Every seat in the room was taken when Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence opened her workshop with a welcome.
Her topic was “Vivid Words: Scripture Reading That Captures the Imagination.” But the teaser—“Don’t let Scripture reading become an opportunity for your congregation to update their grocery lists”—was aimed at what happens when many pastors and worship leaders in attendance read Scripture a certain way.
Too many of us have found our minds going to sleep mode when a Scripture lesson is read with monotone voice and words that seem to stumble, she said.
Lawrence is a rising leader in the crusade to change all that. God has planted a passion within her for Scripture to be read well, allowing it to form people’s imaginations and bring the Word of God to life.
She has devoted herself to using her background in both theology and theater to help churches capture and communicate the life-changing power of God’s Word. That’s why the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship invited her to participate in their Day of Learning.
In her workshop, she involved participants as volunteer actors and spoken-choir members. She directed them in the ways Scripture can be presented in the context of worship services.
Her sample script repertoire included familiar stories taken verbatim from the biblical text—Jonah fleeing from Nineveh juxtaposed with the disciples caught in a violent Sea of Galilee storm.
Through simple but effective means such as positions on a stage, repetition of phrases, voice volume, cadence, and choral voices, she demonstrated how familiar stories become new.
But this is not easy to do. Lawrence reminded participants that readers need to be committed to training and to rehearsals—just like musicians and sacred dancers and excellent preachers. Giving our best requires practice, she said.
Lawrence is a student at Calvin Theological Seminary. She says her calling springs from Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture . . .” (1 Tim. 4:13a).
The Bible has been the core “textbook” for Calvin Seminary since it opened its doors in 1876. One hundred and forty years later, the seminary continues to attract students like Joy who are zealous for this Word to penetrate hearts and change lives.
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