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

Friday, September 19, 2008


Fall is fast approaching, and here in the Northern Hemisphere that means harvest time - agriculturally speaking. But in the Church, most of us have just gotten a bunch of programs started that correspond to the academic year, and so while the fields around us are being harvested, things are just starting to sprout in our various plots of the Lord's vineyard.

True, we've had a summer full of "green" Sundays - i.e. when the paraments are green to reflect the liturgical season of the Sundays after Pentecost, known as the "Time of the Church". This is a season of growth, and the readings focus on sanctification, fellowship, vocation, and trust. Certainly we have grown as the body of Christ as the Spirit nurtured us in God's words and promises. But the programs of the Church are on a different "growth pattern" as they are by necessity more in sync with the academic calendar than the pericopes of the Church Year. And so our program years are just now getting off the ground.

How is your garden growing? Here at Liturgy Solutions, I am pleased to report that things are going very well at Bethany. The "fishing for choristers" expedition went exceedingly well. We're up to 24 kids in the parish children's choir, with three more expected to come after soccer season. Meanwhile our day school junior high choir has grown from about 30 kids to 56! We did have a couple of adult choir members move away - but we have picked up 3 new members and are holding steady at 36. Our contemporary and youth ensembles remain strong, as do our bell and brass groups, and new things are happening as well: a new bell choir for beginners is forming, and our day school music teacher is discipling new youth brass & wind ensembles in addition to his school band program. All in all, 148 people participate regularly in music ministry at Bethany - not bad for a congregation that averages about 575 in worship!

Certainly this all happens by the Lord's hand. His Spirit has given us a singing faith, and the people of Bethany love His song. But He uses us to bring forth the harvest, and this talent would not be manifesting itself so abundantly were it not for the faithful service and support of our pastors, our staff and the many, many volunteers who do over-and-above things to make things happen.

All this does not happen in a vacuum. We give God the glory for assembling such a great team, and for granting us the wisdom and resources to build a quality program. Some of this wisdom is associated with some of the topics we have already blogged about here at Liturgy Solutions. The E-fast was inspired by Dr. MacDaniels address at the Institute, and was part of a congregational renewal campaign that brought forward many volunteers. The "fishing for choristers" expedition used several resources, including the "Singing the Faith" video I picked up at the Institute. And there are so many resources available today to help a congregation build a program.

The Lord has similarly blessed you with people and resources for leading His song in a way that is most appropriate for your parish. Success requires your dedication, your labor, your passion, and your perseverance, but He has given you a song to sing, and faith to sing it. We at Liturgy Solutions are here to provide additional resources and our collective wisdom to assist pastors and musicians as they plant and nurture programs for worship and music.

We rejoice that things are sprouting up here at Bethany, and pray that your garden is growing as well. If things are not, and you think you could use a little help tilling the soil, casting seed, or otherwise caring for the liturgical harvest, consider our consulting services. Conferences are great, and books can be very helpful, but sometimes the voice of experience can best address your particular situation. Let us know if we can help!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A New Way of Fasting

This past weekend we had an "E-fast" at Bethany. As a spiritual exercise, we adapted the time-honored practice of fasting from food and instead "fasted" from all electronic devices. The thinking was that people today use electronics more often than they eat, and so an "E-fast" would provide more challenges throughout the day for people to step back from the world and focus instead on Christ and His creation.

To promote doing this together as a church family, we met at 9am on Saturday for a prayer service before heading out into our vocations and enjoying our electronics-free day. About 40 of us attended the service; dozens more participated in the E-fast on their own. Here are the basic rules we sent out to the congregation:

Rules for the 24hr E-fast

“UNPLUG from the world!”

1. There should be no use of the following electronics:

a. Computers

b. Television/DVD/DVR

c. Video games in any form. (Hand held, TV or computer)

d. I-Pods, stereo, radio in home or car, & CDs.

2. There should be no activities with the family that would involve the use of these things such as going to a movie theatre or a gaming place.

3. Phones and cell phones are to be used only in an emergency. There should be no unnecessary phone calls, texting or use of the internet, e-mail or gaming on your cell phone.


Those were the rules. To help people take full advantage of the blessing of fasting, we offered the following ideas to help people with their devotion. I say "take full advantage" of this opportunity because fasting of all kinds is for our benefit, not to merit any favor before God - just as "the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:29).


Spiritual Exercises

* Family Devotion - extend your family devotional time by digging into one of your favorite Bible stories and then discussing together how you fit into the story – and how Christ is at the center.

* Catechism Challenge - review part or all of the Small Catechism and then focus on something you may have forgotten. Re-memorize that part and let it be your meditation throughout the day.

* Family Prayer – extend your prayer time so you can name and give thanks for all the "plugged in" things available to us in this country and in this century. Praise God for richly and daily providing all we need to support this body and life.

* Family Walk - it isn’t necessary to spend all 24 hours in non-stop prayer, but consider taking a Scripture Verse or Catechism Verse to memorize and meditate upon while you walk together as a family. Be open to letting the Spirit lead your conversation and meditation to surprising places!

* Have a Hymn Sing – have everyone in the family pick a favorite hymn and/or a favorite song and let the Word dwell in you richly through song. Start by praying a psalm together. Psalms of praise include 98, 100, 117, 136, 148, 150.

* Meditation - Pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Word, take a few minutes to clear y our mind, read a chapter from the Bible and allow your mind to go wherever the Word suggests, spend time in prayer over that which comes to mind. It may be confession of sins, prayers for the needs of others, prayers for your own concerns, and thanksgiving. Return to a key Verse from the chapter after your prayers, commit it to your memory, and let it speak to you throughout the day.

We also wanted people to enjoy the temporal blessings of being "unplugged", and so encouraged them to enjoy extra time with their family and friends as well as to spend special time in God's Word. So we came up with a list of activities for unplugged family fun, just to get people thinking about the possibilities of what they might do away from so many modern conveniences

Family Fun

*Wash Family Pet

*Clean Garage or Basement

*Go to the Zoo

*Go to a water park or an amusement Park

*Family Reading Time – read on your own, but also take time to read aloud to one another!

*Board Games


*Go for a Bike Ride – this could be a chance to meditate on a Verse, too!

*Go the the park

*Have a Picnic

*Make Dinner as a Family

*Clean the House – this can be a surprisingly good time if everyone invests in it fully!

*Play Outside Yard Games (basketball, volleyball, badminton, croquet, baseball, softball)

*Go Golfing

*Remember loved ones (visit the cemetery)

*Pick Up Trash in Your Neighborhood - or even someone else’s neighborhood!

*Go to the Library – remember what we used to read before blogs???

*Look at Family Photos – and share your family history with your children.

This e-fast led into our annual Rally Day activities, which you can read about here. Do at least check out the photos, as the picture of our Johnny Steadfast booth is definitely worth the click!

One of our main themes for this year's Rally Day was to encourage all members of our congregation to find at least one thing to do regularly for the body of Christ at Bethany. The E-fast was intended to give people time to pray about how they might participate in the Lord's ministry through our congregation. Hopefully, the perspectives we got from living a day without electronics gave us time to consider much more than that: how much God wants to participate in our lives, and how we are freed in Christ to enjoy fellowship with Him and with each other.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Jesus told Peter that He would make him into a "fisher of men" - but nobody told me when I was in music school that I would become a "fisher of choristers"! Being in a larger congregation, I don't have to worry much about getting adult choir members now that I have developed a program, but each year it gets a little harder to bring in the children.

There are many reasons for this. First, I'm getting older. I'm less hip than I used to be. Sure, a parent told me this year that her daughter was rejoining choir so that she could sing "for me" this year - so I guess I still have enough groove on for the 5th graders (!) - but I must admit that I've lost some of the appeal that younger directors have for children. But at the same time, I'm older and wiser, and am more savvy. So I don't think age is a detriment, just something for which I need to adjust and compensate.

And then there are the gazillion things that compete for children's attention these days. That is something one can readily point to, and a lament I've heard from many. But there were about as many soccer-crazed families in the 90's as there are today, and, while I would agree that it is more difficult to START a program in today's environment because of all the competing activities out there, I really don't think the number of options out there for kids today is a reason why fewer are choosing choir. Indeed, parents program more extra-curricular activities for their children today than they used to, and so the odds that one of the things they may choose to do would be choir have actually increased.

So what is it, then? I think the biggest reason it is harder to "fish for choristers" today is the huge amount of professionally recorded music that surrounds people in our culture today. It makes it harder for children to be convinced that they can make good music - especially if there is little music-making in the home, as is sadly the norm today. And the children today are the offspring of those who grew up after the big youth music explosion of the 60's. Those who came of age in the 60's and early 70's had parents who were from a previous era and so were more likely to be encouraged in music making. They were also encouraged by their peers as well. But now we are two generations into being surrounded by sound, and something has happened along the way. Fewer parents value music education. Kids are less interested in listening to each other. It is just so much easier to push a button. And music is seen more as something to be consumed rather than something to be enjoyed.

Couple the above with modern-day parents' inclination to let children themselves decide what they should be doing with their "extracurricular" time, and you really have a problem: most parents don't look at church choir as part of the education of their children, and children have no concept of what they can achieve and what joys they can experience through church choir. So they don't join.

Fortunately, we are blessed with a strong singing congregation at Bethany, and many of our members highly value the art of music. So I still have some parents who put their kids in the children's choir because they are continuing in the tradition of "the singing church", the name by which the Lutheran church used to be known. And I try to arrange trips for the older kids, as that is a motivator for them, and I go out of my way to talk to the kids as well. But even here most of the parents let their children decide whether or not they will sing in the church choir, and so I was pleased to find a new resource to help me with my "chorister fishing" this year: Children Making Music, a DVD Video for Children, Parents, and Congregational Leaders recently released by the LCMS Commission on Worship.

I'll review this resource over the next week, but for now let me just close by saying that I showed the segment for children from this DVD to our 4th & 5th grade day school students this past week, and will show it to the 3rd grade next week. I think it made a good impression on them, and so I'm hoping they had good things to say about making church music this weekend when their parents look into their school bags and get my latest invitation to join choir.

Maybe this time when Millennial Parent asks "Jane, would you like to join Cantor's choir this year?" we'll get few more children saying "Yes!"