When Words Aren’t Enough

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I’m dreading going to worship tomorrow. To be honest, I’m dreading even going to church. I’ve done a good job avoiding this day, but now I have to face it.

Tomorrow marks the end of a significant chapter in the life of our congregation. Handt Hanson, worship leader, songwriter, colleague, and friend is leading his last worship service; starting Monday there will be a new director of worship and music at Prince of Peace. My journey with Handt goes back to the mid-80s. I remember the first time I met him. I was touring the church as I was interviewing for a youth ministry position, when we stopped by his office, not more than a storage room, and chatted. That day I sensed his humble spirit and servant heart, but little did I know the influence he would have on my life and the church.

As a pioneer in contemporary worship, Handt led our congregation to reimagine worship, sharing his learnings with thousands of church leaders along the way. Drawing on his understanding of worship and Lutheran theology, Handt taught me more about worship then any seminary class. Decades of worshipping with his leadership helped me understand how Lutheran liturgy could be fresh and meaningful each week. Both have left their mark in me. And today as I travel the country, I continually run into people who know Prince of Peace because of Handt’s contribution to rethinking worship.

But Handt’s more than a worship leader. His gifts as a musician and songwriter marked many unforgettable moments, some tragic in nature, and shaped many people’s understanding of faith and life, most of which were young people. Working alongside Handt, I witnessed firsthand how these transformational gifts often emerged out of ordinary moments and particular occasions. Yet even in the ordinary, the Spirit of God was present and when gathered communities joined in singing, the notes and words transcended the moment and drew our attention to GOD’s presence in our midst. My wedding, my daughter’s baptisms, friend’s funerals, and milestone moments in my life all have the imprint of Handt’s music; and I am not alone.

Yet Handt’s more than a church leader and colleague. Like many, I am able to call Handt a dear friend. As his friend, I am thrilled for this, his next, chapter in life. More time with his beloved wife and family, yes. New ways of being present with his grandchildren, what could be better? Not tied to the rigorous church schedule so he can travel with Kathy, sounds great. From this perspective, I rejoice. For his family, I’m excited. For him, I see new dreams emerging.

But for the church, and for our congregation, today I grieve. And personally, I’m experiencing what feels like a death. And to quote a song from a friend, ‘Broken hearts never die. They just feel that way for awhile. ‘Til the healing begins, you want to cry. The tears you feel will dry, your broken heart will mend. The king of hearts is your friend.’ It’s OK to grieve, but there’s something more here. Handt would not want the focus to be on him, but on the one who mends broken hearts; the one in whose name we gather each week.

So tomorrow, I will go to worship and I will celebrate Handt and I will lament the ending of this chapter in our life together. But I will also trust God is in this next chapter, of Handt’s life and our congregation. Thanks Handt. And thanks be to a God for your service to GOD’s church. It’s been a blessing.

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