Finding Strength in Our Song

ImageFor the second summer in a row, I have been blessed to participate in the Yale Institute of Sacred Music Congregations Project – a summer seminar in which several congregations across the US who are actively engaged in worship and the arts gather for a week to share project ideas and build resources.  The Congregations Project began three years ago, and by some grace of God, I have been involved in all three years.  In 2011, the church where I was working applied to participate, and though in the end I did not attend the June seminar (since I was leaving Luther Place to go to Yale beginning in the fall), my fellow staff members attended and spoke extensively of my door murals as a part of their project proposal.  Luther Place had such a wonderful experience exploring the theme of Place; so when the opportunity was presented to help with the seminar in 2012, I jumped on board.  The theme that year was Time, and I worked during that week as a student reporter, following one of the congregations closely on their journey throughout the week and writing an article about them at the end.  And once again, this summer, I worked as a student reporter, watching and listening as nine congregations gathered to pray, talk, sing, and dance around the theme: “Hark the Glad Sound: Inviting New and Returning Christians to Worship.”

Now, when I say that congregations gathered, I should clarify.  Each of these nine congregations sent three delegates; most often, the team would consist of a pastor, a musician, and a layperson.  In addition to these 9 teams and the 9 student reporters (again, each paired with a team), the Congregations Project has a stellar faculty: Jimmie Abbington, David Bartlett, Dorothy Bass, Maggi Dawn, John Ferguson, Rita Ferrone, Martin Jean, Melanie Ross, Don Saliers, Bryan Spinks, and Tom Troeger.  All together, we were about 50 people.  Each day we would gather for morning worship, plenary sessions, workshops, meals, and evening worship.  Over the course of the week, each congregation presented their project proposal – something that linked in to this year’s theme – and as a large group, we would push and prod, asking questions to get the congregation to think more deeply about what it is they’re trying to achieve, why, and how they should move forward.  How beautiful it was when one congregation’s project interacted with another; we are, after all, doing similar kingdom work and facing similar monsters along the way.

I can’t speak highly enough about this program; I think it is one of the examples of the collaborative nature of the ISM at its best.  For me, personally, it was a wonderful week of exercising listening-before-talking and note-taking.  Gradually, we began to reclaim words such as “evangelism” and “testimony,” finding a common thread in all projects: the need for Christians and congregations to learn to articulate their stories, weave together a community narrative, and find the strength to share it both in and outside the church walls.  Because there were so many wonderful conversations, I’ve included below several quotes that I wrote down throughout the week – some deep, some funny, some fragmented.  They may not make sense out of context, but all the same, they may speak strongly to someone!  Here goes:

“looking for humility and confidence in evangelism” – Dorothy Bass

“bringing life to worship and worship to life” – John Tirro

“I sing in the key of inspiration” – Jerry Streets

“How do we understand great preaching today?  Churches are becoming more of a secular performance space.  Can good preaching really fill up a church in today’s culture?” – Jerry Streets

(paraphrase) “We live in a world of Pharaoh, enslaved by anxiety, militarism, violence, consumerism, environmental destruction, and fear of the other…When we evangelize, we’re trying to say there’s an alternative to this… The church’s role is to share this alternative narrative.  Faith has to be lived in community; you can’t experience things like generosity and forgiveness on your own.” – Cheryl Cornish

Important phrase in terms of congregational change: “Don’t let your no be louder than someone else’s yes.” – Cheryl Cornish

“Evangelizing is inviting people into a journey.” – Dale Sieverding

with respect to evangelism… “Too many of us focus on bucks and butts rather than mission.  Do we believe that an embodied gathering makes a difference?  How does church relate to culture and to everyday life?  Are we the same as do-gooders, just adding ‘the Jesus thing’?” – Craig Mueller

“Church is countercultural: it moves us from the individual to community, from hyperconnectivity to a balance of work and rest, from the virtual to the body, from consumerism to mission.” – Craig Mueller

“We cannot participate in God’s mission without worship because we’re not strong enough and we’re not clever enough.” – Craig Mueller

“Telling the Exodus story is key, and it’s a story about a community.  It includes the feelings of ambivalence about moving to a new place.” – Cheryl Cornish

“The church can entertain the full possibilities of questions that art itself entertains.” – Justin Kosec

“liturgy = holy play”

“The Holy Spirit has never, never, NEVER rejected a good rehearsal” – Don Saliers

“Evangelism is the sharing of GOOD news.  If it’s not good, it’s not evangelism… and it’s not good news if it’s not news.” – David Bartlett

“Christian evangelism is not about what God is doing for us or for me, but what God is doing for the world.” – David Bartlett

“Evangelism reminds us that church is an instrument of God’s mercy (not the final goal)” – David Bartlett

“The most segregated hour in the week is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning” – MLK Jr, 1963

“The goal of multicultural liturgy is not to celebrate different cultures, but to celebrate what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.”

“You ain’t gonna have doxology if there’s not lament, and you ain’t gonna have lament if there’s not doxology to live into.” – Don Saliers

“Oh no, now I love this song that I don’t like.  And now I love these people that I don’t like…” – John Tirro, in response to having to play a song he hates that opens up someone else’s heart in worship.  (Don Saliers muttering to himself: “Sounds like Jesus to me…”)

“Experiencing a wonderful banquet is far better than talking about it.”

“I have a hunch that people are not as afraid of the loss of a repertoire as they are afraid of the loss of a repertoire they have mastered.” – John Tirro

“I think we need to be encouraging our colleagues to remember that grace is abounding!” – John Ferguson

The great paradox of human existence: “O beauty so ancient and so new, you were with me, and I was not with you.” – Augustine

“growing into the clothes of Christ” – Tom Troeger

“It’s not adequate that we simply do new music, we need new ways or preaching” – Tom Troeger

“While we’re singing the old, old story, we’re also singing a new song.”

Next year’s theme is Embodiment.  All seminar participants were asked to give the names of congregations we thought might be good candidates for Congregations Project 2014, and I gave some of your names.  I’m so eager to share this experience with anyone who might be interested!  What a great week it was for me in the midst of my job searching, to remember the creativity and excitement I feel when working with the church.  

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One thought on “Finding Strength in Our Song

  1. Love it. I really hope to be able to be involved in this someday (hopefully someday soon!) Embodiment sounds amazing (if incredibly broad), and was the theme of the Valpo Liturgical Institute this year, as I recall. I hope you’ll help me think about whether and how this might be the year to involve my congregation in this great opportunity.

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