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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

LCMS Worship Conference: The Conversation

I suspect that many of our readers upon reading that title might ask, "Are we still talking about the 'national worship conference' in Seward from 2008?" No, that was the triennial conference hosted by the LCMS Commission on Worship. What just happened in St. Louis was the "Model Theological Conference on Worship", which the synod in convention directed be held in order to attempt to resolve our conflicts over worship. I'm going to have several short posts about this over the next few weeks, as there is much to digest, and as these conferences are now supposed to continue at the District level. But, for now, I'd just like to put two short items:

1 - For those who knew not or new little of this conference, this reminder for everyone about the official purpose of this conference should be helpful: "to build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology."

2 - And now for my first of many short observations to come that I hope might continue our conversation together on this important issue:

The conference worship was graciously hosted by our brothers and sisters at Concordia-Kirkwood. They have a beautiful facility, excellent musicians, and are a most hospitable congregation. They deserve everyone's grateful appreciation for their efforts. Their musicians ably led the services planned with them by the Commission on Worship. Though the Commission oversaw the planning, I presumed that we had mostly contemporary sounds because of the musicians available, and mostly traditional content liturgically because of the Commission's oversight and because of Concordia's commitment to historic texts. In other words, we were pretty much experiencing worship at Concordia, not "model" worship.

So I thought it interesting that the questionnaire we received about the conference had many questions about the music, ceremony, and rites we experienced together. It appears instead that the several services are being considered as models of the "variety of responsible practices" referred to in the synod constitution (III:7), to which the convention resolution referred and about which we were supposed to discuss at the conference. This was not made clear to us when we gathered. Sure there were many discussions about the services among the delegates - we are pastors and musicians, after all! - but now that I am considering these as models I find it curious that the musical style of 3 of the 4 services at Concordia was identical, and that the "traditional" model lacked the fullness one would associate with model traditional worship (other than the excellent children's choir from the day school that sang a Voluntary).

Indeed, the worship was all on a rather narrow band for a conference that was supposed to discuss variety. I'm not sure why that was. I am sure that we could have had: choral settings of stanzas of hymns, more variety of psalmody, brass, other instruments, and also a more representative example of "real" contemporary worship. (Many delegates commented that if the "contemporary" worship we experienced at Concordia were representative of what is happening in synod as a whole, we would have not had a synod resolution to have this conference to begin with.)

I'm going to ask Commission members for their thoughts on this. I realize there is only so much one can do with five services, but it does seem to me an opportunity was lost.


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

I am still trying to process and blog everything that I took in at the conference. I only regret that I did not have more time with you and others. I had a great time.


Elephantschild said...

Aiming for the "mushy middle" perhaps? Were they trying to show everyone how "you can indeed create a worship service that keeps everyone happy"?

NBeethe said...

I too am processing and trying to get my thoughts in a coherent manner. Wish we could have talked more, as well as many others. We almost need a post-conference gathering, where we can mill about and discuss...

IggyAntiochus said...

Looking forward to more comments from all of you.

Brian Yamabe said...

I'm really interested to hear about the "contemporary" service. It sounds like, though not without its problems, it could serve as a starting point for those who insist on som sort of "praise band" lead service. Can anyone post the order of service?

Brendan said...

Hi Phillip,
I was glad to meet you and talk. It was, of course, too brief to get into much depth, but still positive to make new connections with fellow musicians. I appreciate your kind-hearted words about my congregation and those that gave of their time and gifts to offer music in worship. The school’s choir is excellent indeed, they have a talented director, and you can’t go wrong with that book by Blersch.
(I’m going to post this as 2 comments since there’s a limitation on characters for blog comments. Please forgive the length… I think it’s worth saying in its entirety.)
I was equally surprised by the questionnaire many questions about worship (I felt obligated to say “no opinion”, of course!). I don’t suspect there’s much behind them, because I do not believe it was their intention that Concordia 'model' worship. Pastor Seidler and I were asked to "do what we do" at Concordia. There was no aim for middle ground, and no great effort to be something that we are not in an attempt to make anyone "happy". Our role in planning and leading worship was not to in any way to show 'how it's done'. From the whole scope of choirs, brass, bells, and whatever resources we have available, I worked with a group of folks who were willing and able to participate during those blocks of time, so people got a glimpse of our worship here, but it wasn't about trying to show off the whole scope of music ministry. If the intention of the Synod was to do have it otherwise, I would have expected someone to say to us, "Please do this or that... or don't do this or that". Rather, we were given the basic ideas for each service (Morning/Evening Prayer from LSB etc…), and then shared some dialog about what we could use for each one. Of all the services, the Evening Prayer was the only thing that was even a bit “out of the ordinary” for us, just by the fact that it’s not commonly used. Being a classical-guitar man at heart, I was excited by the opportunity to work on arranging it a bit differently that it’s usually played. I hope that it retained its beauty through the change in orchestration – it was our real “first run” with it in a worship setting. Being that there were folks there who do things more traditionally, and some who are a lot less traditional than us, it made more sense to have our musicians work in the environment that they know best and to not try and portray the full scope of variety in our synod. I believe our role in the conference was to lead worship, which is a very different thing than to gather and put on a demonstration under the microscope so that people can observe, learn, criticize, etc. That would be a more appropriate ‘concert’ setting where a variety of musicians from different churches and styles could perform for the purpose of discussion. The difference, for me, was critical. Prior to Monday, the message to my groups was basically, "We are here to serve this body of believes in worship - nothing more, nothing less. Some folks will appreciate it, some will find it uncomfortable and maybe even a hindrance… too slow too fast too loud too soft too traditional too whatever he’s too serious looking she’s too smiley blah blah ruff ruff…. Let's not get hung up worrying about the wide variety of opinions in the room, but rather, let's come together with our instruments and gifts and simply worship". Besides, the only “model” thing I could think up about my ensembles is that they are pretty dedicated to the ministry and demonstrate true hearts of service. But that’s not something that get’s “shown off” anyway, and we all pray that that’s true of all we serve in our choirs and instrumental groups.
(Continued in next comment posting…)

Brendan said...

(continued from previous comment)

I sense that you understand the sensitiveness that goes along with talking about this week’s worship and those who served: There are no ‘hypotheticals’ here or anonymous examples to discuss, but rather, these are real people from the congregation who kindly responded to their pastor and music director’s request that they volunteer their time and gifts by participating in a special event for our Synod. Leading music for this wasn't some sought-after responsibility for them or me, but rather something we humbly accepted.

We've all seen blogs where people have said some very unkind things. For the sake of those who have served in worship this past week, perhaps an extra measure of discretion could be used. I'm quite certain that those who contributed musically had no intention of being the object of public criticism. I trust you will help to honor that. I suppose not everyone will, but think it’s fair to make the request.
Time for me to leave the blogosphere now… never had much time for reading and writing on the web, but felt that this was an important opportunity to share a few words, especially since we had the chance to meet (I don't think I'd just start dropping comments on every blog I find). I generally keep my web-life limited to 2 ridiculous YouTube videos and a Christmas CD which makes for a wonderful gift.
Good to meet you, Phillip.
Nathan, good to see you again after all these years.

IggyAntiochus said...

Brendan: I appreciate you shedding clarity on the worship time at this conference. I wasn't there, so I have to learn about it by reading what those who attended have written.

Phillip Magness said...


Thank you for shedding light on this for us. We really appreciate you taking time to fill us on.

During the conference, my thinking was that we were doing pretty much what you described: experiencing how Concordia-Kirkwood worships. So I didn't think too much of it until the questionnaire came out.

I do appreciate that one "goes to war with the army one has", and so understand your approach. Had we hosted the conference at Bethany, I would have done something *similar* to what you did. I would also have just done what reflects our community rather than attempt to represent a microcosm of synod.

That said, and this is not a criticism but simply an expression of my personal tastes, I wish you had used more of the great talent you have at Concordia, perhaps by having a second service in the sanctuary and using more instruments.

I understand that you are not a big blogger, and so suspect our friends at the Commission alerted you to my questions. Thank you again for answering them. I do hope that you will stick around for the next couple of weeks, even though you are not a blogger. I think your perspectives would be helpful and valuable.

Again, thank you for your hard work and thank your musicians for their faithful service.

In Christ,


Phillip Magness said...


Let me also add that I appreciated the reverence with which your band conducted themselves during the service. They focused on the pastor when he was speaking, performed in ways that did not draw attention to themselves, and played with an ear for the congregation they were leading.

They truly do have "hearts for worship". May who lead the Lord's song among us have such piety!

Please share my appreciation for their devotion and dedication with them.

IggyAntiochus said...

Brendan, I hope you can hang out here at Fine Tuning for a few weeks at least and provide us with more insight.

Brendan said...

Thanks, Phillip-