Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts about sacred music

The United Voices of Edmonton (Robertson-Wesley Choir, Knox-Metropolitan Choir and the Willan Chorale) are preparing to undertake a choral trip to England. Because of this trip, I've been thinking about the community we're creating from 3 choirs, the grounding in an an age-old tradition of evensong, the beauty of the architecture of the buildings that we'll be singing in and of course finding inspiration in the music we'll be singing.

I've been pondering a couple of sermons on the Durham Cathedral (England) website given by The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove. One particular one about music has caught my attention.

Rev. Sadgrove describes music as entering into a "thin" place somewhere between earth (the tangible) and heaven (the intangible). Music is often associated with praise of God. But it goes much deeper for me - to all the arts and their power to inspire, create beauty, to comfort and allow mourners to grieve, to lift up someone who is down, and to create a sense of celebration.

I feel so blessed to have the job - the calling that I do - to be the one who enables those around me to find expressions for their joys and sorrows, their praises and prayers.

To quote from Rev. Sadgrove (linked above):

"Music gives our worship wings. It soars and flies, it beckons heaven come down to us. Music touches parts of us nothing else can quite reach. It enlarges our imaginations, it moves our spirits, it coaxes us to love in a new and deeper way. I could tell you how I first came to Christian faith through singing a piece of Bach's music as boy treble more than 40 years ago. We could all tell stories about how a hymn or a psalm, a song, a motet or a symphony had a profound effect on us. That's why we in cathedrals invest so much in our music. It's why parishes should never resent the cost of achieving the very best in music, whatever their style of worship. It's an investment in mission. It has converting power. Above all, it's for the praise of God. "

I appreciate that he says "achieving the very best in music, whatever their style of worship". I've been on the front lines of "worship wars" between "contemporary" and "traditional" - whatever those terms mean. The more important question for me is "Are we giving our best to God?" I've finally found the place where I'm free to express the scripture, the theme, the sermon topic, the day or the liturgical season in almost any musical form. My main criterion in this stage of my worship leadership is "does it fit?" - not "what style is it in?" or "who's going to be annoyed if I choose this piece of music?" For this freedom I am truly thankful, and I hope this freedom allows me to best serve God and God's people.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The lyrics from the song "I am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel float endless through my mind these days as I gaze out the window of my office. "I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries."

I have had at least 3 encounters over this past month with people who are longing for deep and meaningful relationships in their lives. I hear conversation after conversation and read post after post on facebook that lead me to believe that there are a lot of lonely people out there, and I wonder what I can do to help others find the happiness they seek.

A few weeks back I got in my car early one morning and drove to Jasper as I drove, I listened to my i pod and pondered life. As each new song came on I found myself being transported to a different moment in my life. I realized after a time that I had been laughing and smiling to myself and I felt the stress of September slowly leaving my body. As I crested Obed point (the highest point on the Yellowhead Highway) I had a vision, an epiphany, a moment of inspiration. I realized that all the memories had a common theme, each memory included other people and specifically people that I had been living in intentional community with. For many of us the only time we have experienced this if at all is with our immediate family.
When we live in intentional community there are expectations that there will be times when we all gather together to eat, to celebrate inportant life transitions, to check-in with each other, to resolve conflicts, to share in our joys and sorrows with each other, to challenge behaviours that are destructive to the community sense of well being and often these intentional living communities include spiritual practices, worship or sacred rituals. Each living situation will be different but they will include a number of these characteristics. I have experienced 5 different types of intentional living in my life: my family growing up, an anglican retreat center, camp, dorms at university, and a hostel in Belarus.

The benefit to living in community is that there is always someone to be with, the downside is that it is hard to find your own space. You experience great love and acceptance and you deal with conflict and personality differences. It is in these communities that I have discovered who I am, it is in these communities that I have engaged in deep and meaningful conversations, it is in these communities that I searched for purpose and meaning in my life. Through them all I found support, acceptance and belonging and I was able to be myself.

The church is the only other place that I have come to experience this. I think that church can provide us with the same opportunities if we create space in our lives to engage in all that a church has to offer. It does take longer to establish the relationships when you aren't living together, but if you take the time to engage in more then just Sunday morning it is well worth it. TRUST ME!!

These days I think it is becoming rare that people sit down for a Sunday dinner every week with extended family. Sometimes it is because our family live too far away, sometimes it is because someone in the family works, often our families have split up or changed. As I talked with people about their plans for Thanksgiving this year I was surprised to know how many people were not doing anything. I was surprised to hear some seniors lament that even though they eat dinner in a dining room with other seniors it feels as though they are eating alone. This left me perplexed, but inspired...

I wonder what would happen if the churches used some of their land to redevelop their space, to become intentional living communities with mixed generations? What if this intentional living community had a community garden, community child care, community dinners 2 or 3 times a week. How wonderful would it be as young parents to have people to consult with about the raising of children? How wonderful would it be to have a surragate grandparent to talk with a youth about what is happening in their life? How wonderful would it be to have people to share your stories with, to sing with, to dance with, to create with, to play with and to pray with on a daily basis?

I wonder what it would be like if the church began to build bridges between the rocks that we have become, between our islands?
Psalm 40: 1-3
I waited patiently for God, who inclined to me and heard my cry.
God drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
God put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in God.
This is my song for you today, trust in God my friends and you will find fulfillment and love. -- Written by Karen Bridges

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All Aboard

God’s Steward Ship has set sail for another year with many children and youth and various other adult volunteers on board. For the past month we have been exploring the scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many." The children are taking time to discover what their role is here at Robertson-Wesley. Some have decided that they will provide secruity in the halls, others feel called to sharing their gift of music, some like to clean, and others like to take care of people. What is exciting is how different each child, youth, young adult and adult is in this congregation. We've agreed as the Kids' Church that we have been called to paddle God's boat in the spirit of friendship, the spirit of prayer, the spirit of caring, the spirit of justice, the spirit of belonging, the spirit of wisdom, and the spirit of joy.

Some of you saw the treasure boxes that the youngest children painted for our "Night of Celebration" in September. Inside each of these boxes were questions that different people got to answer. Here is a small sampling:"Where or when do you feel closest to God?" or "What is something you are passionate about right now in your life?" The people who attended the event entered into some lively and deep conversation with each other and were delighted with the artistic gifts of the children. The following Sunday the children got their boxes back but this time there were 7 messages in the box which they were instructed to read over the next 7 days. Some of the children made more then one box and so they were invited to give the box to another person or family as a gift. The delight on the eyes of the people who received these boxes from the little children were priceless!!! Imagine how it would feel to open up the box and receive the following messages: "Your spirit lights up the world!" or "Jesus loves you for who you are!"

I'm sure many of you have heard the saying, "It takes a whole village to raise one child" in my mind this means we all have a part to play in the lives of our children and youth. I invite you to come downstairs and be a part of our exploration with the scriptures through cooking, storytelling, art, drama, music, movement, wood work, gardening etc. Or simply come downstairs and spend some time getting to know these wonderful members of our congregation! I promise that it will change your life and bring you joy and inspiration.

-- Karen Bridges --