By Daniel Thomas, Church Musician
In our ever-increasingly frenetic world, silence has become a precious commodity. People now speak of “me time” as if it’s a reward for making it through their daily toils and tribulations. Parents bemoan the loss of a quiet evening at home as their kids practice jumping from the coffee table onto the sofa. And yet, we continue to assail ourselves with constant connection and communication - television, radio, and certainly the internet and social media. All of these hours that we stuff chock-full of friend-stalking, celebrity-bashing, and falling down the rabbit hole of web site comment sections - these could just as easily be filled with silence, with quietude, with - gasp! - meditation.
One of the unfortunate byproducts of this constant social motion is that people are now uncomfortable with silence, particularly in public situations. When a group of people share a quiet moment, it only lasts a brief interval before the nervous shifting and coughing begins - and nowhere is this more apparent than in worship. More and more, congregations struggle when asked to sit, to reflect, to be calm, to be silent - and even when we are silent, more than likely the voices in our heads continue to prattle - thinking about a million other things, planning, worrying, arguing with ourselves - even the prayers and lamentations in our heads take away from the silence and the calm.
"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
Our Lenten liturgy this year features music from the Taizé Community in France. Founded in the mid-20th century, this monastic community gathers people from across both Catholic and Protestant traditions and focuses on living in the spirit of kindness, simplicity, and reconciliation. As their traditions have spread throughout the world, one of their most enduring practices is the use of beautiful but highly simplistic and repetitive music. This music is meant to bring a meditative calm to the congregation - this is best explained on their web site:
"Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God, without having to fix the length of time too exactly.”
We have also incorporated repetitive bell tones in place of some sung liturgical sections - these are also meant to create space for silent reflection and meditation. Since we know that this is new and potentially uncomfortable for some people, we have eased into this practice by still incorporating “traditional” hymnody in the worship. But starting this week, we will have a full service of meditative, repeated music. It is our hope that our congregation will embrace these fleeting moments to live in the silence - and to connect with each other, and with God - without saying a word.
By Rebecca Thomas
So Daniel, Joshua and I are in the process of moving. Fun, right? You know the drill: you start going through your current house, making a game plan for how you are going to pack. Logically, it should be a simple endeavor of just moving all the things you have from one space to another. I mean, this is all OUR STUFF, after all; we should know what everything is, when we got it, why we still need it, and where to put it in the future. (I can tell you are already smirking.) Even if you haven’t moved before, you must know that feeling of “where did all of this come from?” as well as, “but we can’t just get rid of it, can we?” and “where is all this supposed to go?!" Coincidentally, this reminds me so much of where CGS is with our constitution right at the moment.
Last year, the council and Pastor Manda started working together to update our CGS constitution. We had a great plan to make it completely up to date, accurate, and address our current congregational needs. As it turned out, we were instead confronted with a little bit of “where did this come from?,” a dash of “do we still need this?,” and a helping of “can we just get rid of it?” Just like with moving, updating an institutional document is never as simple as one would hope. We found numerous details that needed more focus and debate than anticipated - not to mention grammatical errors, numbering issues, and all those little tidbits that can make your eyes cross. Yes, we could metaphorically just shove everything into a box, store it in the attic, and hope we can find it later when we need it…but that is not how we want to handle this. We want our constitution to have no inconsistencies, no errors, and no room for misinterpretation. It is sad to say that through his work with the Synod, Randy Presuhn has witnessed other congregations at battle within themselves over minute details or omissions in their constitutions. We want our constitution - we need it to be - accurate down to the nth degree to be certain we are protecting the members of CGS, our mission, and our goals as a community.
Thankfully, patient and detail-oriented Randy is willing to help us out and make sure we do this well. Over the next couple months a few designated council members will have open meetings with Randy in which we will hash out the details, decide on changes in the way we define ourselves and operate, and make preparations for our future. If you want to be a part of the decision making process or want to discuss the options that we're choosing, we hope that you'll join the meetings. The plan is to have a draft before November, when we gather again to vote.
We waited a little too long to tidy up this part of our congregation and like packing up our house, the job has grown bigger than we anticipated. We hope that this plan satisfies our need for an open debate while also honoring our time and energy in a congregational meeting. And next time, we won't wait so long to do this spring cleaning and hopefully we won't be frustrated again. Thank you for your patience!
One of my earliest childhood memories, from when I was five or six, is singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for my aunts and uncles in my grandmother's living room. I couldn't remember how the song ended, so I just kept repeating the first verse. By the time they finally told me to stop, it was too late. I already had my first taste of the thrill of having an audience!
At age twelve, I joined the elementary school choir, and continued singing in school choirs through the end of my time at university. Since I wasn't athletic, I didn't have a sports team to bond with. But the choir welcomed me, and it was my "tribe."
When Keynote Vocal Group formed around the end of 2010, I was happy to join them. For me, singing in a choir is a spiritual experience. It lets me listen to my tribe, to adjust my tone and volume and vowel sounds, and to connect. When I'm surrounded by people who are singing a lot like I am, my self-focus fades a bit and "we" are making beautiful music. We are serving anyone who is listening.
I certainly hope I'll be able to carry a tune for another 20 years or so. But you never know, bodies change, things happen. So, while I still can, I'm so happy for the opportunity to sing in a choir at CGS.
“I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say “Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.” The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.” C. S. Lewis
It seems that when I talk to people in the world about churchin’, the only conversation we have is a version of the same thing: the decline of the Church. I understand why we’re having this conversation over and over and my heart has deep compassion for the grief that many people are experiencing. Simultaneously, I’m eternally grateful to the movement of the Holy Spirit that I currently get to pastor a congregation that is thriving on transformation.
This last year we made HUGE strides toward being a community that Proclaims, Welcomes, and Serves. It hasn’t always left us feeling jubilant and carefree. But consider: In a year that wasn’t a banner year for the economy, civics, or social capital, we followed through on our plan to dedicate our property to our mission and end our financial dependence on a tenant. We didn’t pull back on our generosity, but started new big service projects and responded to each disaster and crisis that arose.
I have seen people be transformed by the work we are doing together and I give thanks to God that we are a community of faithful people who are open to the Spirit’s movement in our lives. Thank you for a wonderful 2018!
Christ the Good Shepherd
Various editorials, articles, and other items of interest.