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2019 – Hopes, Dreams, and Introductions

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!

 

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

Lessons and Carols

My church has a tradition of doing a service of Advent Lessons and Carols every year. To me, the term “Lessons and Carols” brings to mind King’s College in all its perfection, so planning my first service felt a bit daunting. I serve a small congregation with a small, but capable, volunteer choir. I knew the level that King’s produces was not attainable for us, so I embraced this as an opportunity to get creative. I ended up having a ton of fun crafting something that allows my choir to shine and encourages more active participation from the congregation. Below are some helpful tips for anyone who is still crafting Advent and Christmas services at your church.

 

Add some more prophets

Lessons and Carols is much like an Easter Vigil service in that it retells the Christian story of salvation: both services start with the Genesis stories of Creation and The Fall and end with stories of Jesus from the Gospels. As long as you start and end correctly, you can insert almost any readings, and any number of them, in between. The readings of the canonical nine Lessons and Carols connect Genesis to the Gospels via two passages from Isaiah. In my congregation, we enjoy hearing from several prophets in addition to Isaiah, which is perfectly fitting. I don’t mean to criticize the curators of those original nine lessons (okay, maybe I do), but the Israelites waited a long time for their savior! We should hear from more than one prophet before we jump to the Gospels.

In addition to it being historically appropriate, adding more prophets makes for a more exciting service. Start out joyously after the story of Creation and have the mood drop dramatically after The Fall. Then, make your congregation wait a bit before the star of Bethlehem dawns on the horizon. Jesus’s arrival will have much more impact.

 

Engage the congregation

When I’m worshiping as a congregant, I confess that I often get so caught up in the music that I miss the message. That is definitely the case when I attend a traditional service of Lessons and Carols; you’ll find me humming “Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day” for days afterward. I wanted to be sure the members of our congregation were engaged in the story of salvation from beginning to end, so I picked several congregational songs to fit with the additional prophetic readings. “Deep Within” by David Haas has a hauntingly beautiful melody and a refrain that is easy for congregations to pick up. The words about God writing a new covenant on the people’s hearts are taken directly from Jeremiah 31:31-34. “People, Look East” by Eleanor Farjeon is a common carol sung in Advent; most people don’t realize these words are based on the prophet Baruch (4:36). The prophet Micah also foretells a savior (5:2-4), and you can pair this with any number of Advent or general Parousia hymns (I often use “Soon and Very Soon” by Andrae Crouch). Finally, it is gratifying to hear from John the Baptist, as in John 1 where he foretells the coming of Christ. Pair this reading with “There’s a voice in the wilderness crying” by James Lewis Milligan using the ASCENSION tune.

Having plenty of congregational music also makes it easy to add in the odd musician from your congregation: flute sounds lovely on “Deep Within,” and “People, Look East” benefits from one or more brass players. Having more congregational music and musicians engages people in what is happening, and aids the service in feeling more like worship and less like a concert. If you’re doing Lessons and Carols on a Sunday morning, which we do at my church, it is fitting (and fun!) to engage your congregation more.

 

Make your choir shine

When taking a creative bent on Lessons and Carols, the more difficult job can be finding the right anthems for the choir to sing. Certain anthems have carved a special place in my heart, and my choir members feel the same way. After the reading from Genesis 3, for instance, it’s hard not to hear Elizabeth Poston’s “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” “To Dust” by Karen Marrolli (a living composer!) is a new anthem that I’ve tried in this slot with much success. It makes an impression on listeners and has become a favorite of my choir. Since I like hearing from as many prophets as possible, I sometimes add Zephaniah 3:14-18 and have the choir sing a setting of Psalm 96 or 98 (perhaps your choir already knows a setting of one of those they can dust off and perform with gusto). Pitoni’s “Cantate Domino” worked well for us. Stainer’s “How Beautiful Upon the Mountains” and Carl Schalk’s “As the Dark Awaits the Dawn” work well with any prophetic passage, are fun to learn, and allow volunteer choirs to shine.

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The King’s College version of Lessons and Carols is not feasible for the vast majority of us who work at modest churches with volunteer choirs. This isn’t a bad thing. Tinkering with their version to make it fit your congregation is quite enjoyable. In the process, you’ll learn a lot more about the individuals you’re working with and the message of the service you’re planning. Happy planning, and happy Advent!

 

For more blogs by Ginny Chilton Maxwell, go to the Centered in Song Blog Page.

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

5 Benefits of Starting a “Family Choir”

When I took my most recent music ministry post, part of my job description was to start a children’s choir. At the time, the children’s music ministry had been on hiatus for almost a decade and the number of families with young children in the parish was dwindling. The ground did not feel particularly ripe for starting a children’s choir and the task felt daunting, to say the least. After much thought I decided to start what eventually became known as Family Choir. Family Choir is for children under age twelve with an accompanying adult. We practice once a week and the children sing for church about every other month. We sing traditional hymns as well as praise choruses, music you hear on Sunday morning as well as fun Sunday School songs with movements. The group is thriving, so below I’m sharing five benefits our community has experienced by starting a Family Choir. Please add your own thoughts in the comment section!

 

1. Families stay together

From my own experience and from talking with other parents of young children, I hear that families do not have enough quality activities that they can do with their children. Many families have two working parents, and it’s not always appealing to have yet another obligation that requires children to be separated and looked after by someone else. Parents are longing to bond with other parents and have quality time with their children in an atmosphere that welcomes children and takes their needs into account. At family choir, parents and grandparents share songs from their own childhoods with the children, and children share their favorite Vacation Bible School songs with their parent or grandparent.

 

2. Family choir is inter-generational

As congregation sizes shrink (especially in many mainline churches) it is no longer feasible to split a small number of people into a bunch of age groups. Even if it was possible, I believe part of our strength as faith communities is in our ability to form family-like bonds amongst each other, where people of all ages are loved and included. Americans are also living away from their extended families more than ever before; our churches have the unique opportunity to fill that void for people. Family choir is one way to form and maintain those loving bonds.

 

3. Family choir is not obsessed with numbers

Working in a church, I often find myself becoming obsessed with numbers. How many people were in worship this week? How many showed up for choir? It’s exhausting and it drains me of my love for ministry and music. The nice thing about Family Choir is that, with myself and two other adults who were excited about the group, we had critical mass almost right away. The adults added volume to the songs and their children added energy; with those things combined, our little community had life right from the start. With such a large age range–and always with at least one tiny child present (even infants!)–it doesn’t occur to us to be discouraged by who isn’t there. There is always joy when we are making music together!

There is always joy when we are making music together!

4. Families enjoy worship more

Sunday morning music at my particular mainline church can be hard to sing for a young child, especially one who cannot yet read! In Family Choir, children are able to hear more repetitions of the songs that come up in worship and thus are able to participate and enjoy more of what happens on Sunday mornings. That’s a win for the child’s engagement in worship as well as her family’s! Added bonus: so many young parents at my church are new to my denomination, or to church in general, and they also appreciate more chances to hear the music!

In Family Choir, children are able to hear more repetitions of the songs that come up in worship

5. Family choir has a broader reach

It is not necessary that Family Choir participants establish themselves first as regular attenders of your church’s worship service. It can be very intimidating to walk into a worship service for the first time, especially if you have children in tow. It can also be intimidating, as a church member, to invite a friend to church. Family choir is on a weeknight. There are often several stuffed animals present. It’s low pressure. You can come to Family Choir and get to know the inside of the church and the people who go there before you decide you’re ready to come on Sunday morning.

 

In these five ways–and I’m sure there are more–Family Choir is doing a great job of responding to my church’s challenges, which I know are challenges many churches are facing. Whatsmore, it is not just an honest response but a faithful one. So many times we look at what our church has and say, “But we used to have so much more….” I appreciate that Family Choir celebrates what we do have. God is still very much alive in every person, in every moment. It’s an amazing thing and it’s worth jumping for joy over. Family Choir has helped me remember that!

 

For more blogs by Ginny and our other writers, go to our main blog page: https://congregationalsong.org/conversations/blog-connections/

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

I tried to pay attention to the music at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this year, which took place in Austin. The worship planners did a good job of blending the old and the new, and of the new I noticed–by reading through the bulletins, which are available online– that the name Scott Chard came up several times. Much of the music was written by him and he was the artistic director for worship. A quick Google search reveals that Chard is the Praise Chorus Leader at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City. There is surprisingly little else to be found about Chard on the internet, except that he has one studio-length album that you can purchase online or stream for free on YouTube. The album, which was released in 2013, is called Sanctus and includes re-tuned hymns as well as fully original songs by Chard himself.

 

We haven’t talked about re-tuned hymns yet among these blog posts. In the church music world, a hymn is called “re-tuned” if it is an old text with a new, contemporary-style musical setting. Everyone knows the tune to “Amazing Grace,” for instance, but Chard has written a completely new tune to go with this text. Many listeners find it jarring at first to hear such a familiar text set to a new tune. The idea behind any new tune, though, is for the timeless words to hit the listener’s ear in a fresh way. Re-tuned hymns always use a modern, popular style of music, so as to appeal to listeners whose tastes tend more toward rock-n-roll than classic hymnody.

 

Chard’s re-tuning of Amazing Grace is reminiscent of the 90’s band Guster, with its light percussion, acoustic instruments, and relaxed pace. “Crown Him with Many Crowns” has acoustic guitar played with a Spanish flair, backed by Guster-like percussion. “God Himself is There” reminded me of Sixpence None the Richer, also a 90’s band.

 

Deliver My Soul” is my favorite track. It has a driving beat and highlights Chard’s gentle southern accent. The whole album is very gentle. I would even call it chill. CD Baby, Chard’s label, says you will like Chard’s music if you like James Taylor and I would agree with that. Now that I’ve heard the album a few times I would say it stands out mostly for its inoffensiveness. Like Guster or James Taylor, Chard is very relaxed. Relaxed is good. I enjoyed listening to the album and found myself humming the tunes throughout the day. Nothing really stood out to me, though. I was hoping to find something new and irresistible. I was hoping to be inspired, or at the very least, I thought I’d find something catchy. I didn’t find it on Sanctus.

 

Relaxed and Re-tuned: Scott Chard’s album, Sanctus

Album: Sanctus by Scott Chard

Label: CD Baby, released December 2013, produced by Erick Alexander

 

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

While doing research for my previous blog posts this summer I came across a group called “Music that Makes Community.” If you’re reading this blog it’s possible you’ve already heard of them. They are a nonprofit that works on a number of things related to communal singing, and I highly suggest you check out their website, but what I wish to highlight here is that everything they do is based on the belief that singing together is particularly effective at building community. This is an idea that may feel foreign to us in 21st century America but, in the not-so-distant past, you needed other people in order to have any music in your life at all. Before recorded music, everyone played an instrument or at least sang. Nearly everyone could keep a steady beat and hold a pitch (You have to be able to do those things if you want to create music together!). Think of how much certain songs or bands shaped who you were at different times in your life. Now, imagine you lived before recording technology was made available, and you and your friends and family had to make all that music yourself. We would all be much better musicians, (Yay!), but I’m more struck by how much more time we would have spent face-to-face with one another. I can’t help but wonder what a difference that would make in terms of belonging and community building.

 

Countercultural

Church is one of the few places that people still gather to make music together en masse. Recorded music has become so ubiquitous that we rarely even listen to music with others, nevermind sing it together; we each have our own self-curated list of songs on our smartphones which we listen to with earbuds on, keeping us from being able to enjoy even listening to music together. I think it’s pretty awesome that we church folk are so proudly countercultural that we will still sing together each Sunday morning (and during the week, too!). When we sing together, we are closer to each other. When we are closer to each other we cultivate a sense of belonging, we can provide for each other’s needs, and we can better communicate with one another. In a society that feels increasingly polarized, you might say making music together can be one way to start solving our problems.

 

Knitting Hearts Together

Creating places where people feel close to one another, where people are known and feel like they belong, is some of the most important work of the church. Communal singing is not just a fun activity, it is a way of knitting hearts together over time. When we are close to someone, we are seeing Christ in them and we are being Christ to them. If you are involved in music at your church, whether formally or informally, you are doing what Jesus called you to do. That is sacred stuff.

 

For more blogs by this author and others, go to our main blog page.

 

 

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

One of my choir members was telling me the other day that every time she hears “Be Thou My Vision,” she can picture the outdoor chapel where she worshipped at sleepaway camp as a child. She can feel the miniature Episcopal hymnbook in her hands and see the faces of the two women–sisters– who ran the camp. I was struck by the image of her as a child and the power of the music, combined with the setting, to make such an impression on her (this took place over 50 years ago!). It made me ponder how important it is that we all take some sabbath time to refresh ourselves, and how singing and summertime naturally lend themselves so well to that refreshment.

 

Sleepaway Camp

My choir member called it “sleepaway camp” but I just called it “camp” when I was a kid. The only camp I ever attended as a child was St. George’s Camp, at Shrine Mont in the Shenandoah Valley. I think my favorite part of camp was the worship services, which were held twice a day, and the best part of that was the singing. We sang all the music by heart and had hand motions for nearly every song. There are so many things that you share at camp, but sharing song is so powerful because it engages all of yourself: your voice, your body (especially if there are fun motions!), your sense of hearing, sight, and touch. It was something you could share with the other people at camp, something you could look around and feel you had in common with folks who were strangers just a few days ago.

 

I was a “St. G’s” camper over 25 years ago, but when I hear those songs I can still feel the friendship bracelets on my wrist and taste the grape soda like it was yesterday. I’m trying to think what else but music would conjure up such vivid memories. Looking at a photograph or touching an old t-shirt can certainly send a wave of memories crashing down on someone, but I think music has a special ability to help us recall the past in such detail.

 

St. G’s was so important to my sense of sabbath as a child. I came home with a cassette tape which I played on repeat after a tough day at school, in an 8-year-old’s version of what I would now call self-care. I looked forward to that week (just one week!) away every summer to clear my mind. It restored my self-confidence and put the stress I experienced during the school year into perspective. And I cried my little heart out to say goodbye to all my new friends, friends I’d only known for a week! I think music–specifically, singing together– had something to do with how close we were all able to grow in such a short amount of time, how renewed I felt, and how vividly I can recall these memories some 25 years later.

She can feel the miniature Episcopal hymnbook in her hands and see the faces of the two women–sisters– who ran the camp.

Summer Conferences

I no longer fit the age requirements for St. George’s Camp, but my need for a summer singing sabbath is as important as ever. The Hymn Society’s annual conference is one place I’ve found to refresh myself through singing in the summer. No counselors or bunk beds at this sleepaway camp, but you can often stay in a dorm with a roommate! My first annual conference was in 2012 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I had never been to that part of Canada before, and I was struck by the vast expanses of prairie stretching out all around us as we rode the buses to and from the university for our evening hymn sings. So different from the east coast! The evening that sticks out in my mind the most was a hymn sing we did at a little Anglican church with a BIG organ. It was the first time I’d been introduced to the music of Thomas Pavlechko, who accompanied the hymn sing and played several of his hymn tunes and harmonizations. We had enough people there to fill nearly every seat in the church. I remember at one point I felt totally transported; everyone was singing with all their might, and our voices, woven together with the organ, filled every bit of aural space in the sanctuary. I got teary-eyed, and at the end, with uncharacteristic exuberance, I rushed up to have my picture taken with Mr. Pavlechko. I came home feeling refreshed, with a renewed passion for organ music and congregational singing. It was not just the music, but the fact that I could participate in it, and join my voice with so many others, that made this such a moving and refreshing experience for me.

 

Singing, Summer, Sabbath

I know there are many of us who read this blog who have had a similar experience at a Hymn Society annual conference. What year stands out in your mind? What about summers from your childhood, or the summers your own children are experiencing now? Are there summer camp experiences that set the precedent for your love of congregational song? What are you guys doing to refresh yourselves this summer?

…but when I hear those songs I can still feel the friendship bracelets on my wrist and taste the grape soda like it was yesterday.

 

Congregational Song, St. George's Camp, Summer Camp Worship, Worship

Ginny’s Summer Camp Worship Service

Hymnal, Song Book, Songbook, Church of England, Singing, Hymnals

“She can feel the miniature Episcopal hymnbook in her hands…”

Congregational Singing, The Hymn Society, Annual Conference, Hymn Festival

Ginny Chilton Maxwell and Thom Pavlechko after Thom’s Hymn Society Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

Center for Congregational Song, Ginny Chilton Maxwell, Organ, Singing

The beautiful church where Thom Pavlechko’s hymn festival was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

Pipe Organ, Ginny Chilton Maxwell, Congregational Song, Singing, Church, Worship

The organ played for The Hymn Society’s hymn festival that evening in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately. At work I lament that I flubbed my postlude or that a new hymn went over like a lead balloon. At home sometimes I can’t seem to comfort the baby, and my dining room floor is covered in about a quarter inch of Cheerio dust. So I was energized to read the latest newsletter from the Center for Congregational Song, which talks about “success” and what that means to us who serve Christ. “So ultimately,” it says, “the answer to ‘how will we know we’ve been successful?’ is that we’re not 100% successful until God’s kingdom comes. Until then, we work and we sing!” Yes, Amen! This message came at a perfect time in my life. In this blog post are some ways my work in congregational song has taught me to celebrate failure as a necessary and even healthy part of that work.  Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of my reflections and be able to share your experiences below.

I start to wonder if this decline is a reflection on me; if I was a flashier performer or a more charismatic leader, would things be better?

Failures piling up…

Perhaps the thing that has been most persuasive concerning the power of failure is that I now basically work full time with very small children. Children under five are extremely active. I now pack more in before 9 am than I used to in a whole day! So, there are plenty of opportunities for failure. How many songs have I tried to teach them that never caught on? How many music classes went by where I struggled to keep my students focused? As I began reflecting, I realized that I was keeping better track of my failures than my successes. Though it feels like my failures are piling up, it is actually because of them  that I’ve become a better musician, a better curator of songs, and a better teacher. I am where I am today because I have failed so many times!

 

I found myself in that moment giving thanks to God for my failure. I was reminded of one of my favorite passages in Second Corinthians, where Paul tries to explain to his readers what it means to boast in Christ: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10. I’ve always liked this passage because Paul isn’t just saying, “It’s okay to be weak,” or “Be weak if you have to.” He’s really rejoicing in weakness! When I fail I am reminded to rely more fully on God’s grace, and I realize how much I need God and the support of other people. It is humbling and strengthening. It also gives me a chance to learn from my mistakes–if I’m not making mistakes, I’m probably not being bold enough each day.

 

“It used to be so much better than it is now…”

Failing to teach a song or manage a classroom of children is one kind of failure, but working in a declining church feels like another thing entirely. I know there are people reading this blog who work or worship in a mainline Protestant church, or another church that is experiencing decline. It can be deflating to worship with too few people in your sanctuary, to not see many young people darken your door or have many new members join your choir. I know I start to feel worn down when I have to constantly listen to parishioners talk about how much better things used to be. I start to wonder if this decline is a reflection on me; if I was a flashier performer or a more charismatic leader, would things be better?

 

I’m thankful for places like the Center for Congregational Song that remind me to put things in perspective: I didn’t decide to serve the church in order to make myself look good or to amass successes. I became a music minister because I want to serve Christ who came to earth because he was so crazy in love with each and every one of us. God calls us to emulate Jesus, whose entire life was lived out only for others, never for himself. As leaders and participants in congregational song, we work and we sing and we leave the rest to God. I’m reminded of another favorite Bible passage, Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Prosperity and adversity will come and go, successes and failures will come and go; God remains God, and our call to serve God will be the same in every circumstance. Amen!

 

Sin(g) Boldly!

I was highly entertained by reading the blog post from May 16th, “A Profound Silence,” in which Brian Hehn describes performing John Cage’s 4’33” in his church’s worship service. Brian tells the story from when he first got the idea through the performance and the feedback, which was mixed: some snark, some gratitude. I appreciate that Brian blogged about something with such a real life outcome in a culture that tends to only want to publish filtered and polished success stories. This wasn’t a conventional success story, but I think it was still successful. It sounds like the Spirit spoke to Brian, he acted on it, and now he’s learned something from what did and didn’t go well. As I embrace failure and read stories like this, I’m reminded to sin(g) boldly and to act more on the Spirit’s leadership than on fear. I’m also reminded to focus more on building God’s Kingdom than on tallying my successes at the end of the day. Finally, I’m thankful to have a tribe like the folks I know through the Center for Congregational Song to remind me why I do this work. We work and we sing!

 

For more blogs by Ginny and the rest of our blog team, go to our main blog page.

 

 

 

 

 

Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

On Easter Day we celebrate that Jesus came back to life, but starting the day after Easter most of us in ministry, and music ministry specifically, feel anything but lively. Easter is meant to be more than just one day; in Western Christianity, at least, it’s a whole fifty days of celebrating. But how many of us actually treat the seven weeks after Easter as the festival season it is? In many of the churches in which I’ve worked and worshiped, we tend to take a few days or even the whole week after Easter off, and the rest of the Easter season never really regains its momentum. We’re exhausted, for goodness sakes, and our worship tends to suffer for it. This doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of the resurrection. What can we as musicians do to be more faithful to the spirit of Easter, without overtaxing ourselves and the people we work with?

 

The more we get together, the happier we’ll be…

The Sunday after Easter can often be a bit of a downer, not only because we’re all still recovering from Easter, but because many of us have to go from a very full church back to our usual, often much lower, number of worshipers. One thing that worked particularly well for my church this year was to plan a worship service with other churches in our neighborhood for the Sunday after Easter. Granted, ecumenical worship services can take a lot of effort to execute. But I found that with three music ministers working together, we were able to divide and conquer and not leave anyone with too much to do. With someone there to conduct, I could focus on the organ, and we had plenty of singers to fill the choir loft and make the anthem sound full.

I have to say, I’d forgotten how much having children around makes each holiday feel so special.

The nave, too, was full of worshipers to make the hymns and responses quite hardy. What’s more, it feels faithful to the good news of Jesus to break down our denominational barriers and worship as one. What better time to proclaim that message than during the Easter season.

 

On the road again…On the Road Again

For those of us who are church musicians, most of our work is for events that occur within the four walls of the church. What would happen if we took our show on the road for one or more of the weeks of Eastertide? The music is already learned; why not perform it a few more times in a location other than your church sanctuary? If your church is in a downtown or other highly visible location, consider doing some of the music you worked so hard on for Easter out on the front steps or the front lawn. You could even do the whole worship service outside, weather permitting, at your usual Sunday morning time. If your church is affiliated with a school or nursing home, ask if you can perform the anthem or other special Easter music at their weekly worship service. Or, team up with the school’s music teacher and make music class that week a special Easter “concert,” complete with a tour of the organ and an opportunity to sit with choir members and follow along with the music as they sing. Some of these options will be relatively easy to execute; others require more planning than most of us want to do the week after Easter. But I think you’ll find that just by changing the scenery you’ll be able to extend the life of the music you performed on Easter Sunday, and keep the Easter season alive while you’re at it.

 

Won’t someone think of the children?

In the past three years I’ve had two children and started a Children Singing Easterjob that involves working at the school affiliated with my church. I have to say, I’d forgotten how much having children around makes each holiday feel so special. Children have an enthusiasm for celebrations and traditions that is infectious to the rest of us. Easter Sunday may not be a good time for the children’s choir to sing, but it’s perfectly appropriate to have them sing an Easter song on the Sunday(s) after Easter. Small children delight in having songs to sing that go with whatever season it is, so even if you’re working with children in a less formal setting than a choir, you can keep singing your resurrection songs all through the season. (Sidebar: I’ve found there aren’t enough Easter songs to satisfy the appetites of young children. Which Easter songs do your children love?) You might find that you have more opportunity to discuss the true meaning of Easter with the children once the Easter bunny has faded away, too.

 

The Easter Season is meant to be one of overflowing joy and celebration. What do you find helps you maintain the spirit of Easter through the whole season?

 

For more blogs by author Ginny Chilton, check out all our blogs here.