While Pastor Michael is on sabbatical, our weekly E-pistle will be written by different individuals. This week’s E-pistle is by Holly Phares, Artist-in-Residence at Old First…
I recently had the immense pleasure to spend some time amongst some wonderful, extravagantly welcoming and inspiring Methodist brothers and sisters at the 15th annual Summer Sacred Music Institute at the seminary at Drew University. It was a rather last minute decision, as it was brought to my attention by one of the singers who showed up to sing at my most recent Voices Rising Philly gatherings in our sanctuary. This singer, David, shared the info on this wonderful annual conference, when I happened to mention my love for the music of the extraordinary colleague in church music and composer, Mark Miller. He told me that Mark, who is the Music Director at the seminary, was leading all of the music for the Institute. I dropped everything and dashed up to Madison, NJ to soak up two full days of not only incredible sacred music, inspiring times of communal worship, but also presentations and experiences with liturgical movement, spoken word ministry in the form of rap (!), as well as creative writing and re-writing of common liturgy used in worship – all around the theme of this year’s Institute: “Black Lives Matter: Disruptive Worship for Social Change”.
I learned a lot about what the UCC and these United Methodists had in common; specifically the manner in which we at Old First strive to embody the radically welcoming energy of a God who is a loving and affirming God. A God who does not need us to fully understand God or even Jesus. A God who welcomes and even invites those who are uncertain of where their own beliefs are to feel free and safe to question and seek – knowing they are not alone in their seekIng. A God of accompaniment. A God of DISRUPTION….
We sang so much wonderful, inclusive, hope-filled, unifying music in the way of songs and hymns old and new. We sang some standard Wesleyan hymns, accompanied by Mark Miller on the organ, a cappella call and response traditional spirituals and beautiful, poignant contemporary songs with rich harmonies, and joined in on songs led by soloists who inspired us with each verse, as we joined in with each repeated refrain. I was impressed that many of these songs by Mark Miller, which were in their UMC hymnals and supplemental hymnals, were known by heart by most in attendance, including the rich, yet easily learned harmonies of some of these songs! This was not a group of just music directors. It was quite a mixed bag of clergy, music leaders, and lay leaders. As I scanned the community while we sang together, it was apparent that everyone present loved to worship through song and movement and the open and inviting energy from Mark and all who were at the helm was infectious and facilitated an environment of community that embodied the very essence of inclusivity.
I was reminded also of the extraordinary transformative power of music to transcend boundaries and differences. The ability of utilizing music as a vehicle for creating the disruption necessary to heighten awareness of injustices within God’s KIN-dom (no, that is NOT a typo!) & how to find the strength in solidarity to become empowered and emboldened change agents, modeled by Jesus. Lastly, how music has the immense capability to lift us up in even the darkest of days.
All in all, I was reminded that our God, as we know God, is not ONLY still speaking, but indeed our God is still singing – and God invites ALL of us to sing, no matter from where we enter into this incredible circle of community….
Within the spirit of our #LoveFirst message at Old First, I close with inviting you to enjoy this poignant song, I Choose Love, written by Mark Miller, in response to the tragic massacre on June 15, 2015, of the nine members attending Bible study of The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. (Mark Miller, pianist & composer & Justin Gonzalez, a former long-time student of mine, Tenor).
YouTube link: https://youtu.be/1rSFnNyMvvs
With hope and love,