By Joe LaGuardia
This invocation began the “Michael, Patti, and Friends” concert that celebrated Dr. Michael Carter’s 20 years (and more to come!) of worship leadership and ministry at First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, Florida.
The first time I met Dr. Carter was during my interviews with First Baptist Church. Here was this guy with blue, kind eyes and the type of smile that only a granddaughter can carve, who made it his life’s work to study and practice the intersection of liturgy, theology, and the Christian year in the midst of the worshiping community.
I asked two questions that day when we met and he told me of this life’s work: First, have I died and gone to heaven? Someone pinch me!
And second, “Are you sure Michael’s a Baptist?”—But, yes, he is; and there we were talking of Lent, and Advent, robes and stoles, of doxologies and sacred pulpits, and, of course, his and Jill Truax’s insistence that the pipe organ breathes and proclaims a distinct voice in the same space where the Holy Spirit wills, and moves and has its being, anointing a people deeply engaged in ministry and missions, as well as Christ’s worship, work, and witness.
And then I had to ask the first question again, “Are you sure I haven’t died and gone to heaven?”
If that wasn’t icing on the cake, I was hired as senior pastor and found that Michael and his team not only maintained that integrity of liturgy and worship in our church, but sought to defy stereotypes and the usual milieu of sacred ritual by providing two opportunities to meet with God on Sunday morning. Our praise team for the 8 AM contemporary service, for instance, is not a stacked deck against any one age group or musical preference. There was the embedded conviction about worship that acknowledged that even the vibration of guitar strings and the melodic, tribal cadence of percussion also spoke God’s language as much as the organ or piano or choir, that the Spirit is loosened by the clapping of hands as much as it is by participating in responsive readings and doxology and hymnody.
Just take a look on any given Sunday morning, and there you have a portrait of God’s Kingdom: The youngest musician in our 8 AM praise team is about 17 years old; our oldest is 90. In our 10:30 service sanctuary choir, the youngest voice is 10 years old, and our oldest is—well—90. Ours models the diverse and rich tapestry that is the Body of Christ gathered together week after week only to be sent out on mission in a diverse world in which God is still at work.
Today is a celebration of how our Lord and Savior Jesus has used Michael and Patti and their friends in the greater liturgical community over the last 20 years in order to bring glory and honor to God. It is also a celebration that the Spirit is not confined to any one church or denomination or personality or musician, but liberates us to sing the community’s embodied memory together and emboldens us to share the Gospel in ever creative ways, to be attentive liturgical artists who give a united voice to the gratitude, hope, faith, and love that inaugurates anew God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.