Joy Too Abundant For Words

Many thanks to Sally Ann McKinsey Sisk, Rachel Hood, and Chris Vogado for their leadership in the worship service that inspired this post.  With much appreciation to John Fawcett for his musical invitation to see (and hear) things with a fresh grace.

     I have always loved words.  Of late I have become enchanted by the power of God-speech.  Today I was reminded that God-speech sometimes is prophetically uttered without words because, sometimes, words just won't do.
     At the chapel service today at Columbia Theological Seminary, this week's chapel leadership team led us in a reading of "the Prodigal Son."  Two readers came forth and began to read the familiar words:  "Then Jesus said, 'there was a man who had two sons...'"  It is not without a small amount of embarrassment that I admit to you that I almost immediately checked out after the second verse.  I, like so many others, have heard this story countless times and know exactly how it ends.  But, as I have discovered, the Spirit has a holy and unpredictable way of reorienting us in fascinating and invigorating ways.
     As the story continued and my mind wandered away (perhaps ironic given the content of the story), something happened that ripped me from my distraction.  As the prodigal son returned home to find the father awaiting him eagerly with joyful celebration on the agenda, the liturgists uttered these words of the passage:  "Now the elder son was in the field...and he heard music and dancing."  At that precise moment as the reading continued, a friend and colleague of mine, leaning casually against the wall of the chapel with guitar in hand, began playing music that immediately reoriented me to the story in a way I have never experienced before.  The tune was soft and yet playful and warm.  A very physical joy enveloped me as I heard the beautiful, celebratory music.  Simply put, the music forced me (I use that term intentionally) to feel the passage in a new way.
     I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the elder son as his father explained to both of us why there was such an abundant feast going on inside for our jerk of a brother.  We found that the music, more so than the words, expressed to us that this is a time of joy.  And what's more, this joy in this moment was too abundant for words alone to embody.  So perhaps the best way to understand God's grace is to stop talking about it and go inside and join the feast!

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Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.