Sunday afternoon, after an upbeat and inspiring worship service that capped an exhilarating and exhausting week of at the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering, I got in my car and drove from Detroit for the ELCA Worship Jubilee.
This was a different kind of event. I kept looking for people in bright colored shirts to high five me in the lobby.
But it was just as uplifting and not that much of a transition as both of these events are about renewing the church. In fact Jon Reuss, Choir Director at Redeemer Lutheran in Waverly (and who directed our worship at Synod Assembly) mentioned that while three years ago he attended the Youth Gathering with his daughter Hannah, this year she decided to go with him to the Worship Jubilee.
This year the Jubilee overlapped with the conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians so we shared plenary presentations and workshops and worship.
The theme was “Called to be a Living Voice” and we explored ways we can encourage people to share their voice in ways that are Lutheran, collaborative and inclusive. We focused on reformation, vocation and mission.
One of the key questions explored was how do we keep both scripture and liturgy a living voice, rather than an ossified and rigid relic?
All of the workshops and forums offered resources on ways to do that.
I attended a workshop on Spirituals led by Dr. James Abbington of the Chandler School of Theology. We had an opportunity to sing some of the old spirituals which he defined as “Sacred folk songs written by unknown people”. He encouraged us to use these and other songs from other cultures and traditions where they fit into the liturgy and church year and not just to throw it in for the sake of having an ethnic song.
Another workshop was “Singing the Faith” which was presented by our own Dr. Kit Kleinhans. Her message is not to lose the richness of the past in our search for new hymnody. She pointed out that Martin Luther was not above rewriting hymns to make them work for his setting and we should feel free to do so as well.
If the language is dated or music unsingable in your setting, update the language and choose a different tune. But we can still keep the old songs even as we learn new hymns.
On Tuesday evening, we were given three choices of where to worship. I went to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, jr. preached his first sermon in 1948 and was laid to rest in 1968. It was wonderfully uplifting worship with outstanding music.
Probably the highlight was “If I can Help Somebody sung by Mary Harris Gurley. She was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, jr and sang at his funeral. Her voice was as strong and clear and beautiful as ever.
We hear a lot of negatives about the church and the challenges. But these kinds of events remind us that renewal is taking place.
God is moving and breathing through this church, and not just at the big events but in our congregations at home. It’s good to be reminded that renewal is happening. It’s a good time to be the church.
Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA