Worship as a Process

April 15, 2021

The process of worship encompasses many gifts from many people. For musicians, this includes the selection of songs, hymns, and responses; collaborations with a wide variety of volunteers; and the rehearsal and leadership of the music in the gathering of the Christian community. But there is also a careful reflection that goes into the music, as leaders ask about the meaning of music and song in the context of the congregation.  

The Music United column will feature members from across the country. They offer their perspectives, drawing on many years of experience across a wide range of congregational and community contexts.  
In this column, two members offer their reflections on music as a process in worship and its significance to the assembled people of God.  

—Josh Zentner-Barret, Music United, Membership Chair 

“At Metropolitan United in Toronto, I lead the hymns and responses primarily from the organ but use the piano when appropriate. Being a large space, Metropolitan lends itself to organ accompaniment for the congregation (especially with sound supporting the singing from the rear gallery organ) better than piano leadership. In larger worship spaces, especially, I find that the organ, as a wind instrument like the voice, supports hymn-singing the best. However, the organist needs to understand hymn leadership, which is the most important task of any congregational music leader! Breaths at the phrases, appropriate registrations, appropriate tempo, consistent number of beats between verses, and a singing style are essential to good hymn leadership. We don’t lead the congregation well with overly loud sounds, whether organ, piano, or band. Louder isn’t leading!  

 “We always rehearse the hymns and new responses with the choir, and we have congregational rehearsals of new hymns and responses prior to the service when necessary. When we sing some of the African responses from More Voices, we add djembe and tambourines (and the congregation and choir add clapping). In my hymn introductions, I play a newer hymn through, soloing the melody (as I’ll continue to do in the first verse). Remember that every hymn or song that is now a congregation’s favourite was new at one time.” 

Patricia Wright, Minister of Music, Metropolitan United Church, Toronto, Ont. 

“Hymn-singing and leading with kids has brought with it some of my most rewarding and Spirit-filled memories of church. As a song- and hymn-writer, I have had the opportunity to sing some known hymns with kids, but more often and even more fun, I have been able to create opportunities to compose many worship songs with children. This always starts with a conversation around the theme to be celebrated in the week we are due to sing. With simple prompts, children are usually readily able come up with words and phrases related to the theme. Then I weave these into a song, taking care that every child will recognize at least one word they have contributed. I usually write a chorus to pull things together, and we practise for a week or two with my guitar, and snacks, after church. Then we share the music with the congregation, generally asking them to join in on the last chorus, which is projected or entered in the bulletin. The thrill that the children (and I) feel being able to share a song they have created is quite palpable. Hearing their own words in the song gives them a wonderful sense of accomplishment, bonds them as a group, and I think gives them greater insight and connection to the message. Of course, the congregation always appreciates hearing children sing, especially their own children, and joining in on the final chorus is always a rousing and blessed time.” 

Pat Mayberry, Song- and hymn-writer, First United Church, Ottawa, Ont.