It's Wednesday night, and today was the first official day of the January 2010 session at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL. I've thoroughly enjoyed this experience so far, and our class time hasn't even started! But let me back up and give a quick rundown of the past few days...
Tracie, Tracie's dad and I all got up around 3AM Monday morning in Colorado Springs to get me to Denver International for a 7AM flight. Security confiscated my can of Diet Mountain Dew, I ate at Baja Burrito in the Nashville Airport, and a very small dog in a bag was on the flight from Nashville to Jacksonville. But other than that the day was pretty uneventful. I was very excited to see Bill and Laurie, two people who have prayed for and encouraged me since I was just beginning this journey into ministry. I wasn't very excited to find 40 degrees of coolness awaiting me outside the airport.
Yesterday was orientation for new students. There are around 20 Doctorate students, and 6 Masters students starting this semester. Each incoming group of students gets assigned a Hebrew or Greek letter, so before us have gone the Alpha class, the Samech class, etc. I'm proud to be part of the Khaf class. Ahem.
One of the "orientators" yesterday encouraged us to journal our experience. While I'm in Florida, I think I'll use my blog for this purpose. Hence, this post.
Yesterday was just some basic information about the school, its brief history, its progress in the accreditation process, etc. We started after lunch, they served us dinner, and we concluded for the evening. I went to a Starbucks and finished reading my 2nd of 6 books I need to read this semester before retiring for the night.
Today was busier. More orientation this morning, like how to use the online resources and how to access the IWS library. We took a quick tour of the facilities before lunch. After lunch was more orientation to help us plan how to do good research. I can't help but feel most of what we covered over the past few days is geared more for the DWS students instead of us MWS students. But it's still good information. After the presidential address, and dinner on our own (we went to Krystal, which is like White Castle but with a feminine name), we attended a worship service and finally a reception to end the day.
Now... here's the good stuff.
My heart has been lifted and encouraged to experience a "cloud of witnesses" on multiple levels.
First, there are immediate relationships I'm building. I'm meeting people from all over the country, and even a handful from other countries like Canada and Turkey. I'm loving the chance to learn their stories, to hear where they come from and what they do there. I'm blessed by the Doctorate students who are encouraging me, and I'm blessed by the friendships developing amongst the Masters students. There's a strong sense of community, of mutual encouragement and edification.
There are also those who have gone before. I don't know how many times I've heard people talk about Robert "Bob" Webber. I've met several alumni and faculty who display such an excitement about IWS that I can't help getting excited myself. Today in the library I recognized a name on a bound thesis, and pulled it from the shelf to read the words a friend wrote when he finished his Doctorate last year. I wondered if one day my name would be nearby, if God is calling me to go deeper and deeper in the study of worship, which is the language of the communion we share with the Triune God.
Then there's the amazing ecumenical environment. Ecumenical, by the way, means "representing a variety of Christian churches." I'm meeting other Baptists, but also Orthodox, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians. And much more than our differences, I'm struck by our commonalities, our collective yearning to know God and to make Him known!
Tonight I attended a full, highly liturgical but also blended Episcopal worship service. It took almost 2 hours, but it was an amazing experience. After reading Webber's Planning Blended Worship last week, the service took on new depth and meaning. I could see the gathering, the service of the Word, the worship at the Table, and the dismissal (see Acts 2:42) come to life in a new way. And though it was far from my worship experience and culture, I was able to appreciate and enjoy and focus on Christ throughout.
So that's where I'm at tonight. I have a feeling this will be a challenging week. But this "cloud of witnesses" has so far encouraged me to run the distance of this race. I may be tired at the end, but as I focus on Jesus, as I see worshipers from so many branches of the Church focusing on Him as well, I can't help but run. I'd be a fool not to.