As Director of Music at a church, I often need to think about logistics during the service. Especially on Sundays with multiple choirs, I need to think about getting a choir to the correct place in the Chancel. If I need to switch to a different location in the Chancel, I often need to figure out the best timing so it doesn’t distract the congregation. Unfortunately, due to these concerns and others, sometime I don’t feel as if I’ve worshipped fully. As a result, attending various Music and Worship conferences feed my soul and also provide practical ideas that I can take back to my context.
This summer, I attended Week 2 of the Worship and Music Conference at Montreat, from June 26 – July 1. For over 50 years, it has inspired attendees. Sponsored by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM), it takes place at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, NC, close to Asheville. Each year, hundreds of adults, children, and youth attend one of two week-long sessions to worship, learn, make music, rest, reconnect with long-time friends, and make new friends. Here is some additional information on the conference:
For adults, the schedule consists of a mix of classes and rehearsals in the morning and afternoon, with daily worship right before lunch. Evening activities are varied and consist of an organ recital, Beer and Hymns event, hymn festival, Adult and High School Chamber Choir Concert, and a closing concert featuring all ensembles. While it does sound like a full schedule, many attendees elect not to fill their entire day with classes and enjoy the beautiful scenery during a class block or two. This year, I sang in the auditioned Adult Chamber Choir that rehearsed two times a day led by Dr. André Thomas and attended three classes: The Rhythms of Justice, Worship Reflections, and a Liturgy Writing Seminar. I learned a tremendous amount and was inspired by moving worship.
This year’s theme was In the Stranger’s Guise, inspired by the Matthew 25:31-46 passage. According to conference preacher Rev. Aisha Brooks-Johnson, “As the nations are gathered before the Son of Man, the resounding question is raised as they all want to know, “Lord, when did we see you?” The Lord reminds those gathered and all who have ears to hear today that one can find the risen Savior hidden among the sick, the poor, the lonely, the hungry, the imprisoned and those on society’s edge.” Worship services centered around themes of creation, justice, and welcoming all and provided a rich tapestry through Liturgy, Preaching, Vocal and Instrumental Music, Visual Art, and Dance.
From a practical standpoint, worship services gave me food for thought regarding creative ways of reading Scripture. Sometimes one person would read a passage. Other times, two, three, or more people would read. For example, one passage included a narrator while others read what various people in the passage said. Often these groups were intergenerational and included adults, children, and/or youth. During longer readings, the organ or other instruments provided short improvisations to help bring the passage to life. On one occasion, someone wove branches in the air with leaves when a passage mentioned the rustling of leaves. All of those ideas require some advance planning and I could see any size church being able to implement them. I also appreciated that at the end of each Sermon, Rev. Brooks-Johnson gave us spiritual practices that we could implement in our lives and in our communities.
Regarding the two classes I took, I learned so much! As it gets closer to the fall, I will need to review my notes several times as the information was extremely relevant. One of the classes was The Rhythms of Justice: A Missional Engagement of the Faithful in the Work of Proclaiming Justice. The workshop, led by Rev. Alonzo Johnson, examined justice and its intersectional issues with an emphasis on multigenerational ministry, music, the arts, and social media. For example, on one day, we looked at the power of images. The workshop leader encouraged us to take a critical look at the art used in worship in our contexts and ask questions such as:
- Do people get a sense of love and justice in our spaces?
- Do the images communicate the mission of the church?
- Do the images inadvertently exclude people?
In addition, the presenter encouraged us to look at worship through the lens of Gardner’s theory of intelligence, which introduced eight different types of intelligences: eight different types of intelligences consisting of: Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist.
By the end of the week, I felt recharged and excited to plan for the remainder of the summer and into the fall. I was reminded of the power of music, especially congregational singing and active participation of the congregation. As last year, the conference has both inspired and challenged me to expand creativity in my context. I also feel like I’ve been given tools to address challenges of our time. As the co-chairs stated in their welcome letter that in light of racism, classism, prejudice, and presupposition of all kinds, “We forget that not only is the Stranger us, the Stranger is also Christ.” Ultimately music and other arts have the potential to welcome all in worship, bring us closer together, and build community
In case you haven’t been to Montreat and are interested in attending in the future, I would love to connect with you!