“When we gather for worship, we bring all of ourselves, though some experiences or emotions might feel harder to name. Or maybe we feel pressure to keep them tidied away,” explains Alissa Bender when describing her worship resource in Voices Together. Found at #859, “God of Every Place” is an invitation to bring our whole selves to worship, no matter what space we’re in.
Bender continues: “With this prayer, I hope that we can name a diversity of ways that we enter worship and things we bring with us, also remembering that our neighbours may be encountering Jesus differently than ourselves. God welcomes every part of us to worship, and each of us has a next step of discipleship offered to us. Throughout life we discover that neither the mountaintop nor the valley is a place God intends to leave us. In a faith community, we hold each other in the highs and lows as we journey together with Jesus.”
For 12 years, Bender has been pastor of Hamilton Mennonite Church, where she often writes prayers and resources for worship. This prayer was written in 2015 for a MennoMedia bulletin series, inspired by the story of Jesus’ transfiguration as found in Luke 9:28-37. The story recounts Jesus going up to a mountain to pray with Peter, John and James. On the mountain, Jesus encounters Moses and Elijah and they speak about Jesus’ departure. The disciples see the two men in all their splendor speaking with Jesus. A cloud comes and covers them, and a voice comes from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the cloud leaves, Jesus was found alone. The disciples were speechless and told no one what they had seen.
When writing the resource, Bender drew from her experience at seminary years earlier as a group of students nearing graduation planned worship based on the Luke 9 story. “We reflected deeply together on the disciples’ experience and possible emotions in that story, as well as the known and the unknown that was before each of us as we sought to follow Jesus into different forms of ministry. We pictured ourselves as disciples with a variety of responses to this encounter with glory.”
Though Bender’s piece in Voices Together was written as a gathering resource, she suggests that it can have other uses in worship. The second half could make an appropriate sending resource, if the tenses of the verbs were changed: “Some of us have sought you today. . . .” She suggests that “Maybe it’s even a prayer that could bookend your gathering, welcoming all of our humanity into worship and blessing our humanity as we leave, on the path with Jesus.” It is the type of resource that could take on a special meaning for the community when repeated frequently enough to become well known and embodied.
The resource reads: “And in all places, there you are with us, nudging us onward. . . . Meet us all on the path made by Jesus.” Bender’s prayer is a powerful reminder for leaders and congregants that Jesus meets us where we are, and that our full beings—all our anxieties, griefs and joy—belong in worship.
Anneli Loepp Thiessen is a PhD candidate in interdisciplinary music research at the University of Ottawa and was a committee member for Voices Together.