When the Rev. Dr. Eric Myers joins the Wesley faculty this January as visiting professor of worship, he does so as a beloved friend of the seminary. Already popular with students and colleagues from his years as an adjunct instructor, Myers returns to the classroom eager to embrace his new role and to bring his years of practical experience to the Wesley community.
Pastor of Frederick Presbyterian Church in Maryland since 2006, Myers has hands-on work in the church with a stellar academic career. He holds degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary, University of Notre Dame and received his doctorate from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
As he prepares to teach the “Foundations of Christian Worship” class next semester, Myers draws on both scholarship and personal experience to mine the deep and resonant potential of worship itself.
“We do not come together on Sunday morning to watch and to listen but to do,” he said. “Our bodies, minds and spirits must be involved in the doing of worship.” That philosophy drives Myers’ work in the classroom.
“When teaching future leaders of worship, I often share the idea of being invisible when we lead worship,” he said. “How can we as worship leaders ‘disappear’ or get out of the way so that the people gathered can worship?”
The answer can be as simple as replacing a pastoral prayer with “prayers of the people.” Such a switch, Myers said, “empowers everyone to pray, whether silently or audibly.”
With an extensive musical background, Myers also emphasizes the power of song. “In the congregation where I serve as pastor we sing – a lot,” he said.
A typical Sunday service might include six or seven hymns in addition to other musical offerings. “Singing is a prime way for the people gathered to be able to participate in the doing of worship,” he said.
Bridging the gap between the academic and the practical, Myers makes sure that music is heard in the classroom as well. “As a teacher of worship, I am always seeking a hymn or spiritual song which brings the topic of the day to life in poetry and in music,” he said.
“When baptism is discussed, we begin the day by singing a song about water. On days when the theology of the Eucharist is covered, we explore the theology as expressed in some of the great songs of the church, both old and new.”
Myers is co-author of The Work of the People: What We Do in Worship and Why, a text regularly assigned in Wesley classrooms. Its initial purpose, he said, was to support and challenge the work of worship committees.
“Our hope was not to focus on the details of worship, which often weigh down worship committees with questions such as, ‘how many candles do we need to order for Christmas Eve?’” he said. “We wanted to move beyond that and ask, ‘What are we doing and why?’”
Myers is especially pleased to return to Wesley in this new role. “I love walking down the halls and seeing all the art,” he said. “I don’t know of any other seminary that has a full-blown art studio and a gallery.”
He finds inspiration in his students as well. “Wesley enjoys a very diverse student body—age, race, denominations and faith backgrounds, and so on,” he said. “Teaching in this environment is challenging and exciting.”
That diversity of denomination includes his own presence as a Presbyterian pastor working at a Methodist seminary. “I was actually raised United Methodist,” Myers said. “I don’t tell this to too many people but in high school I would go to bed at night reading the Book of Discipline and, quite frankly, knew it thoroughly from front to back.”
That focus changed when he was called to be director of music at a Presbyterian church in his early 20s. “I am Presbyterian now,” he said. “Because of the diversity of the student body at Wesley, I believe it is imperative that I am constantly exploring other denominations and traditions.”
That open-minded approach is key for Myers. “How can I, who comes from a tradition which practices the baptism of infants and adults, teach those students from traditions which practice ‘believers’ baptism only?’” he said. “I must be firmly grounded in my tradition but yet open to others as well, which makes for great discussions.”
He expects the same open-minded attitude of his students. “My goal is to encourage them to explore their traditions and beliefs along with the traditions and beliefs of others and to be solid in their convictions, which will affect the worship they as pastors will lead,” he said.
Myers speaks from experience. At the University of Notre Dame, where he earned his second master’s degree, he was often the sole Protestant in a room full of Catholic students. “Someone would say, ‘But don’t Protestants believe such and such,’” he said. “And I would respond, ‘some maybe, but not all.’”
Myers found it a positive experience. “It was good for my knowledge and faith to be challenged by such blanket statements,” he said. “In my teaching as a Presbyterian at a Methodist seminary I see my role in a similar manner. That is, those in any one tradition cannot be myopic with regards to other traditions in the church and beyond.”