Prelude: Giving Our Worship Wings

June 28, 2024
multicoloured pastel illustraton of wavy music scores

In the months leading up to a tour of England that I co-led with another United Church colleague, our choirs, collectively called The United Voices of Edmonton (Robertson Wesley Choir, the choir from the former Knox-Metropolitan, and the Willan Chorale) were working very hard to lead nine days of worship at two cathedrals in England. Because of the trip, I had been thinking both about my role as a leader and about the new community that we were creating from the three choirs. I was reflecting on how we were grounding ourselves in a lengthy tradition of worship services, especially evensong, experiencing the history and the beauty of the architecture of the buildings we were singing in, and, of course, finding spiritual inspiration through the music we were preparing.

While thinking about English cathedrals in preparation for the trip and doing some reading and research, I came across a couple of sermons on the Durham Cathedral website given by the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove. One particular sermon about music caught my attention. In it, the Rev. Sadgrove describes music as entering into a “thin” place somewhere between earth (the tangible) and heaven (the intangible). Music is often associated with praise of God. But this praise is deeper for me—it goes to all the arts and their power to inspire, to make beauty, to comfort, to allow mourners to grieve, to lift up someone who is down, and to create a sense of celebration.

I feel so blessed to have two jobs: a church position and a position with Gathering as Music Editor, where I am the one who enables those around me to find expressions for their joys and sorrows, their praises and prayers.

To quote from the Rev. Sadgrove: “Music gives our worship wings. It soars and flies, it beckons heaven come down to us. Music touches parts of us nothing else can quite reach. It enlarges our imaginations, it moves our spirits, it coaxes us to love in a new and deeper way. I could tell you how I first came to Christian faith through singing a piece of Bach’s music as a boy treble more than 40 years ago. We could all tell stories about how a hymn or a psalm, a song, a motet or a symphony had a profound effect on us. That’s why we in cathedrals invest so much in our music. It’s why parishes should never resent the cost of achieving the very best in music, whatever their style of worship. It’s an investment in mission. Ithas converting power. Above all, it’s for the praise of God.”

I appreciate that he says, “achieving the very best in music, whatever their style of worship.” I’ve been on the front lines of “worship wars” between “contemporary” and “traditional”—whatever those terms mean! The important question for me is “Are we giving our best to God?” Luckily, over my career, I’ve found several places where I’m free to express the scripture, the theme, the sermon topic, the day, or the liturgical season in almost any musical form. My main criterion in this stage of my worship leadership is “Does it fit?” not “What style is it in?” or “Who’s going to be annoyed if I choose this piece of music?”

In the United Church, we look forward to Then Let Us Sing!, a new hymn resource. Many ofyou have been testing out the Then Let Us Sing! tester and are introducing new music to your congregations. I hope the criterion of “Does it fit?” helps you to use a variety of styles that work for your resources and allows you to find “music that gives our worship wings.”

Tammy-Jo Mortensen, Music Editor