Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sing the Faith - The Small Catechism Set to Music

Not to be confused with Singing the Faith, the DVD resource discussed at length in the previous post, Sing the Faith is the entire Small Catechism set to music, available now on CD as well as spiral bound printed music. Pastor Christopher Seifferlein of Adell, WI, has been an avid fan of these songs and wrote a review that we at Liturgy Solutions think you’ll appreciate. Pastor Seifferlein says . . .

Last week I had something special planned for vacation. To some it might not seem like much, but for my three children (ages 1, 4, and 6), the highly anticipated “Sing the Faith” CD was enough to calm the waters during our lengthy driving tour through the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. The only commotion we heard from the backseat was the occasional remark, “this is my favorite one,” or “start over from the beginning Dad.” Even the parents enjoyed singing along as we geared up to go over the Mighty Mac.

We’ve been using portions of this music in our congregation ever since Concordia Publishing House began releasing it in the Growing in Christ Sunday School curriculum two years ago. After long last the entire project has been completed and is available on one CD. Phil Magness composed the tunes for the Primary and Secondary texts, and the good folks at CPH put it all together, complete with beautiful singing by children. Kudos to a job well done.

We pastors are always complaining that no one uses the catechism, but here is a resource where even those who aren’t so regular in their family catechesis can make use of the catechism at home. Parents who would never sit down and teach their children the text of the catechism are slipping this disk into their player as they run errands around town in the family minivan. And the children are learning it! Last year our Sunday School of 15 children sang by heart in church the entire text of Luther’s explanation to the second article of the creed (at ages 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7)! It’s been a boon to my teaching credibility as well. The adults are surprised to see the children learning (and enjoying it too). My boast to the congregation has been that we do more work in the catechism in our one hour of Sunday School than most Lutheran Schools do in a whole week. Thanks Phil for making my job easy.

This summer for the second year in a row we featured this resource during a weekly “Catechism Workshop.” The families of our parish were invited to a half-hour program after church where a chief part of the catechism was learned throughout the summer months. This CD has been an integral part of preparing the congregation for a paradigm shift, what I call “raising the bar and lowering the communion age” (all at the same time). The small congregation that I serve pre-ordered 60 copies alone. (Phil, you owe me a drink the next time I see you.) At the meager list price, parents were purchasing them not only for themselves, but also for their godchildren as well, and grandparents were buying multiple copies as presents for their grandchildren.

Be warned that “Sing the Faith” is no Small Catechism set to “Vater Unser,” but neither is it Psalty the Singing Songbook either. I have found the music to be appropriate, engaging, and accessible to both young and old alike.

I even had one lady ask about Private Confession and Absolution after she contemplated the words of the Fifth Chief Part while singing it.

Only one comment. Why didn’t somebody think of this before?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A DVD Resource Worth Its Weight in Gold – Especially if It Weighed More.

Singing the Faith is a rich video documentary about the Lutheran hymn tradition. The premise of the production is to outline the theology and practice of some of the “heaviest hitters,” both composers and poets, in our Lutheran hymn tradition. These figures then stand as examples of clear thinking about how music functions in Divine Worship as well as devotionally in our lives.

Produced by Kantor Richard Resch of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, this video was released under the auspice of the “Good Shepherd Institute,” a conference on liturgy and church music that takes place every November at the Seminary. Featured in this production, and I won’t name them all, are scholars and performers of the highest order. They are “big names” recognized the world over for their prowess in their field. Organists like Martin Jean of Yale; scholars like Robin Leaver of the Juilliard School (formerly of Westminster Choir College); Carl Schalk of Concordia, Chicago; Daniel Zager of the Eastman School of Music and Christopher Boyd Brown of Boston University; and composers like Kevin Hildebrand of Concordia Seminary in Ft. Wayne all present compelling explanations as to how the Lutheran hymn tradition can still be as vibrant and relevant today as it has always been.

The DVD is 80 minutes long and may be viewed as a whole presentation, or in four, 20 minute segments, divided conveniently. There is a handy guide, a booklet for the discussion leader from which they may draw interesting points of discussion. A 40–50 minute class can be easily spent watching one segment of the DVD and then proceed to investigate matters presented in the video by looking at music from the hymnal and considering the questions for discussion.

The segments of the video are arranged historically, early to late, beginning with Luther, his view of music and how it took shape. Robin Leaver provides a fascinating and animated commentary. I guarantee most people will not have heard anything like it. The second segment is about the first post-Reformation hymn writers. Martin Schalling (Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart) is discussed, as is Philip Nicolai and, of course, the great Paul Gerhardt. The third segment deals exclusively with J. S. Bach, his mindset and practice. It features a performance by the Bach Vespers Choir of Trinity Lutheran Church (NYC) singing the Cantata Ein Feste Burg, BWV 80. The final segment deals with hymn poets of our modern time, focusing on Wilhelm Loehe, Martin Franzman, Jeroslav Vajda and Stephen Starke. It shows how earnest hymn writers of the modern Lutheran tradition do not seek to find their way out of the thought process and philosophy of their forbearers. Rather, it shows how they seek to adapt and enliven that philosophy so that modern minds and ears can learn, understand and practice the rich Lutheran musical tradition.

I cannot recommend this resource enough. It is of very high cinematic quality and Richard Resch serves as a most articulate and pastoral narrator. In parishes where the leadership values our Lutheran hymn tradition, this resource will go a long way toward teaching the parishioners what it is and how it can be a great spiritual blessing to us today!

Preview this DVD by viewing a 12 minute trailer at:

Singing the Faith is available through Concordia Publishing House. Item # 99-2260

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Occasional Wedding Blues

Weddings are usually a joy, but church musicians and pastors all know what a pain they can be. Some people want to use the church building for a wedding - but don't really want a church wedding.

Generally, we don't have much of a problem with this at Bethany. Due to the conservative nature of the congregation, pastors who rarely perform non-member weddings, and a carefully designed process for planning weddings, most of our weddings go quite smoothly. I've got one later this month that I'm really looking forward to, when our Lord will join together a lovely couple who have planned a Christ-centered ceremony with great music. Indeed, we've done many really cool weddings at Bethany.

But the kind of problems that regularly occurred in previous parishes still come up every once in a while. Let's face it, no mater how well pastors catechize, one will always have transfers come in, and no matter how poorly they were taught in their previous parishes, whatever experiences they have had or been allowed to get away with in the past is "Lutheran" for them because, after all, it happened in their "Lutheran" church.

And so we have conversations where we have to do things like explain why "Ave Maria" is not an appropriate selection for a Lutheran service, only to hear about how said transfer has been Lutheran all her life and had "Ave Maria" at her wedding and at her sisters'! And you have to explain what psalms, hymns, and canticles are literally five times, only to hear about how they just want a "solo". And then after singing several solos that are hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs (canticles), they pick one. But in helping them with the bulletin, one has to explain again what a canticle is and that it is indeed in the program when they get panicked about seeing Scripture readings associated with the song and start to demand, "Where did you put the solo?!"

And of course they not only think they are know all about Lutheran doctrine and practice, they are the wedding experts, too! Even though the pastors and cantor have done hundreds of weddings that have been very worshipful, they just aren't convinced that 200+ people will participate in the service and so don't want to put anything in the program that would communicate such an expectation. Oh sure, people can say "Thanks be to God" or "Lord, have mercy" or the Lord's Prayer if they WANT to.....but they think putting such helps in the bulletin would be 'offensive', even though they are in the bulletin at church every Sunday. After all, "we've been Lutheran longer than you have!"

Yes, we in the church are called to serve. But some folks forget that we are to serve the whole Church - not just them. Instead, they think they should get things their way - just like at Burger King. They don't want to be bothered with reading a booklet prepared for their benefit, nor work through the parish worship planning worksheet for weddings. They evidently don't think we've ever encountered anything they haven't already thought of! They are the experts about what they want, thank you very much, and find the idea that they might learn from the Church to be demeaning. It's America, after all, right? And isn't everyone's vote equal? These churchly ideas are just your opinions, and I like my ideas better! As John Locke on ABC's LOST says: "Don't tell me what I can or can't do!!!"

(Note: I originally titled this post "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want to", after Leslie Gore's 1963 hit, but I upon reflection I think people were missing the point and/or the reference. But if you've made it this far into the post, I think you'll get the humor of that now!)

And of course the people that wait until the last possible weekend to meet with you then complain about having to work through any issues because they have to get the program to the printer yesterday even though the wedding is a month away. And no matter how nice you are, you still wind up getting the phone hung up on you or otherwise being treated rudely. Makes you wonder if you'll get paid. The "I want the church to do what I want" crowd doesn't have the best track record on that score.

Oh well, it's not the first time, and it won't be the last - even though we're more flexible at Bethany than many churches: we don't insist on following the order in the hymnal or the agenda, we allow lay readers, allow alternate readings, have no position on unity candles or gifting of flowers, allow long receiving lines at the end of the service and suffer in silence when couples insist that their 3-year-old nephew really can do the job of ring bearer! But still some treat me like I'm Regan (sp) from The Exorcist with my head spinning around in 360s just because I try to get them to follow the standards our congregation has set forth in our wedding policy manual.

I often joke that I'd rather play a funeral than a wedding. But it is true. I think I'll make that our next poll question!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hearing the Savior's Song

While I'm tempted to post over here regarding the brewing controversy down in Texas (about a female pastor from a charismatic non-denominational church being slated to "lead worship" at the upcoming Texas District youth gathering, "GloryBound"), I'm going to just invite you to head over to the Johnny Steadfast site and catch up with that on your own if you haven't already heard or read about it. (

My topic today segues nicely from this, though, as I continue my reports on the LCMS Institute on Preaching and the liturgy. While young Lutherans will be encouraged to seek God's "presence" apart from His Word, the third plenary speaker at the worship conference, Carol McDaniel, encouraged us to seek God's presence where it is truly found: in Christ. Rather than directing us to the noise of this world as the entertainment experiential evangelists do, or turn us inward on ourselves like the mystics would do, she directed us to the classical Christian spiritual disciplines. God wants to spent time with us, and Carol, a parish church musician who also teaches at Concordia-Irvine, pointed us to how we can spend more time with Him.

Carol's address was titled, "Can You Hear the Savior Singing?" She sought to help musicians and pastors grow in their vocations by redirecting those who lead worship to the source of all true worship: God Himself. She pointed to a key problem that we in the Lord's ministry face today: NOISE. The NOISE of the world distracts us from hearing the voice of our Savior. Not in a charismatic sense, but in a real sense of being in the Word so that the Spirit can have His way with us. And her solution was a call to return to our spiritual disciplines, which she defined as "time-honored and Biblically-supported ways of placing our story within the big story of God's Word." She then offered the following rubric to guide us back into these proven disciplines: STUMPED.

S - Sabbath Keeping. This can be so much more than attending the Divine Service. It is helpful to prepare for the liturgy the night before, to arrive early to church to mediate on the psalm and readings of the day, and then to discuss the service afterwards. The Sabbath was made for man; yet we don't take full advantage of this wonderful gift!

T - Treasure the Truth. Remember your baptism. Return to it in Confession & Absolution. Meditate on the commandments before confessing your sins. Avail yourself of individual confession & absolution. And rejoice your salvation!

U - Unplug. Try fasting from the technology. (BTW, we're going to do that at Bethany next month: as part of a congregational assimilation campaign we are going to "fast" from technology for 24 hours!) Go on retreats periodically. Go for a walk without an e-book or an iPod. Read the Bible BEFORE checking your emails. Be still and know that God is God! (Ps. 46:10)

M - Meditate. Not in the Eastern or mystic sense, but in the Christian tradition of letting the Word dwell in your richly. Memorize scripture. Chant the psalms. Journal about your reflections and discuss your questions with your pastor. "Our God longs to spend time with you."

P - Pray. Worship in the Divine Service.....and worship every day. Keep one of the daily offices as a family or at least as an individual. Keep a prayer journal. Make appointments to pray with other Christians. Read books on prayer and hymns by great theologians. Pray through the catechism; pray a psalm every day. Do not give up meeting together. Pray without ceasing!
(Hebrews 10:25; 1 Thess. 5:16-18)

E - Engage. Don't just lead worship. Worship! Find places and opportunities to worship without leading. Pastors in large churches; let the other pastor preside while you just go to church. Pastors in all churches: find times to go to another parish. Musicians: go to church when you don't have to sing or play! She also added "encourage" as a spiritual discipline. Build others up, by letting them lead - and also by letting them know you appreciate them. (I think she is on to something here: though we workers don't get applause in church work, we do get a lot of love along with lumps. But do we let all the wonderful volunteers know how much we appreciate them? If our spirituality truly is extra nos, then it does seem logical that expressing appreciation for others is part of our saying "Thanks be to God". God has put people in our midst to give us our daily bread and to be "Jesus with skin on" for us. It is therefore a good discipline to acknowledge our neighbor as God's gift to us.) Therefore encourage on another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess. 5;11)

D - Commune. And commune frequently. Disciple the next generation into our communion. Devote yourselves to the apostles' teaching, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers. (Acts 2:42-47)

Keep the Sabbath. Pray Psalms. Meditate on the Commandments. Seek Absolution. Commune Frequently. Remember Your Baptism. Do one of the daily offices each day. Pray over the catechism. Memorize God's Word.

I wonder if that's the kind of teaching the youth in Texas will be getting from their district as that non-denominational "worship pastor" leads them in their worship? Or from the Baptist preacher who will be speaking there as well? Or the other pastor from a different non-denom....oops, I'm giving in to temptation!

Thank you, Carol, for a wonderful, inspiring address. May our pastors and musicians keep their spiritual disciplines, that they may not grow weary, but grow strong in their vocations as they serve the Lord in His ministry.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Tale of Two Conferences

I was able to join Stephen for the last night day of the WELS worship conference and so offer some comparison and contrast for our readers:

1 - Preaching. What I heard in St. Peter was consistent with reports I got from a couple of folks who attended all of both conferences: the WELS preaching overall was stronger, more substantive, and more Lutheran. Not that the preaching was all bad at LCMS, but certainly there are some gifted preachers in the WELS - and they take the idea that the Worship Conference is for pastors as well as musicians quite seriously. I will say that the LCMS preaching was stronger at past Institutes, but if I were to keep score here (which I'm not), I'd say "score one for the WELS!"

2 - Orders of Service. The WELS are introducing a new hymnal supplement and so several new service settings were introduced at the conference. (Full disclosure: it includes my tune for Christopher Idle's "If Christ Had Not Been Raised") Certainly this is the place to do that sort of thing - but I think it was a little overdone. Part of the joy of these conferences is singing the common tradition together and that wasn't done as strongly at the WELS conference as I think it should have been. I might have liked a little more liturgical variety at the LCMS conference - but LSB didn't give us much new to work with (which is another story for another post). That said, I thought the LCMS had a better balance between "familiar" and "fresh" - even as I commend the WELS Commission on Worship for doing an excellent job with their hymnal supplement AND this conference.

3 - Hymnody. Both conferences featured good hymnody, sung with gusto by the assemblies. The WELS had an accent on new tunes & texts appearing in their new supplement; the LCMS did a better job of reflecting and expressing the catholicity of the church with the variety of hymns selected. If there is interest perhaps we'll post a list for folks to compare. Just let us know.

4 - Psalmody. Both conferences did what most LCMS congregations don't do: they sang the psalms. I think this is actually a more common practice now in WELS, but I need more than my experiences and some anecdotal data to confirm this. At any rate, WELS is to be commended for providing many new psalm refrains in its supplement. LCMS is to be commended for having more variety in its practice of psalm singing (though we could have used even more!). I will offer one caution for WELS, though: at Evening Prayer on Wednesday night, I found myself starting to agree with Carl Schalk's observation that "we are being refrained to death these days." While I disagree with Carl on this, as I think refrains contextualize the psalms and are useful ways of engaging the assembly and incorporating them into psalm, I do think there is a limit to how much of this style one should use. Certainly with all the musicians present we could have done a little more than the THREE songs with refrains sung after the sermon at Evening Prayer that night - in addition to the one on Psalm 141 earlier in the service! I think 1-2 refrains in a service is fine; four is a bit too much.

5 - High School Honor Choir. OK, at this point I must say that even though Dr. Von Kampen did a STELLAR job with the LCMS kids - and even though one of my sons was singing with the LCMS group(!) - I must give strongest praise to the WELS for a job incredibly well done. The LCMS evidently has a lot to learn from the WELS in organizing, recruiting, and motivating young people for these conferences. The LCMS choir had 42 singers: 16 sopranos, 12 altos, 7 tenors, and 7 basses. The WELS, despite being a much smaller synod, had 128 singers - 32 in each section! They sang much more literature - and much more challenging literature - than the LCMS group. These kids were obviously working on this music well before the conference, and I suspect that the WELS high school choir directors were plugged into the planning and so used some of the conference music in their own programs this past year. Most of the students were from WELS high schools - but there was a good number of public and home schooled youth as well.

I think the contrast between these groups is illustrative of the conflict and dysfunction within the LCMS. Most LCMS schools do not value and nourish our rich musical heritage and so our youth are deprived of some great faith-shaping experiences. It appears to me that this is less of a problem in the WELS. And it was such a joy to watch 128 high school students joyfully singing classical sacred music, and great liturgical music from our Lutheran heritage. They were singing in spirit and in truth and it showed! Imagine what the LCMS could do if we were to have lots of high schools excelling in choral music, have those schools networked and plugged into conference planning and preparation, and then bring in 128 of the cream of the LCMS crop to have a music camp for a few days before the conference. It would do so much more than make for great worship: it would motivate the next generation of the church's musicians for the years to come.

One last comparison - both conferences made great and good use of instruments. I hope that all the musicians who attended will go home and use more of the musical talent in their parishes. It is so easy to simply "just play it on the organ", but there is so much more ministry taking place when we use the gifts God has placed among us in our parishes. With both youth and instrumentalists, a rich liturgical piety is nurtured through involving more people in the Lord's song. May we musicians dedicate ourselves to discipling the talent placed among us - and may our congregations support this work by budgeting appropriate funds to support music ministry in the Church.