After attending Clergy Day at the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy for four consecutive years, I found this year to be the most rewarding.
It began with the Rev. Susan Anderson-Smith guiding us through a discussion on “Presiding as Pastoring.” Drawing on Paul Galbreath’s Leading from the Table (The Alban Institute, 2008), we talked about the basic characteristics of the Eucharistic prayer:
1. It is TRINITARIAN.
2. It is BIBLICAL.
3. It is a STORY.
4. It is COMMUNAL.
5. It is PHYSICAL.
6. It is characterized by a sense of EXPECTANCY.
That flowed directly into a discussion of the ways that leadership at the Eucharistic table
1. Requires a sense of TRANSPARENCY,
2. Requires a sense of PRESENCE,
3. Grows out of a sense of EMBODIMENT,
4. Grows out of a distinctive NARRATIVE dimension of prayer, and
5. Grows out of the conviction that prayer at the table provides a PATTERN for our lives.
Susan then drew on Norma deWaal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell’s Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning (The Alban Institute, 2005) to help us reflect on how we plan for worship in our parishes and who is involved in planning, with special attention given to the need for appropriate collaboration. This could involve a worship planning leadership team that includes the rector, the church musician, the music staff, worship assistants, artistic staff, and others (including the altar guild, vergers, sextons, ushers, sound and video technicians, etc.).
The resources Susan offered, and the discussion it generated, was very helpful for thinking through the purpose of why we do what we do – and how to go about it – when we gather for worship.
After lunch, I helped facilitate an “Iron Musician” planning exercise with the two other faculty persons for this year’s conference: Michael Kleinschmidt and Michael Messina. Taking our cue from the popular Iron Chef television program, we broke the conferees and visiting clergy down into five groups. Using as their primary ingredient the RCL Propers assigned for a Sunday in Year B (including Advent 2, Epiphany 1, Lent 3, Easter 4, and Proper 10), and bearing in mind any special events or activities taking place in their hypothetical parish, their assignment was to collaboratively plan the music for Sunday worship in 30 minutes.
After the time was up, members of each small planning group shared with the entire conference their group process. How did they start digging into the task? Why did they choose the particular hymns and anthems for that Sunday? How did activities in the life of the parish shape their process and the choices they made? What were the group dynamics like between participants?
I thought that this exercise did a good job of modeling appropriate collaboration between clergy, church musicians, and choristers. It also stimulated a rich discussion of the dangers of falling into the “idolatry” of either singing the same hymns all the time without ever trying anything new, or becoming so focused on finding new music that our fixation on novelty and innovation causes us to lose sight of the core purpose of why we plan in the first place: to worship God.
We also had time to sing a number of hymns from a variety of sources, including Wonder, Love, and Praise, Voices Found, With One Voice, New Hymns and Songs, and Evangelical Lutheran Worship. For anyone who primarily uses the 1982 Hymnal, the hymn singing provided an opportunity to broaden one’s experience and become aware of a lot of great music out there that can be easily sung by choirs and congregations.
Clergy Day was a fun way to engage issues around the most important work we do: the liturgy of the Church. If you missed it, be sure and put it on your calendar for next year.