Creating Worship a day spent with John L Bell


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Iona Abbey

Churches Together in Kelsall held an Iona Weekend with John L Bell on 18th & 19th April 2015

There was a "buzz of expectation," to misquote an Advent hymn, at KMC around 9.30 on Saturday morning, 18th April. At last the waiting was over and the weekend we had planned and eagerly anticipated for eighteen months, had arrived. People with familiar faces began to come through our doors, and it was good to think that we would be spending the day together, but perhaps even better were all the unfamiliar faces, some of whom had
travelled distances, whom we could welcome; all of us enthusiastically meeting, in the Easter season of new life, to listen to the man from Iona.
The focus of the two morning workshops was the use and the power of the imagination. John observed that a great deal of our living is governed by reason and logic creating rules and regulations and order, much of which is right and necessary, but equal regard needs also to be given to what the imagination has to offer. He quoted Nelson Mandela incarcerated on Robyn Island, envisioning apartheid graphically being seen to be defeated, on the day when a multi racial South African team would play in the World Rugby Union Finals. For President Mandela, the dream became a joyful reality. He spoke of the use of the imagination in pastoral work and instanced Rev. George MacLeod visiting a woman dying of cancer and substituting the wine of communion with champagne so that she would have "a foretaste of the heavenly banquet," which she had never been able to afford in her
impoverished Govan dominated life. What MacLeod gave her, John said, was a sense of the future God intends for his people.
He recognised that the imagination can have a negative impact, taking us to dark and frightening places, but reminded us of the incarnation, of God's great, "What if.......?" "What if I am born in poverty? ... What if I become a refugee?What if, when confronted with violence, I don't retaliate?...." There was an invigorating freedom in seeing Christ's life in this way. He then challenged us to have "what if" aspirations too. Worship of different kinds, at
different times, worship beginning with a meal, imaginative worship, because "we don't have to go where we've always been!"
John spoke too, of an imaginative approach to scripture. Since the Bible is composed of different kinds of books, they need to be read in different ways; some primarily with our minds, others with our hearts. He stressed the need to bring characters to life, to escape the received images of an upbringing in the church by asking imaginative questions and making the people real. "Once the story of a certain man who had two sons, is inside you, you will know what forgiveness and reconciliation is."
The songs we sang during the two singing sessions in the afternoon, illustrated the wide ranging use of the imagination in making the faith journey vivid and relevant to 21st century
living. Once John had taught us the tune, everyone seemed to be increasingly caught up in a surge of fervent, enthusiastic song.
The worship on Sunday morning was just as inspiring. Through the use of a relaxed, conversational style of speaking, through storytelling and pertinent amusing anecdotes, through music and drama, through the sense of the depth of John's own ongoing encounter with Christ, we were invigorated and challenged. Our churches must now continue to ask, "What if..." and dare to act on the varied, imaginative responses.

JOHN L. BELL is based in Glasgow and works with his colleagues in the areas of music, worship and spirituality. He does not have a mobile phone, driving licence, camera, i-pod or wife. He has never traced his family origins, played a guitar or eaten a Big Mac...
but you might know him as the writer of the hymns 'Jesus Christ is waiting', or 'Will you come and follow me', amongst others; or you may know his reputation as an inspiring teacher and preacher, a Wild Goose Resource Worker, part of the Iona Community.

The Iona Community, founded in 1938 by the Rev George MacLeod, is an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church. Its headquarters are in Glasgow, Scotland, where its publishing house Wild Goose Publications is also based, but its main activities take place on the island of Iona.

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