Thursday, July 12, 2018

Prelude, offering and postlude


Instrumental Music: What’s the Point? 

Recently, I’ve been pondering the role of instrumental music in the worship service.

During my various professional experiences leading music in different denominations and congregations, I’ve noticed that the variety of expectations people bring to worship extends to how they approach the instrumental music, specifically the prelude and postlude. What does this music mean to them personally? Congregationally? How do they interact with it?

Many years ago, I was invited to play for a Lutheran church in Montreal that really valued all the music in the service, and boy, I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard! Why? Because the congregation expected a very lengthy prelude (15–20 minutes). Their conversation stopped out in the foyer. When they came into the sanctuary, they expected the prelude to bring them into the realm of the sacred, to allow them to focus and use the music for preparation and meditation. This experience raised some questions: Can the prelude allow us to be still in the midst of our busy lives and block out some of the noise of the week? Can it turn our attention to the important things in our lives, especially our relationship with God and each other? Does it allow us to prepare ourselves for worship?

Other congregations, like a gathering I played for recently, may use and experience instrumental music in a different way. Is the music just for setting the mood? Or is it just for background behind the conversation?


Personally, I think the music, whether congregational, choral, or instrumental, should always enhance worship in some way by reinforcing the message, theme, readings, or season. Most musicians try to make the music relevant to what is happening in the service or in the congregation. As Luther supposedly said, “Music is the handmaiden of theology.”

The prelude and postlude play a special role in enhancing worship and theology. In his article “Prelude, Offertory, Postlude,” Rev. Frank Hughes Jr. describes the prelude and postlude this way: “Like musical bookends, they bracket everything that happens in between and are theologically related to the central meaning of worship. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the prelude and postlude are worth a library.”[1]

In an article for Ministry published in 1939 but still relevant today, Stanley Ledington speaks of the prelude as “the beginning of the service, not something used to quiet a noisy congregation.…The prelude is not for entertainment or for the purpose of displaying technique, but to prepare for the consideration of sacred things.”[2] In “What We Do and Why We Do It,” Norman Bendroth discusses the other bookend, the postlude. “The postlude captures the grandeur of God’s majesty and of the day’s worship. Increasingly, many congregations remain seated during the postlude as a fitting time of reflection at the conclusion of worship and out of courtesy to the organist or musicians.[3] Rev. Frank Hughes Jr. states that “the music at the end of the service pulls together feelings and attitudes already expressed in word and song.”  In A Sunday Guide to Worship, the authors suggest that while the postlude is not a formal part of the service, “The congregation could be encouraged in the bulletin or by the choir to remain seated to listen.”[4]

When selecting instrumental music that will satisfy its purpose, I start with these questions, first posed by Stanley Ledington. “Is it good music? Is it suitable for the use to which it is to be put? Will it draw attention to me, or will it tend to induce the proper worshipful, reverent mood?”

Amen!

Tammy-Jo Mortensen,
Music Director




[1] Frank Hughes, “Prelude, Offertory, Postlude.” http://revfrankhughesjr.org/images/Prelude_Offertory_Postlude.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2018.
[2] Stanley Ledington, “The Music of the Church Service.” Ministry: International Journal for Pastors. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1939/01/the-music-of-the-church-service. Accessed May 29, 2018.
[3] Norman Bendroth, “What We Do and Why We Do It.” https://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2008/what-we-do-and-why-we-do-it. Accessed May 28, 2018.
[4] Alan Barthel, David R. Newman, Paul Scott Wilson, A Guide to Sunday Worship, The United Church Publishing House, 1988, 104.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Choosing Sunday Scripture readings


How do we choose which Scripture readings to do each week?
Robertson-Wesley United Church uses a schedule of Scripture readings called a lectionary.  There are a few types and in the last four years we have been using one called the Narrative Lectionary.
We have been using a newly developed scheduling of reading through the Bible, Sunday by Sunday, developed originally by Luther Seminary in Minneapolis. Next Autumn we will return to using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) guide to which Scriptures to read each Sunday.

While traditions vary from denomination to denomination, most mainline Protestant churches and Roman Catholic churches follow the RCL. This is a scheduling of readings that takes 3 years of Sundays to complete.  It seeks to both unite the Christian Church worldwide (we focus on the same Scriptures as all the others following the lectionary) and to have each congregation cover as much of the Bible as possible.  It does so by choosing 4 readings for each Sunday, allowing the worship team at a given church to focus on one, two or perhaps the theme coming out of all four (some weeks they are related directly, other weeks not so much).  This allows for flexibility (four readings), unity (majority of churches follow it) and planning guidance because of its popularity.  However, it can thin out the readings as we read only a short portion of each in a given week and each of the four come from different parts of the Bible (Hebrew Scriptures, Psalms, Christian Scriptures and a reading from a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John)).

In the Narrative Lectionary, one reading and one Psalm is chosen for each week and the reading is much longer.  It schedules the journey through the Bible into 4 years and also gives each liturgical season one part of the Bible to dive into (instead of seeking commonality over four parts of the Scriptures).  In the Fall we looked at one story or more from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Advent through Easter we explored one Gospel account in particular, and the Spring would see us turn to the letters and other writing in the Christian Scriptures.  The summer months would be suggested readings only allowing a worship team to pick readings according to thematic work they are doing.  While resources in hymnals and other books were fewer, and we were not always on the same topic as our neighbours, we did find it exciting to delve deeper and more substantially into each story week by week.  We are glad for the experience in the Narrative Lectionary for the last four years.
(for more information see Working Preacher website)

As of the August, 2018 we will be returning to a three-year cycle of the RCL excited to return to all the resources created throughout its long history in music, poetry and art.  You can follow along by looking into a Voices United hymn book (pages 998-1012) or via a website such as the Vanderbilt Library  However, we will not read four readings every Sunday morning since we have learned the power of deeper diving and hope that choosing one or two per Sunday from the choices provided will allow us to use the gifts of both lectionaries.

Are you wondering why the Worship committee does not just choose week by week.  Firstly, it takes a long time to organize a lectionary, to ensure balance of the Biblical stories and connections with the other aspects of worship (Christmas, Easter etc.).  Secondly, we would be tempted to regularly use our favorite stories and miss out on the variety of our Biblical Scriptures.  

Rev. Leigh Sinclair


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Death of Rituals

A disturbing trend has emerged in regards to death and how we deal with it -- or not deal with it as the case may be. Time and time again I find myself faced with a grieving family, who proceed to inform me that the deceased did not wish to have a service, (specifically told the family to NOT have a service when they die!). I have also encountered many people who have lost someone close to them, but for medical reasons they are not able to attend the memorial service, or perhaps cannot afford to attend if it is out of the city, or the roads are too bad.               
                                                                                     A picture of Memorial Gardens at R-W

In times of grief, people are often not prepared and feel lost in regards with what to do next. Some people reach out to religious communities, but most people now a days, turn to a funeral home or nothing at all. Funeral homes are much better at advertising then churches are.

I can't help but wonder though...do people actually understand what a faith community can offer them in times of need? How do we, the leaders, in faith institutions address the myth that funeral service are simply to ensure that someone's soul gets to heaven? How do we get the message out that churches are open to working with families and can provide them with a structure to alleviate the stress and provide comfort and peace?

Memorial services and death rituals are for the people left behind, just as much if not more so then the people who have passed away. When we lose someone we need to find away to move through the grieving process, we need to find a way to address the hole that is left after a loved one dies. We need to find closure, to acknowledge that this person will not exist in the same way in our life anymore. But this still doesn't explain why more and more people have decided to not have a service.

So why are people choosing to have no service after they die?
Here is a list of reasons I have heard over the past 10 years in ministry:

  • It is too expensive, not worth the cost
  • No one will come, I've out lived everyone I know.
  • I don't want people crying over me or creating a fuss. 
  • I don't like to be the center of attention.
  • Funerals are always so depressing and dreary.
  • I want people to remember as I lived not as a dead person.
  • It seems like all we do these days is attend funerals, people should just have a party instead. 
  • I don't want the family to have to plan a whole service and reception....it is too much work for them, and will be too stressful for them.
  • I'm worried the family will fight.
  • My family is not religious, they wouldn't know what to do or ask for, or know what I would want. 
There are others of course, but these are the most common. 
So why do we need rituals? Why have a funeral?
David Chidester, the author of the book "Patterns of Transcendence; Religion, Death and Dying" writes, "Death rituals are rites of passages that symbolize a change from one state of existence to another, from life to death. In this regard, death rituals can be compared to other rites of passage - birth, adulthood, and marriage -- that symbolically mark a change from an old status to a new status in the life cycle....Death rituals bridge that transition period in which the person is not recognized as living, yet not fully incorporated into the world of the dead." p. 33-34.

To put it another way, people need rituals because people need to have a safe place to express their grief and sadness while sharing their loss with others - they need to have a place where they are giving permission to express their sadness, a place where someone one shows them how to express grief. A funeral, or memorial service give people a structure to follow and meaningful actions which will allow them to honour and remember the person who has died, to tell their stories, and to express how much this person meant to them. 

What I find interesting, is that as a North American culture we are much better at sharing in our grief when someone famous dies, or when there is a major tragedy in the world. People gather on the streets, place objects on the site of the tragedy or the place where the famous person was born. People light candles and hold vigils in times like these. When famous people die we create documentaries, or write books, or make a movie about their life. People want to know more about the person who died.  

People who aren't famous are just as interesting! And people who knew them and loved them still want to know more, still discover things about their friends and families that they didn't know. 

We see death on TV and in social media all the time, yet we ignore a crucial part of the transition and closure. After the person has died, we simply want to move on, we hide the messiness and awkwardness and sadness that comes with seeing and burying a dead body. What are we so afraid of? Some people have actually told me that they don't want to talk about their funeral plans because it might jinks them, it will give them bad luck. Some people avoid talking about death because they don't want their loved ones to give in. 

My question is this: Why do we make it so hard on our loved ones after we die? Why do we render them helpless in their time of need? I find it sad that people are left to their own devices to grieve. Some isolate themselves, not willing and not knowing how to express their sadness. People spend a lot of energy trying to hide their tears, trying to demonstrate that they are strong, and independent. Some of us hesitate to reach out to the grieving family because we don't want to bother them. Some of us who are grieving do not want to burden others with our sadness and depression. 

What I have learned is that sharing stories about the person we have lost and talking about them is essential. Witnessing the ritual of  burying the remains and gathering together to remember people makes the transition more real. Death rituals help us accept that the person will no longer be there with us, and the rituals help us to incorporate our loved ones and friends into a new reality, the spiritual realm. Rituals give intention to actions, and require that we face the truth. Rituals in community provide a way for people to reach out to one another and both give and receive support. 
Invite everyone to take some time to consider what your wishes are for when you die, and I hope you will all say YES to having a service -- look at it as the celebration of a life that has been lived! It is just as important as the day you were born and every year that your birth was celebrated!

Written by Rev. Karen Bridges

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Saying No to say Yes! Make room for what matters and support our best selves!

Spirited Saturdays is a series on Christian life needing boundaries.

We are exploring how to maintain healthy, clear boundaries through maturing, self care, acceptance of our limitations and God's grace!

 Here is the presentation from the first week: Saying No to say Yes!

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