As I’m writing this post, I’ve had some minor symptoms after getting the Pfizer COVID booster shot. When I made the appointment to get the booster the afternoon of November 7, I was hopeful, perhaps naively so, that I would escape without any symptoms. However, as an insurance policy, I made sure that the following day would be clear of any scheduled meetings. That was a very smart idea, as I started the day feeling extremely tired. Since I got home, I’ve developed some minor chills and am under a few blankets. I’m listening to a playlist of piano music by Ola Gjeilo and have Christmas lights now. As with the second shot in April, I am hoping these symptoms will break in the middle of the night.
I decided to listen to my body and other than a few hours at work, I’ve rested as much as I could. Last week was one of those extremely busy weeks due to workload, especially last-minute preparations for All Saints Sunday and a Saturday morning rehearsal for the upcoming Advent/Christmas concert. Even before the booster shot, I felt the previous week catching up with me. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to my body more. That inner listening has been a challenge. It constantly feels as if there’s always more to get done. Sometimes work as a choral conductor can get so busy that I lose sense of myself. As a result, I’m on the path of finding what will bring me back to the present moment. The more I do that, the healthier I am and the more expressive my choirs can be.
Recently, this past Sunday, I experienced one of the most memorable worship services I’ve helped lead. As in many churches, the first Sunday in November is All Saints Sunday, where we remember loved ones who have gone before us and give thanks for saints still in our lives. I’ve been a part of many All Saints Sunday services in the past, but this one had a few creative elements that made it extra-special.
Ahead of time, we collected a list of names of church members who had died in the past year. As part of the service, names were read in groups of 3-4, with a bell rung after each grouping. We used the first four bells of the tune SINE NOMINE, the tune name associated with For All the Saints. Each bell was in a different corner of the Sanctuary. We also allowed people time to speak out loud any other names that came to mind. I had no idea how many people were going to speak. It felt like a holy moment because so many people spoke up. After there were a few moments of silence, each of four bells rang one after the other.
We also asked for people to submit pictures of loved ones who had passed away. We posted those pictures who they would surround the congregation, even hanging some pictures by a clothespin to a rope attached to the corners of the Sanctuary. Those pictures were included in a slideshow that played during the Chancel Choir anthem.
Another change was when the Pastors led Communion. Instead of the Chancel, we placed a makeshift altar in the middle of the Sanctuary. It was very powerful to have the congregation facing each other during the Communion liturgy. A church member watching online was also moved by this change and loved seeing more of the congregation, rather than just the back of people’s heads.
During the whole service, I felt like I was able to stay in the moment. That was especially crucial for at least two specific moments. During the Offertory, the Chancel Choir typically sings an anthem. Usually, one of the pastors says a brief prayer before the Offertory. However, this time, I didn’t see either pastor get up to pray before the Offertory. After waiting a few seconds, I started the anthem. After the service, I was talking with the Senior Pastor about the service and he said that felt right in the moment. Luckily I was aware and centered enough to know what to do without verbal communication.
Once the Chancel Choir started singing the anthem, an arrangement of Shall We Gather At the River, I felt like I almost had an out of body experience. The singing was so emotionally engaged that it really moved me from a deep place. After the service, I was talking with choir members also had a similar experience with the anthem.
I’m sure there were other moments that were inspiring, but those were moments that will stay with me for a long time. I hope that in the next choir rehearsals I lead, I can stay fully in the moment and also have awareness enough to help my singers and ringers stay in the moment.