Please welcome today’s guest writer, Kathryn Mae Post. Kathryn graduated from Calvin in 2018 with degrees in writing and political science. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is researching, writing, and editing for a social justice organization. When she isn’t nerding out about the intersection of faith and politics, she is straining her vocal chords at worship rehearsal, consuming copious amounts of coffee, or searching desperately for a decent brewery.
The first time I strode into worship rehearsal at my diverse and multi-ethnic church in Grand Rapids, I was five minutes early, as I am to everything. I had done vocal warm-ups on the drive over, had a sharpened pencil in hand, and was planning to be back home in time to write the Chimes article I had due the next day.
I didn’t realize I was walking into a rehearsal with the Gospel Team.
I knew things were going to be different when the first forty minutes were spent in prayer. As a worship leader on Calvin’s campus, I was in the habit of launching into rehearsals by praying “real quick” before opening my thoroughly-organized worship binder filled with checklists, color-coded tabs, and double-sided copies of sheet music.
I was also used to a worship team composed primarily of white kids ages eighteen to twenty-two.
This rehearsal had no sheet music, no checklists, few white people, and no one else in their twenties. We picked up harmonies by ear and plowed through songs until we got them right. Often, we vocalists were so enthusiastic that we ended up singing in a completely different key than the pianist was playing in. My frustration at the lack of musical cohesion was exacerbated by the fact that gospel was probably the one genre of worship music I didn’t love—I was often annoyed by what I perceived as its senseless repetition and lack of theological profundity. I left that first rehearsal two hours later, impatient, drained, and not looking forward to Sunday morning.
As weeks and then months went by, I continued worshiping with the Gospel Team. I stopped expecting rehearsals to start and end on time. I learned that the team had been leading worship together for decades, and I was often moved to tears by the prophetic voices of those I sang with. I also began looking forward to the forty minutes or so we would spend in prayer together. Many of my team members shared personal struggles I couldn’t even remotely relate to: a nephew who died far too young, an ugly and unnecessary encounter with the police. These people became my family, my stronghold. They welcomed me to rehearsals with shouts of “Our girl is here!” and held me when I cried over heartbreaks or homesickness. I began to fall in love with the authentic, unorganized chaos of gospel music and its depiction of a God who is faithful in all circumstances.
Before joining the Gospel Team, I had self-identified as somewhat of a social justice guru. But rather than pushing me toward action or even toward relationships, my books and articles on race/disparities/inclusion/diversity/justice/reconciliation created a barrier of scholarship and buzzwords behind which I could distance myself from the dirty work of getting to know actual human beings.
I thought I knew what radical, reconciling love looked like. But when I waltzed into that first worship rehearsal and encountered people with a culture, history, and experience far different from my own, I resisted humility and insisted that I knew best. I had a whole host of expectations—a vision of the “right” (read: white) way of leading worship—and my narrow-mindedness and ignorance kept me from the rich relationships and awe-inspiring worship God had in store.
As a white person, it’s easy for me to assume that my way of viewing the world is normal. And not just normal, but best. That my way of talking is best. That my way of keeping time is best. That my way of doing church is best. That my way of dressing is best.
But although my worldview is valid, it is also imperfect. And it is no more legitimate than the worldview of anyone else. It’s time to repent of the way my limited perspective causes me to sin, time to reject passivity and to step into uncomfortable conversations. It’s time to recognize that book smarts aren’t enough and that loving radically requires action and sacrifice. And—just maybe—it’s time to leave my watch at home and show up to something a few minutes late.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12