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Crossing Cultures – Creating Unity: An Interview

Felicia Patton is a lifelong Chicago native and worship leader at Urban Village Church. Felicia received an undergraduate degree from North Park University followed by two graduate degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

 

Introduction

We all have a history; a history that shapes who we are and what we believe. This is true for all aspects of our lives, including faith and music. During my time as a blogger with “Sing,” I will explore what happens when we go outside of our own faith traditions and navigate a new world of music and liturgy, starting with an interview of someone who was “adopted” into a church that is so much like the ones that I was raised and nurtured in. I will not speak for them; rather, I will have them answer questions about this experience and what they learned from it. I have chosen to keep this person anonymous in an attempt to focus on what was experienced, rather than whom it happened to. Hopefully, this will allow all of us to see this opportunity for a great community for ourselves.

 

Interview

What is your denomination?

My denomination is The United Methodist Church.

 

How would you describe your church community’s musical sound?

Most of my church community’s musical sound would best be described as “Traditional” Eurocentric hymnody.

 

Why was it important to you that you worship within a community that is culturally different than your own background?

Personally, I believe that experience is one of life’s greatest teachers. We can read all we want about things written in books, and while that is helpful to a certain degree, there are also limitations to that. It was important to me to worship in a community that was different than my own background, because there is something about having a culturally immersive experience that teaches us things we never knew and transforms us in ways we never thought possible.

 

What was your initial observation of the musical style of the church?

As soon as the pianist hit the keys, without fail, the feel of the entire room began to change as people began to sway back and forth, stomp their feet, clap their hands, and sing along to familiar songs—even the songs that were not all that familiar quickly caught on among the people and a similar reaction began to form.  I will never forget the first time this happened, my first Sunday there, as I was somewhat perplexed by what I was experiencing.  I personally love music and always have, so I had some sense of understanding in terms of the effect that music can have on a person, but I had never experienced it on a congregational level like that before. It did not take me long throughout the course of that service alone to notice the incredible impact that music has not only on the individual in worship, but on the church community as a whole.

 

How did you prepare for your introduction to this place of worship?

There was not a lot of preparation per se; at some point you just have to show up. I did have a mutual connection with the pastor of the church as they were an alum of the seminary I was attending and a friend of one of my professors, so I had been introduced to them at a different event prior to me attending their church.

 

What were some of the lessons that you learned from your time at this particular church?

When I first started attending, I knew that it was going to be a participatory experience; I just did not realize how participatory it was about to be! At first, I had not planned to join their gospel choir and looking back, I am still not entirely sure how they convinced me to. All I know is that I am grateful that they did.  This experience has helped me overcome the musical void in my life and has pushed me and challenged me in new and exciting ways that I never would have expected. Additionally, the choir has helped me come to a better understanding of music in the Black Church tradition through the spirituals, gospels, and other hymns they would sing.

 

Learning a new style of music can be difficult and intimidating, how did you prepare for this experience? How did you combat appropriation?

I appreciated the encouragement and blessing from the pastor, the worship team, and the choir of that church during my time there. What started as a place I planned to worship at for a few months turned into a few years that inevitably became my “adopted” church home. It was there that I truly learned first-hand what it is like living outside the “temple of my own familiar.” Needless to say, living outside the “temple of my own familiar” lasted more than a few hours or even a few days for me; it became a new way of life. Living beyond that which is familiar is rarely a comfortable feeling, especially at first, which in many ways is what contributed to my own intimidation and anxiousness about this experience in the beginning. There were a lot of factors at work here such as going to a new church for the first time and not knowing what to expect or what to do exactly, stepping outside of my own cultural familiarity and trying to be mindful of my place in that space, engaging with music again for the first time in years, and so on! In terms of cultural appropriation, I approached it with humility and sought to do everything with the utmost respect and integrity that I could. It sounds simple, but there really is something to say about simply using good judgment and knowing what is “appropriate” to do or not when experiencing a culture that is different than your own. Ultimately, what came out of this experience was a lot of incredible conversations and beautiful relationships that will last a lifetime.

 

What are some of the differences in the musical styles of your home church and your adopted church? Were there any “Ah ha!” moments for you while you were there?

Most of the songs the choir would sing, I had never heard before, so I was trying my best to learn the “new to me” songs before we would sing them together each Sunday.  There were many occasions when they would hand me a sheet of music or tell me what page it was on in The Songs of Zion in order to help me learn the music a bit faster.  As we began to sing, it certainly did not take me long to notice that while I was singing the same words as the choir, the notes I thought were “right” were most definitely not. What I came to realize was the choir director did not know at the time that I could read music, so it was never communicated exclusively that the version of “King Jesus Is a-Listenin” in The Songs of Zion was being sung in a different key entirely by the choir.

This was one of those “ah-ha!” moments where my ideas of what I thought or was taught over the years about what is “right” in worship were challenged.  In my own background, we were taught to sing standing still with our feet shoulder-width apart, leaning forward slightly, shoulders down, arms to the side, all while elevating our chests.  While maintaining our posture, we were required to sing the notes as they were written and only as they were written on the score we were handed months before the time we were to sing it.  Over the course of my life, I have heard the phrase, “If you aren’t going to do it right, don’t bother doing it at all” which I would say certainly limits the way one worships at all, let alone with music.  I did not realize how ingrained in to my mind and spirit all of that was until I began singing with the choir.

One of the most memorable moments I have had since singing with the choir has been learning how to shift from an individualistic mindset to a more communal one.  One week I finally admitted to myself the ways in which the sheet music was hindering my ability to sing with the choir as none of them had or needed sheet music to sing. I would get so focused on singing the notes correctly that I would forget to sing the song.  Before we went to practice our first song, I set the sheets of music to the side and began to sing in a way that I had never sung before. I sang with the choir, carefully listening to the words they were singing and for where my alto part would blend in with theirs instead of focusing solely on my own notes listed on a page.  One of the other altos sitting next to me noticed and turned to me to ask what it was that I had just done differently.  I explained to her that I stopped trying to convince myself that I could only sing if it was going to be “right.”  I realized that I had finally begun to free myself from this sense of perfection and had come to a place where I was able to begin deconstructing what all of those years of being told what the “right” way was that had been ingrained in me.  Immersing myself in a completely different community has taught me the importance of doing rituals differently and raised the question in my mind about what is “right” in terms of worship and who gets to decide that anyway?

 

Do you believe you learned the church’s musical style and the essence of its music?

I experienced the most gracious hospitality from the congregation, but especially from their choir.  During rehearsals, it was common for folks to share the background and stories behind the spirituals and the gospels they sing, as well as the ways in which those very songs have impacted them personally.  Given my own cultural background and recognizing my own privilege as a young, White, female in the United States, I know that nothing I have ever experienced can ever compare to the systems of oppression that are sadly all too prevalent in our society.  What I have come to learn is that through listening to personal testimonies and hearing the ways in which these songs have impacted their lives has been a very powerful experience for me.  It has without a doubt transformed the way in which I hear the music and has given me a whole new perspective than the one I had before. I have not left this experience the same.

 

Will you take any of the music you have learned to other churches?

Of course, but only when it is contextually appropriate to do so. Music is something that is rooted deep within my spirit, and this is no exception. The ministry of music among diverse faith communities is a transformational experience, no doubt. There are commonalities that can be found in the way that music functions within the Body of Christ. Ultimately music, when done responsibly and respectfully, can be a cross-cultural bridge among diverse races, ethnicities, faiths, generations, etc. I have experienced this time and time again and never cease to be amazed at the ways in which the Holy Spirit continues to show up in incredible ways. I truly believe that music can be a universal language that connects all of God’s people from all walks of life both from within and outside the walls of the church.  It is that sense of harmony in the music, as well as the occasional discord that adds flavor and a rich texture to the life of a community.

 

Conclusion

I marvel at this person’s ability to truly hear the community’s voice. Once we truly listen to what the community is trying to say, we can insert our own voices and blend with what is going on. It does not mean that we will not bring our own ideas and traditions that can add to the community; rather, it allows the visitor to become a part of the church family. The care we give to learning the traditions of other cultures within their own contexts and utilizing the ways in which they teach them I believe will reduce instances where cultures are appropriated.

 

 

Felicia Patton is a lifelong Chicago native and worship leader at Urban Village Church. Felicia received an undergraduate degree from North Park University followed by two graduate degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

 

 

 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Chorus:

Give me a clean heart, so I may serve thee.

Lord fix my heart, so that I may be used by thee.

For I’m not worthy, of all these blessings.

Give me a clean heart, and I’ll follow thee.

Verse 1:

I’m not asking for the riches of the land,

I’m not asking for high men to know my name.
Please Lord give me a clean heart, so that I may follow thee.

Give me a clean heart, a clean heart, and I’ll follow thee.

Verse 2:

Sometimes I am up and sometimes I am down.

Sometimes I am almost level to the ground.

Please Lord give me a clean heart, so that I may follow thee.

Give me a clean heart, a clean heart, and I’ll follow thee.

(Give Me a Clean Heart by Dr. Margaret Douroux. The Faith We Sing, #2133.)

 

Busyness

I am constantly busy between running from rehearsal to rehearsal, learning new music, and preparing for the next service or performance. That is the life of every musician and worship leader. Just as pastors are called to be leaders of the flock, we too have to submit our lives to leading our congregations, while struggling at times to maintain our own spiritual life that is focused on God and God’s people.

Church leaders often follow the liturgical calendar (also known as the church year) as a way to keep focused on the triune nature of God through the biblical story. Each liturgical season points us toward the revelation of God, the incarnation of Christ, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. One of those liturgical seasons is Lent which lasts for forty days, not counting Sundays, symbolizing Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the preparations of his ministry. This season marks an opportunity each year for fasting, repentance, and a time of renewal for spiritual lives. It is not a journey we take alone. Many churches participate in fasts as a community, so that they may grow together; some start up initiatives to help their congregations give back to community; others add services of reflection where they can dive deeply into the Scriptures. These are all wonderful ways that we renew and offer our hearts, minds, and spirits during Lent.

I am constantly busy between running from rehearsal to rehearsal, learning new music, and preparing for the next service or performance.

Give Me A Clean Heart

The song, Give Me a Clean Heart, has always been a favorite of mine. For me this song functions as a prayer for renewed focus. While refocusing ourselves during the time of Lent, we may better commune with God and each other with greater intentionality. If we were honest, we would admit that monotonous day-to-day tasks prevent us from being attentive to interior silence, so that we can hear God. A clouded mind can be a distraction for worship leaders, causing them to plan worship as a part of a weekly checklist, rather than taking time to discern what the needs of the community are and what the Scripture is stating.

Psalm, Felicia Patton, Create In Me a clean heart

Source: kishasdailydevotional.com

I use songs for inspiration. I listen to a song, identify the things I like about it, and then try to figure out what the song is saying. Are there any lessons to learn? Are there any topics that I should look into more carefully? For me, working this way is great practice when I am vetting what music to use in worship. A song that has been particularly inspiring to me in this season is, Give Me a Clean Heart, by Dr. Margaret Douroux. Although this song is not new to me, it took on new life when I analyzed it through the lens of the Lenten themes that I see in the piece. The melody line is as beautiful as it is intentional to showcase the dichotomy between the action of “rising” and the longing for more of a relationship with Jesus. Instead of keeping the melody line true to lyrics with a literal rise to higher notes, the melody line drops at the end of the phrase, accentuating the need. That is about as far as I will go into score analysis, but the music major in me could not resist!

 

Four Themes

There were four themes that stood out as I analyzed the lyrics of this piece. Starting with the obvious, the question that can be raised is, “what is a clean heart?” I want to empty myself from any distractions; perhaps through fasting from anything that is clouding my connection to God or not allowing me to hear the voice of God. I can also clean my heart by allowing healing. Healing is needed in many different ways that includes careful attention to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual lives. If we are not careful, anger can cloud decision-making. Additionally, healing from disappointment and loss is important to deal with and offers opportunities for growth and reflection. Directly connected to healing is the need of forgiveness for yourself and others. This might be a time to revisit things that may have hurt or harmed you. It could also be a time to reflect on the ways you may have hurt others. Two additional ways to have a clean heart are through humility and the act of surrendering. I often ask myself, why I make certain choices when I am leading. Is it because the Spirit led me to choose them, or is it to highlight myself? Am I grateful for the gifts that God has given me? Have I thanked and prayed to God today? Am I listening to what the Spirit is saying?

I want to empty myself from any distractions; perhaps through fasting from anything that is clouding my connection to God or not allowing me to hear the voice of God.

Prayer

The second theme of this song is that of prayer. The first verse speaks as if it were a prayer with the sole request of getting a clean heart. It is not attained through materialistic things but in a way that the composer can be “used” by Jesus. This is so important, as we need to pray not just for our own needs, but that we can be better stewards and leaders. Prayer can often be distracted or relegated to a task that we are to complete each day. Intentional prayer that displays our humility and gratefulness and asks for deliverance from our distractedness is when we truly focus on hearing the voice of God and not searching for a response to our individual needs.

Humanity

The third theme is humanity. Through this song, Dr. Margaret Douroux acknowledges her humanity and the limitations of human emotions. We are not perfect, and sometimes we need help in order to hear Jesus, but we acknowledge this and allow ourselves to clearly hear, see, and follow Christ. If our minds are not clear, if we do not acknowledge our mistakes, how can we ever grow? So in this time of renewal, what actions have you seen in yourself that need to change? Have you lashed out at anyone? How can you fix this?

Dr. Margaret Douroux acknowledges her humanity and the limitations of human emotions. We are not perfect, and sometimes we need help in order to hear Jesus…

Discipleship

The fourth theme is that of discipleship. How do you follow Jesus? Clean your heart from all of the distractions that do not allow you to hear Jesus’ will. This may not always be possible, or clear, but taking some time to renew ourselves can allow us time to refocus; not just focusing on what the next steps of our careers are or our deadlines, but giving ourselves some grace to admit that we too are followers of Christ who constantly need to rebuild our spiritual lives and that connection.  Admitting my own humanity and limitations can actually be a relief to me. At times, serving in leadership can make us feel as though we cannot make mistakes while leading worship or while speaking publicly. This can sometimes make leadership like that of a coat that we wear in order to show our strength and perfectionism. However, we are not Christ, and we should take off our “coats” and focus as the composer states on having a “clean heart,” so that we can follow Jesus.

Psalm, Felicia Patton, Create In Me a clean heart

Source: superlative1.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we worked toward the launch of The Center over a year ago, we developed a set of guiding stances for the work of The Center for Congregational Song. I’d like to highlight a few of those guiding stances that I think speak to what we hope to accomplish in 2019.

 

 

HOPES

We celebrate the width and depth of variety in the church’s song throughout history, recognizing that each genre, like each culture or each person, brings unique gifts and challenges to the church.

My hope is that in 2019 The Center for Congregational Song will be a cheerleader for the church’s song and all those who work to lead God’s people in song. There is so much to celebrate, but during this time of overwhelming pain and hate it is easy to forget God’s love for us. Our events, while tackling difficult subjects and not shying away from controversy, will be places of celebration of God’s good gift of song and singing together. Likewise, our blogs, podcasts, and other content will be in the spirit of celebrating the goodness that comes from viewpoint diversity and deep listening.

 

DREAMS

Collaboration and teamwork honors each other’s different gifts and therefore makes everyone stronger by building up partnerships, strengthening relationships, and amplifying each other’s ministries.

My dream for 2019 is that the relationships and partnerships we’ve been building over the last 15 months will bear unexpected and wonderfully creative fruit. As a part of our ecumenical work to build bridges, we have been working hard to learn who is also working to encourage, promote, and enliven congregational song in every denomination, piety, and genre. This year we’re ready to begin building those bridges and already have a couple programs planned that will bring diverse groups of people together to meet, collaborate, and create.

 

INTRODUCTIONS

At its best, singing together enables unity when perhaps spoken conversation is difficult or impossible.

Our original blog team [introductions here], made up of Rosa Ramirez, Adam Perez, Ginny Chilton, and myself conceptualized the content for the blog as a place where folk would be sure to find joy, optimism, humility, grace, and contextualization. The posts, like the blog team members, would represent a variety of viewpoints and skill-sets so that throughout the year you might encounter posts that speak directly to your own ministry challenges as well as open your eyes to the challenges and thoughts of others. With that in mind, we’ve expanded our blog team for 2019 to include three more voices. Each person brings a unique perspective that will continue to challenge and inspire us. We’re excited to welcome each of these new members to our team!

 

The Center for Congregational Song, Centered in Song, Blog, Church Music, Song

Felicia Patton is a lifelong Chicago native. Felicia received an undergraduate degree from North Park University followed by two graduate degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She was very active while at North Park, having served on worship teams, gospel choir, jazz choir, jazz band, and guitar ensemble. In her previous position, she was the director of traditional worship, where she directed three choirs. Felicia has continued to sing within the Chicago and surrounding areas as a solo artist and with her band, Chicago Soul Revue.

 

Center for Congregational Song, Centered in Song, Blog, Hampton, Atlanta, Church Music

Min. Rylan Harris is a graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. While still active with the Hampton Minister’s Conference, he has recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia to pursue a Master of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Music and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He now serves as Minister of Worship & Arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church with Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale. Along with his passion for music ministry, he is a keyboardist, singer, and composer.

 

Center for Congregational Song, David Bjorlin, Centered in Song, Blog, Singing, Church

David Bjorlin is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and currently serves as the worship pastor at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. In addition to his role as worship leader, David is a lecturer in worship at North Park University and a published hymnwriter. He holds a PhD in History and Hermeneutics (liturgical studies) from Boston University School of Theology. His academic interests include the history and practice of hymnody/congregational song, the connection between worship and ethics, and the incorporation of children in worship.

 

 

 

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating and collaborating. Here’s to a great 2019!