My Life As An Acolyte

(Part 1 in the Worship White Noise series)

I remember the moments in the back stairway, behind the sanctuary, like they were yesterday. Clothed in a black robe and with a shimmering white collar, I knew I was in my element the moment I first walked out as a young acolyte through that creaking wooden door in our small United Methodist Church in Middletown, PA. 

Shadows Slam The Wall
As the fire of a lighter crackled into life on that back stairwell, the wick was lit on the end of my staff. Deep shadows slammed against the wall as the symbolic light flared on the end of that golden rod, and I was about to “bring an emblem of the light of the Spirit” into our service. After silently and reverently walking out in front of the congregation, I would ascend the steps at the front of the sanctuary and light the three altar candles in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The flame would represent Christ coming among us as the light of our world, and the altar candles would be lit to serve as a reminder throughout our gathering that Jesus is present with his church. At the end of the service, I would extinguish those same candles and walk out into the narthex – signaling that Christ moves with us into the world we know.
That’s heady stuff for a kid.

I was leading – in my own young way – worship.

The Call To Be An Acolyte
Worship – gathered worship – had begun and ended with someone leading the way. I was that young leader then, and I still see my calling as that of a humble acolyte – one privileged to lead people into experiencing God’s presence through the fresh, contemporary songs and liturgies that light our way to Christ-likeness today.

Somehow, as a small boy, I recognized that creating sacred spaces for humans to be encountered by God was important, vital, and immeasurably essential. For me, it would be my life’s calling.

As I lit the altar candles in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to welcome people to engage in gathered worship, little did I know much of my life would be spent doing the same thing in a hundred different ways. As I extinguished those same candles at the close of every gathered worship service, I instinctively felt I was providing a starting line, not a finish line, for a more expansive act of worship to come.

I See Worship – Everywhere
I couldn’t see then, through my young eyes, that a primary calling in my life would be to amplify and articulate the meaning behind the precious word worship. Through leading, writing, websites, and teaching, I would give my life to furthering the call to worship I saw pounding in every verse of the Scriptures.

From those early years lighting candles and singing the Gloria Patri in my small United Methodist Church, I went on to become a devoted Christian, then an artist, pastor, worship leader, denominational leader, industry content producer, author, songwriter and musician, radio communicator, university professor, and communications entrepreneur.

With feet planted deeply in both non-Christian and Christian worlds, my vision of worship began to slowly shift to what has emerged today. I began to see worship everywhere – at Disney World, at the Super Bowl, at the Grammy Awards, in homes, in mosques, and on Sunday mornings in my local church.

(Excerpted from Worship White Noise: Tuning In The 7 Worship Culture Shapers In The Chaos Of The Modern Worship Experience)