“The morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy” Job 38:7
My home church is St. James’s, Richmond. Along with Freddie’s family, St. James’s raised me up to be a faithful disciple as an Episcopalian in my young adult years. Aware of the glory of God transforming my life, I was eager to learn everything about how God calls us to be the church. So, when it was time to teach Sunday School, I said yes. Teaching Sunday School is a great way to take a crash course through the Bible. Then, when someone invited me to serve as I chalice bearer in worship, I signed up to be trained and scheduled. We’re no longer spectators when serving as a worship leader. Over some time, the Music Ministry taught us the value of congregational singing in worship. In the Episcopal Church, we believe singing in worship is a way of lifting up our hearts and minds to God in grateful thanksgiving and praise for all the blessings of this life. So, when I was invited to sing in the choir, I said yes.
First, however, I was clear about my limitations. I’m not a musician nor educated in musical production. I don’t read music. I can’t sing. “Everyone can sing,” said Mark Whitmire, the Minister of Music at St. James’s. So, I showed up for choir practice. Mark, and his wife, Virginia, the principal musician, were very patient. I stood next to someone who does read music, who can sing; and I sang. I was good enough. But, that’s not the important part. What I learned was the value of singing in worship. We are a tradition who loves singing. We sing in worship to “express joy, to offer thankgsivings, to comfort the sorrowful, to give courage to the afflicted, and to unite the faithful” in our living God.
Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard writes that music and singing in worship involves God as the audience, and those of us in our seats as the participants. In other words, worship is not a spectator sport. We’re not intended to be set apart, sung to, or separated from. Our singing in worship is purposeful while at the same time our music and singing encounters the holy. So often it is through music and singing that we are able to express what we cannot say in words. Our singing is our offering to God. God asks for our best effort. Founder of the Methodists, John Wesley, along with his brother Charles, wrote an abundance of hymns for congregational singing. Wesley writes that we must “sing lustily and with good courage…lift of your voice with strength…strive to unite your voices together…above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him.”
Our music ministry is changing as we aim at pleasing God. Jane’s final Sunday with Epiphany as Minister of Music is this Family Worship Sunday. She leaves behind a rich legacy of angelic solos, constant encouragement, tireless effort, creative possibilities, a leadership style that displays her passion for music and for bringing others to sing and play in worship. We will miss Jane. While many would like to celebrate Jane’s ministry during fellowship on Sunday, Jane has asked that she not be formally recognized. I imagine, however, gentle words of thanks will be greatly appreciated as she makes her farewell. Jane’s departure presents for us the opportunity to trust in God’s call to us to sing out as a congregational choir. Singing as a congregational choir means we don’t wear special vestments or robes. We don’t sit apart from everyone else. We’re not necessarily coming to rehearsals. Instead, what we will do, with everyone helping, is ask Jiji Park, our Principal Musician, to play hymns and songs that are very familiar to us. With the gift of Jiji blessing us with her accompaniment, let’s honor God and surprise ourselves at our singing in worship. Now is the time to begin!
In the meantime plan to attend one of two music focus groups following worship on February 18 or February 25. We’ll be asking two questions: #1. What has Epiphany’s Music Ministry taught me? #2. What would you want the Music Ministry to teach Epiphany? Let’s brainstorm, say our prayers, listen, to one another, and especially to God to learn once again how God is calling us to bear witness to the love of Christ in the Music Ministry of Epiphany!
Sunday we’ll sing out too as the Children’s Choir sings and the Praise Band accompanies in Family Worship. We’ll say thank you to the Communications Ministry team for offering a luncheon of a hearty soup during Fellowship time. Holy Donuts are most definitely on the menu. Jiji Park will bless us Sunday evening at 5:30 and Ryan Hale will share some spirit filled words with a brief homily in Celtic Worship. God blesses us over and over again through worship and especially in Celtic Worship as we end a hurried weekend and in the quiet of the candlelit darkness, we ready ourselves for the week ahead. Celtic Worship will change your week!