This week's contributor John Schlobom works in Customer Care at Augsburg Fortress in addition to serving as Director of Music at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in southwest Minneapolis. He has some good seasonal suggestions for Lent and Holy Week music planning.
Some Needs Are Similar Regardless of Congregation Size
When I was a college student studying Church Music, a common comment I heard from family and friends was, “You must want to work in a really big church if you're majoring in Church Music.” Since this wasn’t necessarily my goal, I would typically point out that smaller churches have the same needs as large churches, just fewer people. I’m fortunate to have found a small but thriving congregation of about 200 people where I have served as cantor for over 12 years.
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer (LCCR) is in southwest Minneapolis and, though small in numbers, is blest to have a very musical congregation. We try not to label our worship styles, but rather rotate liturgies of various musical styles with each season.
For musical ensembles, LCCR has an adult choir averaging eight singers, a 2-oct handbell choir, a children’s choir of five, and I also work with the smaller children during Sunday School. While there is something for almost all ages in our music program, each group is very small, making for some unique challenges to planning worship.
Flexibility, playing to the strengths of the musical resources with in the congregation, and collaboration with other ministries in the church are all aspects of planning worship in a smaller setting that I find particularly important, and I’m sure they apply to any sized church as well.
On Good Friday this year, the ‘choir’ at LCCR will sing movements from John Ferguson’s St. John Passion, a beautiful work of anthems that reflects on the passion narrative from the Gospel of John. How this is happening, however, is really an example of all three aspects mentioned above: flexibility, knowing the strengths of the congregation, and working with other ministries within the church.
St. John's Passion: All-Congregation Choral Time as Sunday Adult Education
The adult choir over the years has been made up of an occasionally well-balanced SATB group, sometimes a not-so-balanced SAB group, and lately, we have been using more women’s ensemble music. While the congregation in general is very musical, many people comment that, even though they love choir, they just can’t commit to coming to midweek rehearsals each week.
Since I know we have many talented people and they say they want to sing, I recently proposed to our pastor that the Adult Education time on Sunday mornings during Lent this year become an all-congregation choral time and that we work on a passion setting that could be sung on Good Friday. Since this would intentionally be the only educational piece for adults offered at that time, I suggested spending part our of time learning about the development of Passion settings and how they have shaped people’s faith over the years.
While my pastor thought it was a great idea, I also needed to present this plan to the Adult Education Committee, explaining how this idea would work as an educational piece - being of interest to and benefiting the entire congregation. The committee was very understanding and liked the idea. After a few conversations they agreed to schedule it and have been very supportive. Now, the work of planning these ‘educational rehearsals’ begins for me – we’ll see how it all goes!
That’s just one example of how using flexibility and creativity combined with working with other areas of church will hopefully, allow for a much richer, fuller Good Friday service than we may have had at LCCR.
Other Lenten Suggestions for Service Music, Choral, and Accompaniment
As Music and Worship Specialist/Customer Service at Augsburg Fortress, I have the unique opportunity to see a lot of great resources as they become available and then use them at my church. A few of my favorites:
- Sundays and Seasons (Print edition, Year A) is basically my worship planning “bible”
- Augsburg Easy Choirbook series (Augsburg Easy Choirbook, Vol. 1, Augsburg Easy Choirbook, Vol. 2) for smaller choirs provides high quality anthems for variety of smaller groups.
- Let it Rip! at the Piano hymn accompaniments (Let It Rip! at the Piano, Vol. One, Let It Rip! at the Piano, Vol. Two).
I just leave these on the piano! They are creative accompaniments to hymns but also work well as extra music during communion or even as short preludes and postludes.
Best wishes to you and your music ministry – large or small! --John