “hows” of worship represented, all of them focused on just one “who” of worship.

“Today gave us a chance to explore and learn from other traditions and discover things that maybe don’t look like how we do church,” Carter said. “We were able to do it in a respectful way and learn without saying we were going to adopt everything we came across. There were a lot of different ideas expressed, but they all revolved around worshiping God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Admittedly, organizers recognized most attending were involved in contemporary worship -- worship styles usually involving bands and more modern songs and instruments. But there was an appreciation expressed for older, more traditional, sacramental and liturgical worship represented as well.

One breakout session involved finding meaning for today in past forms and practices.

“I really think the conference worked,” said T.J. Parramore, Red Clay’s third main leader. “It was to bring us out of our cliques with a heart to respect what each one does and to share useful tools about how we do it. I think the big take-away from the day is in community.”

Some of those tools came during break-out sessions that included topics like songwriting, playing in a band, servant leadership, technology and one session that featured representatives from three denominations -- Presbyterian (USA), Roman Catholic and Assembly of God -- answering questions about their group’s views and traditions on worship and theology.

Some of the tools came during the final hours of the day when a panel of worship leaders from eight churches in Warner Robins, Kathleen, Byron and Macon conducted a question and answer session. They received questions and offered advice on issues from how to stay fresh week to week as a worship leader and how to deal with unprepared worship-team members to exploring other ways of worship besides those involving music.

Organizers said Red Clay Worship was made possible in part by a grant from the Calvin Institute of Worship. A second conference is planned April 20 which will target a larger regional and national audience. It will feature nationally known author Rory Noland, author of such books as “Worship on Earth as it is in Heaven,” “The Heart of the Artist” and “The Worshipping Artist.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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