Aftershocks | Worship in the Midst of a Tragedy

By Richie Fike

On January 12th, 2010, my church family was rocked by the news that one of our beloved leaders, David Hames, was declared missing in the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Haiti. The earthquake that instantly claimed so many lives in that region had extended its reach all the way to Colorado Springs. For three and a half weeks, we waited on and sought the Lord for our friend’s rescue. Finally, we were delivered the news that David had indeed gone on to eternity in Heaven. He is survived by a saint of a woman, Renee, and their two adopted boys.

Your Role in Suffering

It’s been 6 weeks now, since the first news arrived our way. And the myriad of emotions our church experienced has been vast and violent. Faith, hope, angst, confusion, doubt, disillusionment, anger, resolve, and yes, peace—it’s been amazing to have a finger on the pulse of suffering.

And, I’ve been fully aware of the fact that my job as worship pastor has been, and will continue to be, crucial to our community of faith. The prayers I pray, the songs we sing, the Scripture I read, the overall tone of the services—it’s all been filtered through the current circumstances of our church and the way we are processing our feelings and faith. There’s a famous Gordon Fee quote that has been ringing in my heart: “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.” Now, that is a heavy burden to bear as a worship pastor.

Song Choices

In week one of this tragedy, not knowing whether David was alive or dead beneath the rubble, many of our songs were prophetic in nature. We sang songs of rescue and deliverance. We sang these songs in remembrance of what God had done in our lives, and what we believed He would do in David’s life. It was wonderful to realize that the worship set I had picked (a week before the earthquake) was prophetically in line with what we needed to sing: three of the stand-out songs were: “Be Still” (Fike & Dana), “Tear down the walls” (Hillsong United), and “Mighty to Save” (Hillsong).

If you are a worship leader who is leading through tragic circumstances, look for new meaning in the songs you already sing. Interpreted anew through the lens of the situation, these songs can become quite powerful and meaningful. Think of our particular situation: we were singing a song that claims, “Savior, He can move the mountains,” and our friend was beneath a mountain of rubble, ironically under a hotel with the Spanish word for mountain—Hotel Montana. The chorus, “Our God is mighty to save,” never meant more to our people.

Beyond the songs that we sang, I also felt it was important to expand the concentric circles a bit. We had lost a brother, a friend. But, hundreds of thousands of lives had been affected by that earthquake. It was crucial for us to allow for a broader perspective. We spent quite a bit of time in our services that next week praying for the Haitian people. Yes, we were all hurting for Renee and the boys, but we were leaning toward a myopic obsession, and it did us good to think beyond ourselves.

Pain in the Offering

When the news arrived that David was indeed with the Lord in Heaven, I felt it was important for us to push ourselves to praise God. The week after the news of his death was maybe the hardest worship service I’ve ever led. You could feel the tension in the room. You could feel the doubt, the anger. I purposefully chose songs that would create an impasse for our body. “Blessed Be Your Name” was incendiary in a wonderful way for our community. “You give and take away, and my heart will choose to say, blessed be your name.” We’ve sung that song a hundred times at Vanguard. But, that day, it connected in a way that I had never seen. The angst we all felt, and continue to feel towards God, were met in that moment with an opportunity to see Him for who He really is. I’ve always believed that the job of a worship leader is to lift the eyes of a people to the face of their God. I believe that no matter what is present in the heart of a man, in the presence of God the only response is worship.

Not Over

Our church will continue to wrestle with the aftershocks of this tragedy. We’ll have to address some of the hard questions that surfaced in this trial, such as “Why does God compel us to pray to Him if He’s going to do whatever He wants anyway? What if I don’t want what God wants? Why do horrible things happen to good people? How could David’s death fit within a good plan for Renee’s life? How do we trust a God who says He is good, but is so obviously unsafe?”

At that moment nobody needed to hear that “all things work together for the good.” That approach is incendiary in a bad way. The easiest way to handle pain as a leader or as a fellow worshiper is to simply make an acceptable platitude. But leaders need to wrestle with the reality of a Holy God Who may not be safe, but Who, for sure, is good. And, we need to give others the space to be real with Him. And it will be my responsibility to give voice to this tension and find (or write) songs that express God’s heart in response.

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Richie Fike is the Worship Pastor at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, CO. He and his wife lead and tour with their group, Fike & Dana Band. They’re currently in production of their new album, The Moment. Richie serves in a ministry/community in Colorado Springs called Worship Merge, unifying the city through worship.

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