MUNCIE, Ind. – The third annual conference session for the Indiana Conference opened June 8 at Ball State University with words of greeting from conference co-lay leaders Ike Williams and Kayc Mykrantz and then a ballot for the laity delegation to General Conference.

Karen Schwartz of Fountain United Methodist Church was the winner of this year’s laity manuscript contest.

Schwartz’s manuscript was titled “What Does Passionate Worship Mean to Me?” and is based on Psalm 113.

She began by sharing with the laity about what she is passionate about: family, her farm, various hobbies and activities and more – without any hesitation. “These seemingly superfluous preferences represent core level, instinctive passions,” said Schwartz. “But, when considering the topic, ‘What Does Passionate Worship Mean to Me?’ that’s a completely different experience on many levels. Do I love worship? Am I passionate about the worship service?”

To further explore passionate worship, she developed a PASSION chart, with each letter representing an aspect of worship.

P stands for peace. Schwartz sat in her church on a Saturday afternoon and experienced incredible peace in the deserted church sanctuary. “No communication with fellow worshippers, no music, no distractions – just meditation about what worship in this church means to me.” Her church’s foundation came from the still house of William Henry Harrison and was organized as a German Reform Church in the mid-1800s. “Faith marches on at Fountain.”

A stands for the altar. “Three years ago our historic church was flooded. The congregation, community and the conference came together to help us rebuild. This year, we were successful in reinstalling the altar. I don’t think we realized how much we had missed this piece of wood.”

S stands for Scripture. “The best definition I have heard of the words from the Bible come from the Junior Bible Quiz definition, which is the first piece of knowledge that every student had to master before moving on to the next level. The comprehensive definition is given as: ‘The Bible is the inspired word of God and His revelation, to man of Himself and His plan of salvation.’”

S represents song. “Singing is an integral part of the worship experience for me. I can’t begin to express how much the old familiar hymns mean to me,” said Schwartz. “God has blessed me with the talent to remember virtually all verses to all those old hymns I grew up singing.”

I stands for inspiration. “Although I passionately enjoy every part of the Bible, I am especially partial to Isaiah. Isaiah Chapter 3 gives us the perfect template for the inspired way we should live our lives: ‘Come let us go up to the mountains of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’”

O represents “Our Joys and Concerns.” Fountain begins with triumphs and joys and then moves to the concerns of the people. “This is a vital component of the worship ceremony as we demonstrate our concern for one another.”

N stands for new life. “All of the above mentioned items – the peace, the altar, the songs, the scriptures, our joys and concerns and even inspiration and Isaiah, don’t mean anything without the new life which we have through Jesus Christ.”

Schwartz talked about the clash between religion and society. “How did the two – religion and our daily life experiences – ever get separated, compartmentalized? In our minutely scheduled, restrictive view, we have our religious experiences on Sunday thrown in. The rest of the time, we are definitely of this world.”

How do we respond to the work week, with its numerous activities and events. Even in church, we act a certain way as we pray and sing and other activities. We even subconsciously say “See you next week” to a variety of worship experiences. “Our religious calling is replaced with, ‘We’re just too busy…I’ve just got too many things to do.’”

Schwartz believes that the way to get back on track is to start with children and start by going to church on Sunday. “It shouldn’t be just something that we do. It should be something that we passionately want to do. But our religious experience shouldn’t end there. It should carry with us throughout the week and throughout our lives.”

Other recipients of awards for the manuscript contest include Jerry Babitz, first runner up from Centenary UMC in the North Central District; and a tie for second runner up between Karen Rice, Cicero UMC in the North Central District; and John Wakeman, Faith UMC in the Central District.

Liturgical dance was provided by Muncie Gethsemane UMC Youth Mime Ministry and Muncie Women of Worship.

Photo by Linda Hoopes

The Muncie Women of Worship provide liturgical dance during the laity session of the 2011 Indiana Annual Conference Session.