Music has always been an important part of my worship life. In fact, after having spent over thirty years as a church music director, I view it as integral to the whole worship experience. In particular, I speak of congregational singing, which brings us together as a community. It is a means by which we express our identity and beliefs and are fed spiritually.
From 2005 to 2010 I wrote a regular music column for The Highway, and now I am excited to pick up my pen or rather, “clack” on my keyboard, once again. This time, however, my scope will be much broader. The last thirteen years have given me more insight into the world of church music, so I have new things I want to say. In addition, in recent years, I have had the opportunity to integrate my training and experience as a speech arts specialist, theatre director, and actor into worship services. I have taught workshops and online courses to help individuals hone their skills in bringing the public reading of scriptures to life. And for five years, I led a theatre group at the Cathedral. Our presentations consisted of short sketches in place of readings during Advent and Lent, longer pieces for times such as Remembrance Day, Christmas, and Good Friday, and times when we wanted to highlight various issues in our world.
My goal in writing a column that encompasses topics related to the arts is not only to encourage others to be creative in worship but to consider how the arts can be a tool that aids congregational development. Since the pandemic, all churches have been hit hard by a loss of members, so much so that some parishes have had to close their doors. People just aren’t coming back, so I think it is extremely important that we find ways in which the church can be more engaging and especially to encourage newcomers to stay.
People who know me well will know that I am a big fan of John Bell from the Iona Community. He is a Scottish hymn writer and Church of Scotland minister, a broadcaster, and a former student activist who lectures throughout the world on topics primarily concerned with the renewal of congregational worship at the grassroots level. This quote from his book, The Singing Thing, has always stayed with me.
“When the (Wild Goose Worship) group asks people to recount what for them has been a significant worship experience, only one in a hundred ever mention a sermon – and those who do are usually preachers. More commonly people will talk about a song, a silence, a symbolic action, a service of worship in an unusual place.”
I have always known this to be true of congregational singing and I have experienced this to be true of theatre, in worship, and in those times when a reader makes a scriptural passage jump off the page through an engaging delivery. Therefore, I look forward to writing my column once again and invite you to join me on this journey in the hopes that my writings might inspire you to seek ways of bringing creativity and more engagement into your parish.