Resonating the Gospel

resonating It had been a long day. In fact, it had been a long week. The past several days had been spent training a new group of counselors to be faithful, joyful, and responsible stewards of the children that would join us in fellowship at Camp Cherokee in the summer of 2012. Jean and Kelly Howington, the directors of Cherokee Retreat Center (a ministry of Cherokee Presbytery) and I had spent these long days and nights equipping us all with the many skills needed to embark upon this sacred calling of Christian fellowship. The counselors were (understandably) exhausted and we were all ready for a couple days off before the first sounds of campers echoed through the hundred acres of Cherokee Retreat Center.

Before we adjourned, however, we escaped the muggy heat of the early evening and gathered in the dining hall of Parker Lodge for a closing worship before we enjoyed our much-deserved R & R. As the sun dipped behind the shores of Lake Allatoona, we sat cross-legged in a circle on the hard wood floors with a series of candles and liturgical dressings in the middle. The service began.

In the fashion familiar to all of us, we were called to worship and I began to lead an opening song on my guitar. I then invited us into a time of confession. We confessed our sins both silently and then together using a corporate prayer of confession.

I then mustered up a smile and assured the weary staff that our sins had been forgiven. "Hear the good news of the Gospel: Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was buried. But that is not the end of that story and it certainly is not the end of our own for on the third day Christ rose from the dead that we might be forgiven of our sins and live as a new creation! Hallelujah!"

In response to this good news of the Gospel, we sang "Halle, Halle, Hallelujah," a tune which we all knew by heart. The rhythmic, Caribbean groove began to erupt from my guitar, resonate off the hard wood floors, and resound with the live acoustics of the room.

The first time through, it sucked. No one was inspired, myself included. We had just heard that the Resurrected Christ had, quite literally, just snatched us out of the jaws of death, claimed us as his own, freed us from sin, and defeated the power of death once and for all and....we just sat there, with a most uninspiring song on our lips and no true joy in our hearts.

Philip, however, would have none of this.

As we entered the second time through singing "Halle, Halle, Hallelujah," this 10 year old child of God and glad recipient of grace began to enthusiastically beat on the hard wood floor to the groove of the Caribbean melody. We looked at him and smiled...but continued in our lackluster singing.

Philip, however, would have none of this.

With stubbornness and determination (those gifts of the Spirit given to every 10 year old, I suppose), Philip continued to beat ever more enthusiastically on the hard wood floor with a contagious grin upon his face. He looked around, waiting for us to get our act together.

One by one, as we entered the third singing of our sung response to God's grace, we began to join Philip in his joy. Following the lead of this percussive 10 year old, some of us began clapping, others stamped on the floor, and others swayed back and forth with celebration in our hearts.

As we finished the song, the room was filled with a chorus of witnesses, responding to the assurance that we are forgiven, all because Philip had reminded us of what it meant to truly embody the joy of the Gospel.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the Gospel goes from empty tomb to empty words without the presence of the Spirit! It is only through the life-giving Spirit that the Gospel resonates within us in such a way that we cannot help but proclaim it with all our hearts and all of our bodies.

And sometimes, curiously enough, it takes the wisdom of a 10 year old to remind us of this truth.

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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.