Posted by Justin Fitch, Director of Music Ministry
“The Association of Lutheran Church Musicians nurtures and equips musicians to serve and lead the church’s song”
During the last week of June, I had the privilege of attending the ALCM’s biennial conference held in Portland, Oregon. Before anything else, I must express my sincere gratitude to the ALCM for providing me with a scholarship that covered all the costs of attending. While the conference was only three and a half days long, the amount I learned practically, intellectually, and spiritually is immeasurable; so I will share just a few of the things that really made an impact on me.
Having numerous opportunities for worship and reflection while not leading them was a wonderful experience shared by many of the attendees. Singing from the pew, listening to the Word, and walking up for the Meal are a blessing sometimes taken for granted. Of course, I receive much joy from leading the musical portions of the liturgy, and the workshops I attended have already helped me become a better leader. Leading the Church’s Song from the Organ, presented by Dr. Tom Mueller, reminded me how important it is to put our own creativity and expression into congregational song. God has created us musical leaders with creative minds to stir up and encourage the congregation, and if we invest more of our own ideas into the music, we can reach a higher personal and communal connection with those around us. This workshop combined with exposure to song being led by numerous organists during the conference has sparked a creative flame in me, and I hope to keep fueling it!
Children in Worship, presented by Karen Foote, pointed out how powerful it can be when children actually lead the congregation instead of it always being the other way around. Although I teach children on a regular basis, I tend to forget how quickly they can learn (even things that seem “complex”) and their desire to prove themselves. As a church, we too often fail to encourage true participation in and understanding of worship for children. We must get over our expectations of order and formality sometimes because “kids will be kids!” and there’s a beauty in that when we embrace it.
Liturgy: Is It Really the Work of the People? – The order of the service, rites, ceremonies, lectionary… It’s complex, it’s detailed. But why do we do it? Jesus said, “I am among you as the one who serves.” God served us by having the Son give His life; thus, it is by faith that God wants to be worshiped – namely that we receive His gift, not by thinking there is some way we can serve that will be adequate for justification. The cross is where Christ procured forgiveness, but it is presented through Word and Sacrament. Consequently, everything we do, wear, say, present… must point to the Word and Meal. This is a challenging order and should cause us to pause often and reflect on why we do what we do. We must also strongly consider how much we each value the Eucharist. Justin Martyr tells us that the Meal led to feeding and helping the abandoned people, the marginalized, of the dominant culture. It was one of Christ’s ways of saying “NO” to the oppressive, dividing governments we are still too familiar with.
The Romans of Jesus’ time sang hymns and acclamation to the emperor, but our hymns during the Meal are designed to express our belief in God being the supreme authority: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Communion – just look at the word. We are powerful when we are one.
After the conference, I spent a couple days in Washington with a mentor and teacher of mine taking in some beautiful sights of creation. I have come back energized and determined and look forward to ever learning. “Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus.”