On the 1st Sunday of March, we gathered as a community over a pot of soup, salad, and bread for our first Lunch & Chat. It was a wonderful time of listening to one another and delving into how we experience music, our topic of the day, as a part of our life together in God. The goal was, in part, to learn to trust one another in conversation, something we sometimes struggle with as a community. It was also an opportunity for me get a sense of how we feel about music in our community, and where we want to go. In this letter, I want to reflect back to you what I learned, giving you a sense of what we are going to do with this information.
During the meeting, I asked everyone to get up from their seats and respond with a colored dot to the questions and statements below on a 1-5 scale:
- How important is it to have music (any kind) at the Sunday Eucharist?
- How important is it for YOU to sing during the Sunday Eucharist?
- How important is it for the congregation to sing during the Sunday Eucharist?
- How important is it to have musical accompaniment while singing?
- I like “high” liturgy.
- I like silence in liturgy.
- I like to pray out loud in liturgy.
- I like to sing/chant the Psalm during Sunday Eucharist.
- I like to sing/chant the Lord’s Prayer during Sunday Eucharist.
- Hymns should reflect African-American musical traditions.
- Hymns should reflect Episcopal/Anglican musical traditions.
- I like to clap during Sunday Eucharist.
- I like to move my body in rhythm during Sunday Eucharist.
As you can see from the results (see the online gallery), this community likes to sing! Music is essential to our Sunday worship experience, and not only do we individually like to sing, but we like to sing together! We clearly want our music to reflect the congregation’s historical African-American roots, though we do like Anglican/Episcopal hymns. We like to sing the Lord’s Prayer, but aren’t so sure about singing the Psalm. We like moving our bodies in liturgy, and we kind of like clapping, sometimes. We are mixed about how ‘high’ our liturgy should be, and from the discussion it was clear that we aren’t always sure what ‘high’ actually means (something hardly unique to our parish). Some of us like silence too, though not as much as we like singing. Finally, praying aloud for one another is clearly important.
In response to this information, I would like to explore some changes with you, and I welcome your feedback.
Congregational Singing: Clearly we love to sing! We need to sing music that matches our capabilities as a small but fervent group of singers. This means taking the time to better learn hymns from our beloved Lift Every Voice and Sing, introducing new music from the African-American (or even other non-White) traditions that can be sung congregationally, and having consistency from Sunday to Sunday in our musical selections and accompaniment. One way this will look is repeating hymns over several Sundays. This allows us to learn some hymns really well. It means we can put down our bulletins and prayer books, and simply sing. Music is a form of prayer (for many traditions, it is the primary form of prayer!) and knowing the songs in our bones helps us to place ourselves in the presence of God where we can make a joyful noise (Ps. 98.4). Building on our love for congregational singing will be a focus of liturgical planning for the year.
The Lord’s Prayer: This one, we are going to keep singing. For Lent, it will be a setting that matches our sung Sanctus (Holy Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). We will move into other versions known and loved by this place: the ones written for us by Tomas Mendoza, by our former director Richard Moffat, and some favorites from the Hymnal. If you have favorites, let me know!
The Psalm: For Lent, we will read the Psalm. We will continue to experiment with different ways of saying and singing the Psalm. The Psalm is actually the oldest part of our liturgy (it significantly precedes Christianity), and “psalm” actually means “song.” If we sing it, the melodies we use should better reflect our cultural history, and there are some wonderful variations that I am learning about, inspired by the Music Makes Community workshop I attended this last weekend (and hope to convince a few of you to attend with me in the future).
Your Favorite Hymns: As a part of this, at our next meeting (April 7th), we will talk about (and perhaps sing) our favorite hymns! I want your favorite Lenten/Holy Week hymns, your favorite Easter hymns, and just your favorites in general. Be prepared to share what hymns you like, why, and even where you like to sing them in the Liturgy (sometimes, communion is made just right accompanied by a beloved hymn).
I hope this gives you a sense of where we are going, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. My hope is that making a joyful noise to the Lord is a way for us as a family in Christ to rest in and be renewed by the God who hums alongside us as we journey through our days.