The Splendor of the Earth: Worship Planning and Ecological Stewardship

On the fifth Sunday of Easter in our congregation, we, in company with many other lectionary-based Christian churches, sang Psalm 148. In this cosmic song of praise, all ages are invited to join the earth with its sea monsters, fire, hail, snow, fog, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild beasts, and birds. “The splendor of the LORD is over earth and heaven,” we sang as a refrain. What a marvelous testimony to the fullness of God in all things!

When you sing psalms such as 148, do you pay attention to the way the earth is celebrated? What about when you plan assembly song? Even more, how much does care for the earth and ecological justice guide your worship planning?

We are nearing the summer solstice. This can be a time to reflect upon how ecological concerns find a place at our worship planning tables. What follows here are first, a few general observations and second, questions to spark conversation and reflection in your planning context.

Have you noticed . . .

  • the abundance of creation imagery in scripture, particularly in the psalms? The notion that heaven is our true home and the earth is simply a stopping point on the way does not have solid grounding if we are singers of the psalms. (And believe in a God who became flesh and walked the earth!)
  • the earthiness of sacramental theology? At the heart of our experience of God’s grace is bodily connection with water, bread, and wine. God’s word is made flesh and dwells in and among us.
  • the ways in which newer hymnody (and older as well) call our attention to themes of eco-justice? Remember, the psalter is the womb from which church music bursts forth.
  • the way the seasons of the church year can root us in deeper understanding and care for the earth? For example, the “greening” of Pentecost, calling our attention to the Spirit’s work in all that grows; the baptismal focus of Lent leading us to the waters; or the longing for light in Advent, awakening us to our dependence and use of energy (and of all that life forming in dark places, unknown or unseen by us).

Could you ask . . .

  • Do we pay attention to the psalms and other scripture that exalts the earth? Is regular psalm singing a commitment of our congregation? How can it be revitalized?
  • Do the words, rituals and gestures around the sacraments uplift the earth? Are references made to local water sources in the prayers? Can local wine and bread be used? Are connections made in preaching and song between the communion meal and all our meals?
  • What new hymns can we learn that lift up these themes? Consider “Light Dawns on a Weary World” (ELW 726) or “Touch the Earth Lightly” (ELW 739). Remember, hymns focused on care for the earth can be found under almost any category, including the church year, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. “Now the Green Blade Rises” (ELW 379) and “O Blessed Spring” (ELW 447) come to mind.
  • How can seasonal worship planning always be rooted in our experience of the natural seasons as creatures of the earth?

Some congregations may choose specific Sundays or seasons to focus on creation. While this might be an option, paying close attention to scripture and hymnody will reveal that every Sunday gives us an opportunity to regard Christian worship paired with stewardship of the earth. Much of the time, it is simply being aware to the riches that we have overlooked.

Resources to dig deeper

A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology by Benjamin Stewart

Lutherans Restoring Creation

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Singing in Summer

In one practical way, the call of a church musician resembles that of a teacher. Summers mean a little less activity, or at the very least, a different pace to your work. It would not be fair to say that church musicians have summers “off”—plenty of important work gets accomplished during the summer, especially looking ahead to the next year. Yet in many congregations, choirs and other ensembles do not keep a regular rehearsal schedule during the summer.

If your choirs and ensembles take a break from June to August, how can you use others to help lead assembly song in these months?

  1. Consider a partial summer break. Instead of a choir breaking for the entire summer, schedule them to sing selected Sundays each month. This may not work in every setting and might mean a smaller group, but it can provide some continuity in the choir’s leadership of assembly song.
  2. Consider different arrangements of voices. Could you have a men’s choir sing one Sunday and a women’s another? Prelude Music Planner offers many selections for treble or male choir. St. Olaf Choirbook for Men, Augsburg Choirbook for Men, and Augsburg Choirbook for Women provide a variety of selections for these voicings (include link: and ) Could a children’s or youth choir sing once over the summer? What about an intergenerational choir? One general piece that worked well in our setting was “I’m Gonna Sing with Over My Head” by Terry Taylor, available for download on Prelude.
  3. Consider soloists. Who in your congregation could be a cantor for a psalm? Could you also have she or he prepare a solo? (You can search for solos/duets using the “filter by type” setting on Prelude.) Do not limit such leading or solo singing to adults. Involve capable children and youth. This could be as simple as having a young person or adult sing a new hymn that you would teach to the choir and congregation at a later time.
  4. Consider instrumentalists. When they are not away at various camps, summer might be a good time to work with young instrumentalists as well as adults. This could mean solo arrangements for pre-service, offering or communion, but also enriching hymn-singing. If you have the numbers, try a summer instrumental ensemble. Remember, even a simple flute or trumpet on a hymn tune can enrich assembly song. Prelude offers many descants for easy download.
  5. Consider inviting musicians from the surrounding community. If your congregation does not have a budget for such invitations, perhaps members have family members who would like to share their gifts. You could also suggest that folks giving memorial money create a special fund to bring in guest instrumentalists or soloists.
  6. Consider being “up front” a little more in the summer. If you have ever considered leading more with your voice, summer might be a time to venture into “paperless” song leading. Visit Music that Makes Community for more about this style of song leading. Collections published by Augsburg Fortress such as “Songs and Prayers Around the Cross” lend themselves to this kind of leadership, as do hymns in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, such as “Come, Let us Eat” (491) or “Send Me, Lord” (809). If your congregation is not ready for this style of leading in worship, summer potlucks, vacation Bible school, and outdoor services might be a way to plant the seed.

Enjoy being creative as you plan for the summer. Pay attention to the gifts present in your worshiping community and beyond. Perhaps a quieter ensemble schedule will both help you focus on other aspects of music ministry and give you space to reflect and prepare for what lies ahead.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Unison Choral Singing

Most church choir members love to sing in parts—the challenge of learning one’s notes is a truly enjoyable experience. Many choir directors choose repertoire because of good part-writing that leads to a rich choral sound. And, all choral composers love to explore the endless creative potential inherent in SATB texture. The vast repertoire of SATB choral music is, undeniably, one of the church’s greatest treasures. Used occasionally, though, unison choral singing offers several benefits to a church choir:

  1. Practical. Unison pieces may be performed by any number of singers—from few to many. This can be enormously helpful for those low-attendance Sundays!
  2. Pedagogical. Rehearsing a unison piece allows the director to focus on vowel formation (which leads to good blend) without having to spend time teaching parts.
  3. Ensemble Unity. Unison singing is not easy—one singer’s slightest variations from the group are clearly perceptible. Unison anthems require singers to be keenly attentive.
  4. Musical. Most unison pieces bring basses and altos into their higher registers, which produces a strong sound. In addition, unison pieces often feature finely crafted accompaniments.
  5. Aesthetic. Unison anthems provide a textural contrast to part singing, which helps listeners to take notice of them.
  6. Historical. Western music is rooted in unison singing, so unison choral music connects today’s worship with that of the distant past.
  7. Theological. Singing together in unison both underscores and illustrates the fact that we are individual members of one united body.

Programming unison choral music is a wonderful way to enhance your choral program. But, where can you find good unison pieces? The first place to look is in the hymnal. Alternating women and men, having a soloist sing one stanza, adding an obbligato instrument, and using an alternate harmonization are ways to create an improvised anthem from the hymnal. Here are several excellent choices:

DETROITThis may be performed effectively by singing unaccompanied!

  • Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive (ELW 605)

ENGELBERG

  • We Know That Christ Is Raised (ELW 449)
  • To Be Your Presence (ELW 546)
  • When in Our Music God Is Glorified (ELW 851)

LOVE UNKNOWN

  • My Song Is Love Unknown (ELW 343)
  • We Sing to You, O God (ELW 791)

PICARDY

  • Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (ELW 490)

THAXTED

  • Let Streams of Living Justice (ELW 710)
  • O God beyond All Praising (ELW 880)

While unison anthems are not plentiful (aside from those for children’s choir), here are some well-written selections to consider adding to your library:

All My Hope on God Is Founded,” Herbert Howells/arr. John Rutter. COLLEGIUM, CCS-201. Liturgical use: Year C – 4th Sunday in Lent, Lectionary 21.
This hymn-like anthem features an accompaniment (stanzas 4-5) and outstanding descant written by John Rutter. Have only men sing stanza 2, to create contrast. The descant is difficult, but using only one or two sopranos will be sufficient.

*“Bow Down Your Ear,” Aaron David Miller. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800677954. Liturgical use: Year A – Lectionary 11 and 15.
Quoting selected verses from Psalm 86, this anthem is simple yet creative. Have full choir sing the outer ‘A’ sections. In the middle ‘B’ section, have AB sing the first statement of “Teach me your way, O Lord…,” and add ST on its repetition.

God Be Merciful unto Us,” Daniel Pinkham. E.C. Schirmer, 5394. Liturgical use: Year A – Lectionary 14 / Year C – 6th Sunday of Easter / Thanksgiving.
If you do not perform much modern music in your church, this setting of Psalm 67 by American composer Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) will be a good introduction. The tune is strong, and the accompaniment is harmonically rich.

*“Jubilate Deo,” Dale Wood. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800645816. Liturgical use: Year A – Christ the King Sunday / Thanksgiving.
A lively setting of Psalm 100, accompanied by organ and percussion (optional), this piece includes an optional second vocal part.

*“Peace Came to Earth,” arr. Nancy Raabe. MorningStar Music, 60-1007. Liturgical use: Christmas.
The slightly disjunct melody provides an opportunity to work on legato singing. If you do not have an oboe player, substitute flute or violin on the obbligato.

*“Psalm 121,” Timothy Shaw. Choristers Guild, CGA-1209. Liturgical use: Year A – 2nd Sunday in Lent / Year C – Lectionary 29.
This children’s choir anthem works well with youth and adult choirs alike. Create contrast by having only men sing measures 17-27, only sopranos sing measures 19-41, and only sopranos sing Part II in measures 45-58.

 

* available for download through Prelude Music Planner

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

Finding Your Rhythm in Holy Week

Let’s face it. Holy Week is plain hard for church musicians, pastors, church administrators, cleaning personnel, and more. Even with careful preparation, the demands of the worship schedule itself leave many craving a nice long Easter nap or a vacation.

Those of you who took the time to check out this blog when your demands are many might wonder how you might be at your best this week (or file the tips away for next year). How can you settle into a rhythm that will keep you in sync with yourself and the needs of your congregation?

Five Suggestions

  1. Don’t run on empty. Carve out time each day to feed yourself, physically and spiritually. If you have a marathon practice session, take ten minutes and sit quietly in the sanctuary. Check out the readings for Holy Week or meditate on a psalm or other scripture passage for the coming week.
  2. Consider binders. Some musicians like to gather all the music for this week and put it in one binder, or at least a binder for each service. (You can download many items from Prelude to make this easier). Binders can prevent paper shuffling and allow you to see what is coming at a glance. You can highlight or mark the binder with any instructions or reminders you might need.
  3. Less is more for some services. The ritual actions for the Three Days are rich and music helps carry these actions. Three anthems for Maundy Thursday or the Vigil aren’t necessary; keep things simple so that the music serves the liturgy. This is especially true for the Easter Vigil.
  4. Lists for your cantors, choir, and instrumentalists. Consider typing up a “Holy Week Master List” for your choir that includes all of their musical responsibilities listed by service. It will save time at the final rehearsals, and help choirs and other leaders feel more at ease.
  5. Thank your ensembles. Celebrate the joy of the Easter season and the extra effort put forth by your choir and other volunteers. Treats, a party, cards, public words of thanks in a bulletin or on a church’s web page­­—all of these would be appreciated. You want them to do it again next year!

Yes, this time of year is exhausting. Yet it is a kind of holy exhaustion, an intense time that immerses us in the central mystery of our faith: Christ is died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

A prayer for this week

Gracious God, we give you thanks for another year of grace, for this Holy Week to hear and sing your saving story. As we kneel to wash feet, you kneel before us. As we meditate on your cross, you suffer with us; at the font you wash us; at the table you feed us. In word and song, you teach and transform us. Accompany us as we lead your people in song in these days, that together we run from the tomb, announcing the marvelous things God has done. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the light and life of all creation. Amen.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Sharing Song with the Homebound

His name was Paul, and he was crying. His wife assured us that they were tears of joy, but they took us by surprise. He sat in his wheelchair in the kitchen, hands folded on a narrow table as we sang. With each song, he cried more intensely, visibly moved by our presence, possibly reminded of time and people no longer with him.

On the other side of the table stood six members of our church’s children’s choir, some still in their winter coats. We sang “Light Dawns on a Weary World” (ELW 726) our hymn of the month, followed by the anthem “Christ Has Broken Down the Wall” (available in Prelude and through Choristers Guild). The pastor stood next to the children as they sang and then set up the bread and wine on the table in front of Paul. A hush fell over the room as the body and blood of Christ were shared. Paul took a while to eat and drink, and the choir stood quietly until the blessing, our turn to sing “Share God’s Love.” That’s when his tears really flowed.

Take the light of Christ to the world.
Serving others wherever you go.
Share God’s hope, share God’s love.
Mark Patterson, The Joy of Part Singing

I share this story as an encouragement for a practice we have carried out for over two years now in my congregation, a way we have tried to live out sharing God’s love in the world. About six times each choir season, we replace our Sunday post-worship children’s choir rehearsal with a visit to a homebound member.

The arrangement is simple. We are welcomed in and arrange ourselves sitting or standing in a living room or kitchen. We sing, share a bit about our choir year’s theme, and introduce each singer. Communion usually completes the visit. We rarely have accompaniment or instruments, just the singing voices of a half dozen elementary-aged children.

Each situation is different. Sometimes the homebound member is hard of hearing, but, nevertheless, graced by our presence. We’ve visited a member who can only lie in a hospital bed, but encouraged the children to gather close. Sometimes the person or caregiver shares cookies with the children as they leave. We’ve even had the chance to pet a few friendly cats.

Four folks we visited have now died; a few of them we visited more than once. How does this help the children understand and wonder about the communion of saints? How does it enrich our spoken prayers at the end of each choir rehearsal?

The children’s choir has become a link between the worshiping assembly and those who are too frail to come to worship. We typically think of choir as a worship-related ministry; much of our time is spent preparing for Sunday’s liturgy inside the church’s walls. Yet each week in worship, we are sent. “Go in peace . . .” We are sent as individuals, of course, but how can we envision our choir being sent to “remember the poor” and “share the good news”?

Perhaps you do similar outreach in your setting. How else do you share God’s hope and love through your singing ministries? What ideas and encouragement can you share with other church musicians?

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

What Is Your Philosophy of Worship and Music?

Anyone who has interviewed for a church music position knows some questions are almost guaranteed to be asked: “How do you motivate volunteers? What style of music is your favorite? What does the ideal relationship between clergy and church musician look like? How do you feel about choir robes?” Tough questions, but not too difficult to answer. There is that one dreaded question, though, which is seemingly impossible to answer: “What is your philosophy of worship and music?” Whether you have been asked this question directly or not, you do have a philosophy that manifests itself in how you practice church music. Spending some time developing—even writing out—your own philosophy of worship and music is a valuable exercise that can have a direct, positive impact on your music ministry. Try this on your own, or together as a worship/music committee.

Here is a two-step approach I have used to develop my philosophy of worship and music. First, I answer the fundamental question, “What is worship?” One of my favorite biblical passages is Exodus 15:1-21, which describes the Israelites’ impromptu worship after crossing the Red Sea. We read first the Song of Moses, and then we read the Song of Miriam, who quotes her brother’s song. From this passage, five foundational principles of worship emerge:

  1. Worship is focused on (or directed toward) God; it is not focused on us.
  2. Worship is communal. In worship, women and men, children and adults, recount the shared salvation experience of God’s people.
  3. Worship is participatory; it is not simply a performance of one or a few.
  4. Worship is language-based and culturally intelligible.
  5. Worship is didactic. Worshipers of all ages are both instructed and edified by worshiping God.

Each point could be fleshed out further, and more could be drawn from this passage, of course. But, this five-part description of worship helps to lay the groundwork for my second step. Now I answer the more practical question, “How do you choose music for worship services?” Here is my ten-part approach to this issue (in no particular order!):

  1. All texts sung in worship should reflect the theology of the local church. (Denominational hymnals—and their supplemental resources—are an invaluable help in this regard.)
  2. Music used in worship should be rooted in the historic Church’s vast repertoire of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, springing forth into new expressions from the present day.
  3. Musical selections should fit the season of the liturgical year and should relate to the scripture readings, sermon theme, and other elements of the worship service.
  4. Each musical selection should be well-suited to its position in the worship service (prelude, opening hymn, offertory, closing song, etc.).
  5. Music used in worship should be culturally intelligible.
  6. Musical selections should be within the performing capabilities of those performing them. (However, there is always room for growth!)
  7. Music used in worship should foster participation by the assembly—familiarity, performance style, key/range, tempo, and dynamic threshold are critical factors to consider when preparing corporate worship music.
  8. The entirety of music used in a worship service should, ideally, exhibit both variety (of key, tempo, mood, instrumentation, etc.) and continuity (nothing should seem jarring or out of place).
  9. In all musical selections, text and music should be well-suited for each other. (Metrical indexes can help church musicians find more suitable tunes when necessary.)
  10. Not all music need be language-based. Instrumental music free of any textual association can be an effective means of grace to God’s people.

What would you add from your own philosophy of worship and music? Share your comments below!

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

Strategies for Supporting the Small Choir

Suppose you have spent the summer planning for the upcoming choir year. You have selected anthems, new hymns to teach, and a collection of psalm settings. Then you discover that a soprano with a new grandchild has elected to take a hiatus from choir. An alto has a daughter that plays every sport. A bass has been ill. A tenor is not reliable. Before long, your choir could now be classified as a small ensemble.

While the uncertainty of choir membership applies to choirs of all sizes, a few missing people in a small choir makes a HUGE difference. How do you plan for a smaller choir? What strategies are successful? (Keep in mind these strategies are not limited to a smaller group.)

Plan and Rehearse in Advance

This might sound counter-intuitive. Why plan only to find out you don’t have the numbers you need to make something work? Planning ahead allows you to be flexible. As you plan, think about Plan B (and C). For example, if you planned to teach a hymn concertato on “Christ Is Alive!” during the Easter season, you might look for a descant instead. Both can be found on Prelude Music Planner.

Flexible Psalm Settings

If you have a choir used to chanting a psalm with a four- part tone, realize that it might be time to polish the choir’s unison singing—a good challenge! Settings from Psalm Settings for the Church Year might need to be replaced with a more simple refrain and tone from Psalter for Worship. On occasion, sing a hymn paraphrase with the assembly (a list of psalm paraphrases can be found on p. 266 of Indexes to Evangelical Lutheran Worship). Again, have two options ready.

Combine Adult and Children’s Choirs

Dealing with a small soprano section? Consider choosing a hymn or anthem with the children’s choir or Sunday school, and having them join the adult choir. It is especially lovely to have grandparents and their grandchildren experiencing a common song. Choristers Guild provides many choices for this arrangement.

Recruit Local Talent

The church I serve is located about twenty miles from a liberal arts university with a fine music program. Because one of our members attends the university, our church received a small grant to bring a quartet from the university four times a year. This gives the choir a boost and provides an opportunity for connection to youth. Investigate what connections might work in your setting.

Select a Mix of Difficulty Levels and Voicings

For choir members who love to sing in four parts, it can be disappointing to switch to unison/two-part arrangements. SATB anthems that are harmonically simple can be a boost. Spirituals, gospel songs, and global songs are genres often with accessible four-part writing. Select a new hymn from Evangelical Lutheran Worship or elsewhere in this style.

If you are looking for collections for smaller choirs, Augsburg Fortress publishes numerous collections, including Augsburg Easy Choirbook, vols. 1 and 2, The New Gloria Deo: Music for Small Choirs, and Treasures in Heaven.

Try Paperless Singing

Don’t let what is on the page limit what you can sing with your choir. If you are comfortable leading with your voice, teach canons and responsive music to your choir in a call-response fashion. Choirs with a number of music readers may find this form of learning challenging, yet it is worth the challenge. Visit the Music that Makes Community for some ideas.

Large or small, your choir rehearses to serve the assembly’s song. Keeping that at the forefront, experiment with these strategies to create a choral experience that is meaningful for all.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

All Hymns Were Once New: New Hymns for This Church Year

The radio program Composer’s Datebook regularly signs off with the phrase, “Reminding you that all music was once new.”

Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine the time before “A Mighty Fortress” or “Amazing Grace.” Like a friend who has been with us as long as we can remember, these songs accompany us for a lifetime. At one point, however, “Amazing Grace” was new and unfamiliar. Not unlike a budding friendship, only quality time together allows us to call another a friend.

With Advent we begin a new church year. As you look ahead, it can be helpful to plan what hymns and songs you will introduce in your assembly between now and next Advent. Some congregations can handle ten or more new hymns; others may do better with five or six. Whatever the number, be intentional about which hymns you’d really like the congregation to learn. This may be the result of individual brainstorming or collaboration with other church staff and laity, or better yet, a combination of both.

What new hymns will you introduce? First, take stock of what the assembly knows. If you don’t have the practice of marking a hymnal with the date of when a hymn is sung, consider that. If you are new to an assembly, take a hymnal to someone who has been singing for years and find out what they know well, a little, or not at all. After all, it’s awkward to introduce someone only to find out they’ve been friends for years.

After surveying what is known, consider what you’d like them to learn. Reflect upon the faith these hymns and songs express and form in us as we sing together. What theological strains are missing from the body of hymnody that is well known? What eras or places around the globe? Does your assembly know any Asian hymnody, for example? What faith matters are particular to your community at this time?

Beyond the theological, consider practical leadership concerns. What would work well with your acoustics, space, and instrumentation? What are the skills of the musical leader(s)? For example, if you want to introduce a hymn that would work best on piano and you only have an organ, does the keyboardist have the necessary skills to make that adaptation? If you’d like to sing unaccompanied, do you have a singer with the skills for that kind of leadership?

When we encounter newness, we may readily embrace it or slowly warm up to it. You know your context best, but in most if not all situations, intentional planning will allow you to use all the resources at your disposal to make a successful introduction. If you are well prepared in your teaching, you will see results. (See Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship for help as well as the resource “Ten Tips for Introducing New Music” in Leading Worship Matters). The assembly is also helped by learning about the hymn or song. Who wrote it and when? Under what circumstances? Be sure your congregation has access to Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship for this important aspect of teaching. If you do not own a particular hymnal, Prelude Music Planner allows for licensed download of many hymns and songs from a variety of print resources.

Some of these new hymns may become favorites; some may not. Such is life among a community of diverse people. We can’t all have the same best friends. Yet together we are opened to new texts and tunes that will shape and share our faith in this new year, and in the years to come.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Thanksgiving: The Antidote to Worry

When it comes to church music ministry, there is plenty to worry about! Will enough singers show up on Sunday morning? Will the assembly be pleased with the music I’ve chosen? Will the organ cipher sound during my prelude? Will my choir members notice I’m not well prepared for rehearsal? Will the sound system work right? Will next year’s budget be cut—again? Often, we who are in charge worry too much, and our worry spills over to our volunteers. But, is it healthy to approach our service to the church in this way?

In Matthew 6:25-33, a reading for Thanksgiving Day, Jesus encourages his followers not to be crippled by anxiety. He says, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (v. 25). He tells us to look at the birds and consider the lilies—God takes care of them, and God, who knows everything we need, will take care of us. Jesus speaks directly to the issue of worrying, asking pointedly, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (v. 27). When we worry about things God has promised to provide, we doubt the sovereignty and goodness of God. What, then, are we to do? Jesus says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). That sounds good, but what can we do practically to reduce anxiety in our lives and, in particular, in our church music programs?

First, we can plan ahead. Having a good plan is one of the best strategies for church musicians to adopt. But, even the best laid plans often go awry! Second, we can hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Anticipating problems that may arise and putting preventive measures in place can reduce last-minute complications. But, as you know from experience, something always goes wrong! We should do these things, for it is prudent to do so, but what else can we do to prevent worry from infiltrating our ministry?

Let me suggest that the most effective antidote to worry is thanksgiving—when we recount God’s blessings, we remember God is faithful and find renewed trust in God’s promise of future provision. Rather than working within a climate of anxiety, we can help to foster a culture of thanksgiving in our church music programs. Try taking these action steps:

  1. Choose a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to use as a choral warm-up. Sing the same hymn for a period of time (about four weeks) and then present it as a musical offering in a worship service. Here are some suggestions (these selections are also well-suited for use during a Thanksgiving service!):
    • For the Fruit of All Creation (ELW 679)
    • Praise and Thanksgiving (ELW 689)
    • Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (ELW 858)
    • Soli Deo Gloria (ELW 878)
    • Let All Things Now Living (ELW 881)
  2. Write an article for your church’s newsletter (or Sunday bulletin) in which you acknowledge the gifts and contributions of your volunteer musicians. Select a different volunteer to profile each month. Your volunteers will feel appreciated.
  3. If you like to bake, prepare a tray of baked goods to share after a weeknight rehearsal.
  4. In all written communication to your volunteers, include a scripture verse or a word of thanks acknowledging their sacrifice of time and talent.
  5. Give thanks to God for your church and ask God to bless your ministry.

How else can you cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in your ministry? Share your comments below!

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

Register today for the National Conference for Sacred Music!

Leading the Church’s Song

January 6–8, 2016

First United Methodist Church | Corpus Christi, Texas

Featuring David Cherwien, Eric Nelson, Susan Briehl, Heather Williams Potter, Jackson Henry, and Ed Rollins

National Conference for Sacred Music is a unique conference designed to provide the practicing church musician with fresh new ideas to help create a vital, growing music ministry. The emphasis of this conference is to provide a wide variety of new approaches to revitalize and reinvigorate the church’s passion for music in worship. Sessions will include the following:

  • New worship planning ideas for your congregation and choirs
  • Choral technique classes with an emphasis on deepening the spiritual experience for the choir member
  • Reading sessions featuring new publications from Augsburg Fortress, Hinshaw, and MorningStar Music
  • Sponsored by three different denominational groups: the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, and the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts
  • Workshops for working with children
  • Handbells
  • Morning worship creatively crafted by Susan Briehl

Register now at AugsburgMusic.org/NCSM

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Eric Vollen

Eric Vollen is the Marketing Manager for Worship, Music and Congregational Life at Augsburg Fortress, and leads a youth choir at Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He lives in St. Paul’s Highland Park.