Sunday, August 26, 2007

Musical Offerings

Today in worship we had a father and son play a piano and guitar duet. The dad, Rich, had actually created the arrangement for them to play, based on a guitar quartet he has a recording of, and, along with it, he created a very beautiful powerpoint presentation consisting of some photos of the natural world, overlaid with the words to Psalm 8. Rich played his classical guitar, and his 15 year old son played the piano. It was really one of the most worshipful musical offerings we've had in quite a while.

It is my understanding, if I have my facts correct, that it took Rich about a year of thinking and tinkering to put all this together, since he is also a school teacher and busy dad. His wife told me he just became completely inspired to do this, and do it well. What a creative effort - the music, the creative use of the beautiful photos, the Psalm, and the computer skills to tie it all together! And the perseverence to follow through on his very inspired idea.

This is exactly the kind of musical offering I hope to see more of in our service. It was so clear to all that heard it and saw it that it was not a performance but truly an offering to the Lord.

In worship planning, we have wrestled to come up with some new terminology for the elements of our service, in hopes of making them not only more seeker sensitive, but also suggesting a new paradigm for the contents of our worship time. For instance, in years past Rich and Nathaniel's duet would have been called "special music". But somehow, in the minds of many, the word "special" seemed to then be conferred on the "performer" (another word we are trying to get away from). We really don't want to elevate those who are on the platform as being better than those who make offerings in other ways, i.e., service, financial giving, etc. Our society has caused even the church to look a little too much like "American Idol" sometimes.

Now you may be thinking, "Hey, Joyce, didn't you just elevate these guys by mentioning them in your blog? " Legitimate question! But the reason I have commented on them is because I would like to, hopefully, lift them up as an example for others-something I think they would both be a bit embarassed about. There was sacrifice involved in pursuing the inspiration that Rich recieved. Frankly, I'm sure that most of the people listening don't really realize how much time and effort it took to pull this off, and to make it look so simple in the process.

It was not a performance, it was an offering.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

First Rehearsal

We had a terrific first rehearsal last night! Several new people joined us, and we sight read through most of the music for the fall. That's always hard work for everybody, and the new people were a little shell-shocked by it, but I did have several people tell me afterward that they are excited about the new music they saw. I think having an overview of the fall anthems builds enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. When we were done, we ate and mingled, and I was pleased to see that the new folks were being welcomed by the long-time members. They seemed to be feeling right at home.
I'm struck again by the loving, caring group we have. That's really the best witness they have as worship leaders.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tradition! Tradition! Tradition

Someone who read my last post took issue with the idea that Baptists don't wear robes. He was apparently refering to a time in the past (50+years ago?) when Baptist ministers were known to wear black robes. Historically, that is probably true, although my 35 years of experience does not support this. Many years ago, we had a pastor that wore a robe for wedding ceremonies, but that was about it.

Although I work with a pretty traditional (though moving toward a blended) worship service, we definately don't want to be a museum piece. The idea that traditional means that we should do everything in 19th century fashion is pretty farfetched. I imagine that would effectively kill our service in no time flat! No, what we are looking to do is have a "boundry-less" sort of service in terms of style. In other words, we choose music because it is great worship music and fits with the theme of the particular service, not because it was written in a certain time period. We enjoy readings, sacrements like communion and baptism, testimony, sermons given in several formats, occasional dramas, instruments of all kinds-from pipe organ to flute to drums to electric bass to violin (because instruments are, after all, neutral objects!), and fexibility in creating our worship order, because our goal is not to enshrine or glorify the past, but to magnify our God in community and preach Truth to those in the congregation. It is freeing to plan worship this way And, while we don't want to completely ignore the needs of our congregation for a "comfortable" form of worship, the service is actually for the Lord, not us! And the Lord does not operate in time the way we do!

Always, always, always our goal is to offer a pleasing sacrifice of praise to our God. If we do that genuinely, we also practice what Sally Morgenthaler has so appropriately termed "worship evangelism". In other words, a non-believer, present in our service would be drawn to God by observing the devotion of the believers expressed in their worship.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Getting Ready

The first rehearsal of the choir season is tomorrow evening, so today I really began to feel the last minute pressure of being ready. The plan is to have a "sight reading party"-since no one really enjoys sight reading-and we will also have a food and fellowship time afterwards, so everyone can catch up with each other after going our own ways over the summer. Quite a few of the choir members have told me that they are eager to get back, because the choir is their small group. They miss everyone! It is hard to be apart all summer, but I'm sure we couldn't maintain enough of a quorum to perform successfully if we went all summer.

The new music is in the folders, I have been diligently doing my conducting prep, and our wonderful new accompanist, Cindy, has had the music in hand for a couple of weeks to prepare for tomorrow. We have at least three new people who have told me they will be there, and, amazingly in this age, we are looking at ordering a few more robes, because we only have 30, and they are all claimed.

Here's my deal on the robes: I am truly completely neutral about whether we should be robed or not. I like the uniform look. I am also a little concerned that younger people might not be too keen on them, and we don't want to create a barrier to their joining. But, so far, that doesn't seem to be an issue. I personally don't wear one, as the director, because I think all that fabric flapping around while I conduct creates difficulty for the singers in seeing my beat pattern-kind of like a lion tamer confusing a lion with a three-legged stool! And, when I stand at the podium and lead the congregational singing, I think it looks better if I just wear something nice and professional. Being Baptists, we don't robe our pastors and other worship personel, like the organist, though I know in some denominations this is routinely done. So that is how I have come down on it. Once in a blue moon some one will comment on this choice, so I thought I would post my thought process here so people would know how I came tho this conclusion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back to Blogging

Well, I've been a complete slacker about blogging, though I started with the best intentions. But Ramon and Michelle responding has prodded me to get back at it! Thanks guys!
As Michelle indicated, I have recently become a first-time grandmother, which makes me sound sooo old. Our third son and his wife just had a baby girl, and we made a mad dash down to OK to see her. She is, of course, the most beautiful baby around, and I think this is going to be a very fun stage in my life!
I've also been working intensively to choose music for the fall and make all the other preparations necessary for the start fot the choir season. It's actually my favorite task. My overarching goal in choosing music is to help the choir "sing Truth" to the congregation every week, and preparing these pieces is a way of meditating on Truth day in and day out. I can't imagine giving this up, Ramon! I have no objection at all to contemporary services, but I would really miss the comeradery and sense of purpose that come with being part of a choir.