interior top image

Wandering in the Wilderness

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’m back! I started a new position in August of last year and, while I didn’t plan to take a 6-month hiatus from blogging here at the Center for Congregational Song, that is in effect what happened. 

Now that the frenzy of starting a new job is starting to subside, I am finally able to take a broader look at the congregation I am now serving and express to them my main observation about who they are right now. It applies to my congregation, and perhaps it applies to your congregation as well. I also think it applies, more broadly, to the church in general:

 

We are a people in transition

The congregation I am serving has been searching for a new pastor for longer than expected, and we are feeling understandably impatient. We are deep, deep in the uncertainty of the interim period. When will the new pastor be called? Will we like her? What will he want to change? What will she think of us? We are a little like the kids in the back of the car on a family vacation. “God, are we there yet??”

Lent is about to begin, and the lectionary readings for this season are full of stories of people wandering through a period of change and vagueness in their lives, and their community’s life. As I read the Bible passages prescribed for Lent, planning and playing through music to fit each Sunday, I realize how many of our congregations are like the Israelites in the wilderness, wondering when God will finally lead them to the Promised Land. “Any day now, right, God?- We’d kind of like to get on with our lives!” Jesus, too, was sent by God into the desert to fast and pray for forty days, hence why Lent is forty days. Jesus did far less complaining about his situation than the Israelites did, but his journey was still painful. No one wants to spend several weeks alone, harassed by the devil and on the edge of starvation.

 

The Interim

The sense of impatience and ambiguity that comes through in these Lenten readings resonates with many of us who are involved with churches and congregational song. Here in the United States and many other western nations, the cultural landscape has changed dramatically since the days when families filed dutifully into church on Sunday mornings. Those of us in church leadership positions have, for some time now, been searching for new ways of being church. And, for those of us who remember the days of booming choirs and filled pews, we miss that sense of security. We long for things to feel relaxed and “normal” again.

As much as I, too, would love to hurry up and find a new normal, God was firm with the Israelites that their “interim period” in the wilderness was not something they could skip. God was not going to let them out of that desert until God knew they were ready. Many of us have stories from our own individual lives, when we were waiting and waiting for something, and as painful as that waiting might have been , it gave us time to mature, to lean on others, and to let go of the things that were not actually important. Most importantly, that period of waiting hopefully gave us a chance to lean more on God and less on our own abilities.

 

Imagine

So, this period of waiting, longing, experimenting, and even failing, is actually an invitation  given to us by God. It is an opportunity that calls especially for those with imagination, for leaders with creativity and a spark of hope. The arts are particularly suited for carrying groups of people through difficult times. As people who love and lead music, it is our unique job to guide people into an experience of worship where we can  imagine the wonderful things God has planned for us. Music, and the arts in general, help us get out of our own heads and take a leap of faith into what might be.

The adult choir at my church sang an anthem a few weeks ago that embodies what I’m trying to say here about transitions, interims, and imagination. You may know it: “Imagine the People of God,” by Mark Miller.

 

 

Imagine, Imagine the people of God

Imagine the people of God 

Believing, receiving, becoming God’s love

Imagine the people of God

 

Imagine, Imagine the people of God

Imagine the people of God 

Caring, sharing God’s love in the world

Imagine the people of God

 

Seeking the way of Jesus Christ

Trusting the courage to change

Being God’s love with neighbors and friends

Imagine the people of God

 

Imagine, Imagine the people of God

Imagine the people of God 

Believing, receiving, becoming God’s love

We are your people, O God

– Mark Miller, 2015 All Rights Reserved

Accept The Wandering

This Lent as we wander with the Israelites in the wilderness, and as we walk with Jesus in his forty days in the desert, I hope we can accept that wandering as the gift that it is. Easter Sunday will be that much sweeter if we embrace all that Lent has to offer. The next phase of “church,” whatever that is, will be more beautiful, too, for the sweat and tears we put in during this period of change. God is with us all the way!

 

 

One thought on “Wandering in the Wilderness”

  1. Craig Collins says:

    Thanks for this! Beautifully and eloquently stated! The church and church music are definitely going through a transitional period. Many want to either cling to the past or throw the baby out with the bathwater, rather than sitting with it, patiently exploring, seeking God’s guidance, and re-imagining what church and our song can be like. I found this meaningful on a personal level as well. Here’s praying many blessings on you and your new congregation during this transition period.

Comments are closed.