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An Open Letter to Pastors During the 2020 Pandemic

Dear pastors,

I get it. The stress of 2020 is not only weighing on you from the normal personal levels, but the often-dysfunctional tendencies of your congregation members are being highlighted in particularly poignant ways right now. It’s a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” kind of year and you’re getting an earful about it at pretty much all times. Finances are tight, what used to be easy decisions are now difficult and contentious, and stress levels are through the roof. It’s hard and often unfair.

As you’ll probably know from various continuing education opportunities and personality tests used in training sessions (Myers Briggs, Enneagram, etc…), when people are stressed it becomes easy for our negative character traits to become prominent or take over our decision-making processes. In times like these, it’s easy to become reactive instead of proactive, hoping to put out the first few fires before the next few fires arrive. Because of these tendencies, the strength of your staff is of the utmost importance. Your staff can either work together to buoy each others’ ministries during this terrible time or they can become yet another fire to put out.

when people are stressed it becomes easy for our negative character traits to become prominent

As a music minister, I’ve experienced some wonderful leadership and friendships with pastors. I’ve also experienced some terrible leadership and relationships gone awry. Below is a list of things I hope you’ll take to heart from this music minister who has heard one too many stories of the pastor-musician relationships going wrong.

  1. Unless you’ve hired a total newbie, you can assume that your music minister is coming into the position having had experienced a bad pastor-musician relationship some time in their career. While this may not define them, there’s a history of being burned by pastors that many church musicians carry with them.
  2. We know you’re in charge and that you’re the boss. Seriously…if you have to tell your staff or music minister that you’re the boss, then something is already very very wrong with your leadership. We all know you’re in charge, but what we need right now is a leader, not a boss.
  3. 99 times out of 100 we know more than you do about music and have thought more deeply about church music and the congregation’s song than you ever will, and that’s the way it should be. If you’ve hired a music minister and find yourself making musical choices more often than not, then you need to step back and ask yourself why. The congregation needs you to be their pastor, not their music minister. That’s why you hired a music minister! When discussing music and worship, treat the conversations like those of two colleagues working as peers, not a boss and employee. If that is threatening to you, please see point #2 above.
    • Oh, and you can multiply this point by 1,000 if you hired someone with an advanced church music degree and you think your MDiv gives you more theomusicological training than them.
  4. Most people don’t know this, but we church musicians do: pastors are generally totally un-trained or inadequately trained in liturgy/worship. We know your secret…and we generally don’t tell anyone, but don’t try to pretend you know more about worship and liturgy than your average music minister because you probably don’t. Just like you would expect from you staff, do you homework, be humble, and work collegially. We’ll do the same.
  5. You know how you’re being expected to do tons of things you are unqualified and untrained to do because of the pandemic? Yeah, so is your church musician. They aren’t doing the job they were hired (or trained) to do right now…so love your neighbor as yourself.
  6. You know how church committees often want the professional services of someone qualified to be the pope but also want to pay minimum wage? Yeah, (if they haven’t already) they’re going to want to add a bunch of things to your church musician’s job description and pay them either less or the same as before the pandemic. Things like video editing and recording/mixing/mastering. Most church musicians have never been trained in any of those things and they are VERY different than other musical skills. Adding “video editing” to a job description without much thought may seem reasonable…but it’s not. Either leave it off or pay more.
    • Also, consider paying for continuing education for your church musician if you do add that expectation, because right now most of us are making this stuff up as we go along.
  7. You know how congregation members often wonder what you do with all that “free time” you have instead of doing what they want you to do? And you’re like…uh…hello, sermon prep! Yeah, musicians feel the same way when they’re paid for 4 hours of “work” because they only have a 2 hour rehearsal and 2 hours on Sunday morning. Uh…hello, prep and practice!

Your staff will have your back if you have theirs.

So, look. I understand you’re stressed. Just don’t take it out on your staff. Your staff will have your back if you have theirs. They’re probably on your staff because they have a passion and skill for ministering to the flock whom you love and shepherd. If you ask them to be on your team, 99% of the time they’ll jump on board and try their best to help in whatever ways they can. But if you micromanage and/or undercut their expertise, pay terrible wages, and criticize the work they do on things not in their job description or training….then you’re going to have problems. And you deserve them.

 

Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song.

 

Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song.

 

The Original Post

On September 25th, I posted this onto my personal FB wall:

 

My heart aches for my black sisters and brothers for yet another result that denies their basic humanness based on the color of their skin. This is the latest example of both an inherited and perpetuated trauma to our fellow humans and God’s creation. Racism kills in so many ways… #BreonnaTaylor is one of many. May her memory be blessed. While feeling helpless to enact real change in moments like this, the least I can do is re-dedicate myself to working toward being anti-racist and helping others along a similar journey. Now’s not a great time to ask for resources or ideas from your friends of color as they grieve and feel deeply this latest injustice. If you are beginning to work toward anti-racism or want to know what that is, feel free to PM me. I’m certainly not an expert, but I am learning and can point you toward good resources and people to follow.

Soon after, I got a message from a colleague that said this:

Hi Brian, in response to your Facebook post this week, who do you recommend I follow or read to develop an understanding of non-white hymnody, history of worship, and even church history more generally. Any suggestions or starting points would be amazing. Thanks.

Below is my reply, which I hope will be a helpful guide to anyone who is at the beginning of their journey.

 

The Reply

Dear Friend,

Thanks for reaching out.

Below are some resources that I hope will be a good start. If you’re looking for something in particular, let me know and I can be more specific. I don’t know what kind of tradition/piety you are coming from, which means some of these things might not hit the mark for you. It’s a bit all over the place as far as traditions/theologies represented. The important thing is that you’re engaging in this and that we’re here as conversation partners, not as experts! We’re all on a journey and have a lot to learn from each other. We at The Center for Congregational Song are grateful to have met lots of wonderful people along the way who we have learned from and continue to build relationships with.

 

Resources

Free Resources to Read/Watch/Use

Use these resources an entrées into expanding your vision for what God gets to delight in each and every day from Christians around the world. Pick one that sounds interesting, then explore the resources and ideas that they suggest to continue your journey.

 

Books/Resources to Consider Buying

Investing in resources by people of color and citing their work is an important and practical way to live into being anti-racist.

 

Music/Worship Organizations Doing This Kind of Work

For more resources and ideas from folks who are deep into this work, here are some places to continue learning.

 

People/Groups to Follow on Social Media or via their scholarship

Most of these folks don’t pull punches, so be ready! Some of them often speak directly to worship or music-specific topics. Others are not worship-specific teachers, but we are firm believers that good worship leaders must also have training outside of music and worship in order to be faithful leaders.

 

I’m sure I’ve left out a lot of helpful things/people/organizations, but this is what comes to the top of my mind. I hope this helps!

Thanks,

Brian

 

If you know of other worship leaders, scholars, hymnologists, and musician/groups who are actively engaged in teaching worship and anti-racism, please post them in the comments below. Thanks!

 

The Center for Congregational Song, in collaboration with Worship Design Studios and Marcia McFee, has just released a free resource for Advent & Christmas called “Park, Porch, and Sidewalk Sings.” This resource is an effort to equip people to sing this winter safely and with a new spirit. The resource includes 10 accompaniment tracks, a leader guide with safety guidelines and ideas for performances, and a song-book.

To access the free resources and learn more about the program, go to: https://congregationalsong.org/christmas-park-porch-and-sidewalk-sings/

 

**For Immediate Release**

 

Free Webinar Series

 

The Center for Congregational Song Ambassadors will be offering a free webinar series starting this month. Webinar topics will include:

  • “Breaking Through The Traditional/Contemporary Divide”
  • “The Hymnal Anthem Book”
  • “Sing Praise At Any Moment: Paperless Music 101”
  • “Black Hymnody Matters: The Music of Charles A. Tindley, C.P. Jones, and Margaret Pleasant-Douroux”
  • “Sharing Their Stories: Researching Context of Congregational Songs”
  • “Risking it all: The Songs that make us uncomfortable”
  • “Auditions and Interviews: what musicians ought to know and what pastors ought to ask”

For more information on the webinar series, how to register (price is free, but registration is required), and the leader bios, please go to the webinar page: https://congregationalsong.org/webinar-series-starting-the-song/

 

 

INTRODUCTION

There are currently research teams across the world working on identifying how COVID-19 spreads and how to best protect the population from contracting the virus. Two ongoing studies are particularly focusing on music-making, which is what we will reference in this summary article. Before continuing, a few important considerations:

  • The author of this article is a professional musician, not a scientist. However, all information posted here has been carefully researched to the best of his ability.
  • Because of the nature this virus and of risk-assessment in general, every situation is unique and you and your team of decision-makers must try to make the best decision for your community. What is the best decision for a group in Atlanta may not be the best decision for someone in Dallas. Think for yourselves and do your own research.

 

2 RECENT STUDIES

There have been two recent studies specific to music-making and COVID-19 that are being posted on social media, advertised by sponsoring organizations, and being mentioned by media outlets. One is based out of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and the other based out of the University of Colorado. Below are summaries of those study results and the highlights that stood out to me. Finally, we’ll offer recommendations for moving forward as it concerns congregational singing.

 

Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich Study

Article Link*https://www.ndr.de/kultur/musik/Corona-Studie-zum-Sicherheitsabstand-beim-Singen,aerosolebeimsingen100.html

*The article and the quotes from it found below were originally in German and translated to English via the automatic Google Translate function via the Chrome browser.

Lead Researcher – Prof. Matthias Echternach of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

Important Quotes/Hightlights:

  • “As far as the widths forward [of the aerosols], it was the case that the sung text had the largest width. Interestingly, here it is so that loud and quiet didn’t make that big a difference, loud only went on marginally – and that makes sense. Because singers still have to convey the text very well when they sing softly. That means that they showed a lot of text accuracy and the width of the radiation to the front probably has a lot to do with the consonant abundance.”
  • “Here we had an average value of around one meter. But you have to say in the risk assessment that there were also singers who got over it up to a meter and a half. This means that the classic distance, as we know it from everyday life, is too small towards the front when singing. This is the first main finding. The second is the spread to the side. Here we were able to demonstrate significantly smaller distances.”
  • “What we have examined needs to be narrowed down briefly. We have not investigated how much aerosol is formed or how it can accumulate in the room over the long term, other working groups do that. Instead, we examined the process of how the aerosol behaves when it is ejected from the mouth into the room. This means that the advice we give can only relate to this impulse. If we think about distance rules now, we can say: two to two and a half meters to the front should very likely be sufficient, to the side one and a half meters should be enough – provided the aerosols are repeatedly removed! And this removal is not a problem in the fresh air. But it could be a problem indoors. If you could get a continuous ventilation, then you could probably orientate yourself on the normal rehearsal times. If this cannot be guaranteed, I have to have regular intermittent ventilation, preferably after ten minutes.”

 

Our Summary

  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • There were singers whose projection of droplets exceeded 6 feet, which is the current standard recommendations for social distancing. This study is recommending 12 feet.
  • Singing loudly or softly didn’t make a significant difference in droplet projection
  • They did not study aerosol dispersion or used masked/unmasked variants in this study.

 

COLORADO STUDY

Study Link – https://www.nfhs.org/media/4119369/aerosol-study-prelim-results-round-2-final-updated.pdf

Lead Researchers – Dr. Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado and Dr. Jelena Srebric of the University of Maryland

Important Quotes/Highlights:

  • “These preliminary results are from our few weeks of exploratory testing. They will be further defined as the study continues. We are providing these preliminary results to assist in the safe return to classrooms. (Normally we do not release data until they have been quality assessed and peer reviewed).”
  • “This study did not use a live virus or infected participants and therefore cannot be used to determine specific infection rates.”
  • Mask Graphic from study PDF:

 

 

  • After talking about efficiency/effectiveness of masks in keeping people safe, they say:
  • “These numerical findings need to be compared to actual experimental data as numerical simulations cannot replace experiments when studying new transport phenomena, especially the ones that threaten human life.”
  • “Performing arts activities have been found to create aerosol that is less than coughing, but more than talking. The following considerations are effective for music, speech, theatre and debate activities.”
  • Airflow matters significantly in aerosol build-up

 

Our Summary

  • This study is not complete.
  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • Singing and playing wind instruments is seems to be riskier than speech, however it is not as risky as coughing.
  • Masks make a difference, but masks must be fitted and worn properly.

 

Conclusion

As of today, we continue to err on the side of caution, not because we are fearful but because we are faithful. We believe that the health and lives of congregations across the U.S. are more important than any single act of music-making. God calls us to love and care for our neighbors. There will be a time we can sing together in our churches again, but the two studies referenced above do not provide scientific evidence that it is safe for a congregation to do so right now. They should give us hope, but they should not give us permission. The scientists leading the studies have said as much. So please reference these studies and continue to look for updates. But do not be fooled or allow yourselves to read those studies as scientific proof that there are risk-free ways of singing together.

 

For more resources and updates concerning COVID-19 and Singing, please go to: https://thehymnsociety.org/covid-19/

 

Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of

The Center for Congregational Song.

 

 

That’s right…these are carols (new texts set to familiar Christmas Carol tunes) for the Covid-19 pandemic.

DOWNLOAD COLLECTION*
*UPDATED 4-2-2020

Watch the full collection including sign language interpretations here:

Introduction & Guidelines

In this time of fear, anxiety, and isolation, the concept of caroling might seem trite, ridiculous, or even inappropriate. We’ll let history decide which of the three it might be. But for my family, it was a way to connect with our congregation members, make music together, and ultimately bring hope and a little bright light into people’s lives as they struggle with social distancing and quarantines.

As is reflected on the last page of this free downloadable collection, if you decide to go #covidcaroling, make sure you follow all the federal, state, and local laws and guidelines. For the most recent CDC recommendations, click here. Here are a few basic guidelines from us assuming you are able to go out in a safe manner:

  • Only go caroling with those you’re already in isolation with. People like spouses, partners, children, and other immediate family members or people with whom you share a living space.
  • Instead of knocking or ringing a doorbell, you can call the people to get their attention.
  • People can open their windows instead of their doors if they’d like.
  • You can carol from your car if the street is close enough to their house.
  • If you do ring a doorbell or knock, move away before they answer the door. Also use hand sanitizer before and after you touch their doorbell or door.
  • Have fun! This is designed to bring a bit of happiness and frivolity into people’s lives.

 

DOWNLOAD COLLECTION*

*UPDATED 4-2-2020

 

 

 

 

The Church Is Dying

This morning I read yet another headline from a denominational news source to the effect of “9 things the church must change immediately so it doesn’t die.” The article was filled with claims of the church’s decline and our impending doom unless, of course, we made the urgent changes the author called for. I’m sure you’ve read similar articles over the last few years. At this point, I’ve stopped clicking on those headlines altogether, even if they hold strong suggestions or make good points.

 

I can’t be bothered

I can’t be bothered, and here’s why:

The church isn’t held together by what we do or don’t do. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be a church today. Seriously…have you read church history? It’s terrible. Have you read the Old Testament? The people of Israel screw things up pretty consistently. If you think the church is doing things today that are unrivaled in their bad-ness…please read more history and more scripture. The church isn’t held together by what we do or don’t do, it’s held together by the Spirit of God. Always moving, provoking, stirring in new and unexpected places: The Spirit is always at work in, around, and in spite of whatever evil we can throw at it. That is why the church still exists today. (Side-note: It’s also why I’m a big fan of Augustine’s concept of the church visible/invisible that was picked up by various Reformers).

 

Faith In God

If we’re worried about the church “dying,” that says more about our faith in God (or lack thereof) than in the long-term viability of the church. If you’re more concerned about preserving the church than you are following God’s call at any time, you’ve lost your way and you are part of the problem. Is God not loving enough to see the church into its next step? Is God not faithful enough to stick by us this time? I believe in a God who is more faithful, loving, and compassionate than I can possible imagine…so I just don’t have time or energy to worry about the church’s longevity.

Most of my believing and non-believing friends are interested in these things: living a life where they do a good job at their workplace, treating others with kindness and respect, finding experiences that brings them and their loved ones joy and fulfillment, and helping others in need. Here’s what most of my believing and non-believing friends are not interested in: joining a country club, doing mission work that creates more problems than it solves, ignoring or combating science in the name of scripture, feeling guilty for struggling with depression or anxiety, and being told that loving someone isn’t the right way to live. And that, my friends, is at the core of why many of my millennial friends won’t step foot inside of a church anymore. They are too busy living imperfect yet good and faithful lives to bother with the church as it currently stands. I don’t blame them.

 

I Can’t Wait

So if the church as we know it is dying, I can’t wait. I can’t wait for the church as I know it to die. At first that statement might sound shocking (in fact…the first time I said it out loud I shocked myself)…especially from someone who is currently making a living serving the broader church and serving in a local church each week. But as I heard growing up every Sunday morning for so many years as the opening statement of worship: Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. My hope is in a savior who became fully human and knows what it feels like to be hungry, tired, frustrated, lonely, and sad…a God incarnate, a God with us.

This Advent, I’m not afraid of the church dying. When it does, that just means the miracle of the incarnation can more clearly shine through and inspire us once again. This Advent my soul is inspired by God’s reminder to “fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41), God’s call for us to “sing a new song” (Psalm 96), and God’s promise to “make all things new” (Isaiah 43/Revelation 21). I’m just glad God allows me to be a part of that work.

 

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me;
see, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.

Refrain:
Come home, come home;
you who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me? [Refrain]

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
passing from you and from me;
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
coming for you and for me. [Refrain]

O for the wonderful love he has promised,
promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
pardon for you and for me. [Refrain]

[hymn by Will L. Thompson, 1880]

 

 

Author Brian Hehn is the director of The Center for Congregational Song.

 

Here’s the next question that I sometimes get from you church musicians and pastors out there. This one is about copyright. I’m sure many of you will relate to the question posed.

 

 

 

The Question

Dear Brian,

I am looking for an answer to why I might need both a CCLI license and One license? I have tried asking representatives from each organization what they cover, and both have been very vague in what all is covered and how I can discover that, but both have been pretty insistent that they cover more and are the license I need. The church is looking at tightening the budget and is questioning my paying for both. Any insight is appreciated.

Thank you!

Your friendly church musician

 

The Answer

Dear friendly church musician,

Thanks for reaching out. Your question is not uncommon. The world of music copyright can often be confusing, vague, and frustrating. Depending on what your church sings (and how they sing), the answer to your question will be different. From my understanding and experience, CCLI and OneLicense do not have very much overlap of what songs they cover. However, 99% of what most churches typically use on a Sunday morning will be covered by one or the other.

Here are some questions you’ll need to answer before knowing what is the best way forward:

  1. Do you print music or words in a bulletin, project them onto a screen, and/or stream online? If yes, keep going. If no (like “we only sing music from our hymnals in the pews”), then you most likely do not need either license.
  2. Was the music OR words you use in your bulletins/screens/recordings generally written after the 1920s? If no, you’re using all “public domain” music and you don’t need a license. If yes, you’re using music that is most likely copyrighted and you’ll need a license to print/project/record it.
  3. What music do you typically print, project, or record? This is where it gets dicey about which license you need.
    • If you use CCLI top 100 music (and things that generally sound like those songs from companies like Capital, Integrity, Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, etc…), you’ll need a CCLI license. For a list of publishers covered by CCLI, click here.
    • If you use music that is more “hymn-like” or is specifically Roman Catholic (and things that generally sound like those songs from publishers like Hope, GIA, OCP, etc…), you’ll most likely need a OneLicense. For a list of publishers covered by OneLicense, click here.
    • If you use both types of music, unfortunately you’ll most likely need both licenses.
    • **There are tons of different kinds of music and sources** So if you use music from other places around the world or from individual artists who aren’t widely published, things begin to get a bit more nebulous and often needs to be taken on a case-by-base basis. The larger exceptions to this are if you use music published by Taize or the Iona Community, both of which are administered by GIA Publications in the U.S. and would be covered via the OneLicense.
  4. If your music usage is not a clear-cut as the questions above, you’ll need to look at the individual songs and copyright holders to see which license(s) you’ll need. After sharing what you typically sing/do on a Sunday service, I can pretty quickly advise you on how to move forward.
  5. Finally, thank you for caring enough about the artists and companies that make this music available to do the right thing. Paying license fees and reporting your usage is how the artists ultimately get paid for their work. Your effort is appreciated and needed.

For more information on basic copyright information for churches, here are a few good articles:

 

Good luck!

Brian

 

***DISCLAIMER – This article is offered as a (hopefully) helpful resource for those seeking to navigate the legalities of church music copyright. The advice offered here is not legal advice and the author nor The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada cannot be held legally responsible for any decisions any individual or church makes concerning copyright law.***

 

 

Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song, adjunct professor of worship at Wingate University, and Director of Music at Light Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD.

 

 

Common Quotes

“We should sing songs & hymns with good theology”

“5 ways to get your congregation singing”

“This song has good theology”

“This song has bad theology”

“This is a traditional hymn”

“This is a contemporary song”

Have you heard any of those quotes? I sure have. I hear versions of these quotes over and over again. There are endless articles and promotional materials that use these quotes. Do you have questions? We have answers. In fact, the answers are simple.

Wrong.

 

It’s Rarely Simple

It’s rarely simple. I’ve still got a lot of life ahead of me, but what I can tell you I’ve learned so far is that when people claim to have a simple answer, they’re most likely skipping over or ignoring a lot of nuance and complexities. Another thing I’ve learned from those I most admire and respect is that anyone who takes scripture seriously will quickly find out that keeping faith in God and learning to live in this world as a faithful follower is not simple. It’s complex.

The complexities of faith, ministry, and congregational song are why I love the work of The Center for Congregational Song so much. We know we’re part of something much larger than ourselves. There is so much wisdom that comes from so many different places because the God we believe in is bigger than we can imagine, and God’s family is complicated. That is why you’ll rarely see something from The Center for Congregational Song that tries to boil down what we do and who we are into something simple. What we do is not simple; it’s complex, and it’s difficult.

 

Partnerships & Resources

When there are so many possible people and organizations to partner and work with, it’s often hard to know where to pour our energy. When considering partnerships or what resources to share and/or promote, many times it comes down to this phrase from our Guiding Stances: do they have “strong, thoughtful convictions, and yet approach their work with humility and collegiality?” The answer to this question can manifest itself in many ways, but it rarely leads to a place where there is a simple “how-to” list. Instead, we find that questions are best answered through conversation. Conversations are contextualized by story-telling and nuanced by relationship and community. Answers are affirmed through ritualized worship experiences, living together as a faith community, and the passage of time.

The complexities of faith, ministry, and congregational song are why I love the work of The Center for Congregational Song so much.

I think that is why I bristle when I hear phrases like “We sing hymns and songs with good theology.” There are missing parts of that sentence as well as an entirely missing follow-up sentence. What you really meant to say is “We chose these particular hymns and songs because the words have theology which we’ve discerned reflects our community of faith. We chose these particular hymns and songs because the words reflect who we believe God is calling us to be.” But that’s not click-bait, is it?

 

One of the joys of my position as the Director of The Center for Congregational Song is to be asked interesting questions from people who are working week in and week out to get their congregations singing. This series of blogs will take some of the questions I’ve been asked and post the answers publicly.

 

 

THE QUESTION

Hi Brian,

Hope all is well!

I’m at a new church now! Woot! It isn’t technically a new church plant, but we are starting from the ground up. The numbers are at an all-time low, but the remaining few in the congregation are excited about the future and re-making their congregation into one that is vital and active in their community. It’s a Presbyterian (USA) congregation in a major metropolitan suburb.

One of the first things we need to do is establish a worship culture. What will our worship look and sound like? So here are a few things I’m curious about:

  1. How to hire a new music director. We have an interim right now, but we need a new music person who knows congregational singing, percussion….ways to layer and texture music.
  2. Now that I’m settled in here and driving this liturgical ship, I want to resource myself around music. I worked with a wonderful church musician at my previous church, so I didn’t need to think about resources for music. He brought them to the table. I’m the only staff person right now, so I’m looking for music resources for a small congregation–like 35 people right now. Congregational singing type stuff that doesn’t all fit into Western, colonized music sound yet we are predominately white.
  3. Choir! Shoot me with this. The church’s choir used to be 40 people, blah, blah, blah it was awesome. Now we have 4-5 solid people. What to do!? How to do it!? What are the shapes music leadership can take in a small church?

Thanks!

Pastor Jane

 

THE REPLY

Hey Pastor Jane, thanks for reaching out. Here are my preliminary thoughts and I look forward to having coffee with you to talk more in depth about all of these questions…

 

Three things to look for in a good candidate:
  1. Are they musically talented and relatively well-trained? If not, even the best ideas can’t be brought to life. They need to have some musical “chops” to accomplish solid liturgy and music-making, especially since there’s a small staff and congregation.
  2. Are they sensitive to liturgical context? They don’t have to have a liturgy degree, but do they understand how a worship service flows? Do they have a basic knowledge or experience with the general liturgical calendar and seasons? For instance, when choosing a song for communion, would they know it’s a good idea to look for texts that either specifically mention communion or have references to bread, grapes, wine, or covenant?
  3. Do they place the congregation’s voice as the #1 priority? If the choir (or any instrument) is more important than the congregation’s voice, their priorities are whack and will cause problems. If their focus is on the congregation, then they’ll really minister rather than fall into the trap of providing great “performances.” Here’s an article on that topic in particular: https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/four-functions-church-choir/

 

Liturgical Music Library

If I were to purchase a simple liturgical music library for you…a “small-church music starter kit,” here’s what I would send you:

 

Small Choir Resources

Small choir resources are tough, especially when people are still working off the old model of “we used to be…”. I think this is where placing the congregation’s voice as #1 is really helpful. It changes the choir’s “job” from singing a solo anthem every week to supporting the congregation’s music-making. I think we do a disservice to ourselves, our choir members, and our congregation to expect a small volunteer group of singers to sing a published anthem every week with enough musicality and precision that it truly edifies the congregation and singers. But, if we re-frame the choir’s role as supporting the congregation, here’s what can happen:

  • “We should sing and anthem every week” –turns into– “Every week we help the congregation sing better”
  • “We have to sing this even though it’s a little rough” –turns into– “We feel confident about this piece, so now we’ll share it with the congregation”
  • Weekly rehearsal plunking notes –turns into– Faith formation through the study of our weekly hymnody & learning a few anthems for special occasions
  • Identity as a choir member –turns into– identity as a congregational music leader

This can look many different ways (because each congregation is unique), but here are some opportunities for a small choir to serve a congregation:

  • The choir introduces new hymns by singing the first stanza, singing the verses with congregation on the refrain, or by sitting behind the congregation (instead of in front) on Sundays where a new hymn is being introduced.
  • Instead of expecting the choir to sing an anthem every week, the weekly role of the choir is to sing the psalm every week. This could be an anthem, something from a psalter, or a verse-refrain congregational psalm setting where the choir acts as the cantor to sing the verses.
  • Choir members take turns announcing and leading hymns throughout a service, so the leadership of the congregation’s song is continually shared.
  • Following the worship service, choir members take communion and sing a few selections for/with home-bound congregants once a month.

 

Conclusion

The three questions you asked are wonderful ones and something that many pastors and search committees grapple with on a regular basis. What I hope you’ll find grounds all my answers is this: hiring, working with, and resourcing a church musician and/or worship leader should be framed as a discernment process. Who, what, and where is God calling your congregation to be? How can a candidate help lead the congregation there? Who, what, and where is God calling your choir to be? How can a candidate help lead the choir there? Discernment takes prayer, community involvement, and imagination.

 

Good Luck!

Brian