February 1st, I went to a Worship Alive! workshop with Lillian Daniels, who wrote Tell Is Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony. Her focus was on bringing testimony, a practice common in evangelical churches, to mainstream denominations. She defined testimony as a lay person telling a story about God in his or her life. It occurs to me that faith-sharing is also closely related: in small faith groups or retreat environments, people share their stories of faith in a safe, intimate, supportive environment. Giving testimony is a public version.
I am reminded about a discussion I had about a "dialogue homily" at a church. I was upset when I heard some people speaking disparagingly about a woman who had taken a personal risk and shared a very intimate struggle during a dialogue homily. I brought it up during a liturgy meeting and suggested that perhaps some guidelines needed to be stated upfront to provide safety in the sharing. But, what came out of the discussion was that a homily is different from faith-sharing, and faith sharing wasn't really appropriate in that context. A homily or sermon is breaking open the word. So, during a dialogue homily, everyone who speaks needs to consider him or herself a mini-homilist and make comments that reflect on the scripture.
So, testimony is a challenge: it's an opportunity for a lay person to share publicly. Lillian said people will listen to other lay people in a way that they won't listen to the pastor who is seen as a "super-Christian." She said it takes a confident community to "risk testimony." Testimony is risky to hear as well as give.
Lillian's workshop focused on figuring out how to integrate testimony into a traditional worship service. She is the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, and she asks one person in advance to prepare a testimony for a service. While Lillian didn't necessarily recommend it, I think if I were coordinating testimony in services, I would ask the lay people to give a testimony based on the gospel (or scripture) of the day. It would make the worship experience more coherent. Here the differences between homily/sermon and testimony can be very nuanced. It's interesting to think about and consider.
As a dancer, I hate to admit that it was the words rather than the movement that really touched me. The dances (all to recorded music), which followed the testimonies, served as meditations on the personal stories. So, this is an interesting question: can testimony be told through movement? Or is movement too abstract? If the most touching testimonies were the most specific, can movement get specific enough? What is/can be the role of movement in testimony?
The most effective combination of words and movement for me was by Myah McKinnie. She told of a mistake she made because she didn't listen to God (I don't feel comfortable going into specifics about it even though the event was public.) and how, with God's help she has worked through it and is now finding joy in her life. It may be that because Myah is a friend of mine that her story of transformation was particularly moving to me. It also helped that I liked her song the best, a very upbeat number, "Identity" by Israel Houghton. Her dance was so joyful: she looked 20 years younger. If I had a photo of her dance, it would be the image for this posting.
The fact that I was particularly moved by a friend's testimony, brings up another issue. Who makes up the appropriate community for hearing and witnessing testimony?
So, this has been a long post, but these experiences provided a lot of food for thought.
BTW, I will be presenting my choreography for congregational movement participation in the Lord's Prayer at another Worship Alive! workshop: Worship Wellspring: A Sampling of Innovative Worship Experiences from Chicago Area Congregations on Saturday, April 25, 2009 from 2:00 – 5:00 pm at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge.
Also, I will once again be leading the opening and closing rituals for the Third Annual Women's Spirituality Conference on Saturday March 21st 9am-3:30pm in Northfield, Illinois.
Finally, I'm on the board of the Lakeshore Chapter of the Sacred Dance Guild and we have an excellent workshop coming up which I highly recommend: Tools and Fuels for Sacred Dance: A Choreography Workshop for your BodySpirit on
Saturday, March 28, 2009 9AM-4PM.