Thoughts on outreach through music and art

July 28, 2014
Canon Andrew Gerns

I have just come home from a week as a member of the adult choir at the Royal School of Church Music King's College Course. I know that Canon Mark Laubach has spoken eloquently on this list of the quality and depth of the program and the music that comes out of it. I've done enough CPE to have learned the skill of theological reflection growing out of the action of ministry, so on this first evening after my time at RSCM, this is my initial theological reflection.

This year I followed the example of the Rev. Amy Spanga of Trinity, Bethlehem, who took part last year, and used this as a time of continuing education and personal/professional development. So instead of being the organizer or the chaplain or anything like that, I was one of the adult choristers. A student. One member among many.

It has been a very long time since I've been a part of a choir, and certainly never one this large. Taking part in this week was a stretch because I was taking on music at a level I have never tackled before. (Very much like my previous forays into "A Brush with God" iconography workshops which took me to artistic places that were also a stretch....) So I knew that this was going to be taken to spiritual, intellectual and physical experiences that were new to me.

Of course, the music was glorious and many people worked very hard to have it come together. But after I came home, I began to reflect on my experience and was wondering how many people in our diocese really understand what a precious and unique resource the RSCMA King's College Course and the music that grows out of it really is?

For that matter, I wonder if any of us really thinks about the impact our musical and artistic traditions have on us, our parishes, and our communities?

RSCMA at King's College reaches across the church, and not just the Episcopal Church, but from several traditions. We were hosted by King's College, a Roman Catholic institution. As I looked around, it occurred to me that the Course is a practical, living example of ecumenism in action. While the worship is thoroughly Anglican, it concretely presents the genius and the gift of Anglicanism: our comprehensiveness, Another Anglican quality, a deep spirituality of beauty, is also communicated through the music and the liturgy as seen in the two choirs for Compline.

Easily half of the people in attendance this year were young people from 9 and 10 years old up through college. If we count adults under 30, the proportion is probably higher. This should give us hope for the Church because these young people choose to sing very challenging music at a very high level and willingly take on the discipline to do it well. Of course, there were all the things that kids like to do...funny, fun and goofy some ways it reminded me of the many church camps I have taken part in over my ministry...but the seriousness with which these young people approach this music and their faith is truly amazing.

For the past several years we at Trinity, Easton, have sent several young people from my parish to RSCM. We have, at the same time, worked hard to integrate young people into our music and worship life. Without question, this has had life-changing effects on these folks and I have witnessed incredible acts of grace--even conversion--through our music ministry. RSCM is a big part of that picture because when they go and come back they see that we are not alone in what we are doing, and they understand the connection between music, worship, and faithful living we are trying to convey but in a new, richer way.  

When a parish can offer music and arts education in a context and quality simply not found anywhere else, certainly not in most public schools, and when we make this available to people who might not otherwise have access to such an experience, then we doing a form of artistic and musical outreach that is every bit as important and life changing as any other form of outreach we do.

There is something also wonderful about the fact that in a diocese of small churches, programs like RSCM (and for that matter the music ministry at St. Stephen's) is in our midst and only short drive (or turn of the radio dial) away. I must say that I am always a little stunned when I hear suggestions that perhaps this kind of ministry is not worth the time, effort or money.

Similarly, I am dismayed when people (especially those who inhabit a liturgical tradition such as ours) write off music or art as an "extra." In my experience as a parish priest...almost all of it in small parishes in small towns or in small to medium sized cities...I have always found that intentional music (whatever the style) goes hand in hand with intentional worship, formation, and social ministry. It is a basic ingredient to a vital church no matter what the size.

Fellow church people who would not think of using a cost-benefit approach to evaluate a soup kitchen, food pantry or church school will still apply that approach to a music ministry. Which is too bad, because I have learned that parishes of any size can offer a quality music and arts ministry, especially when they respect their size, context and culture. Most parishes probably cannot offer a "cathedral level" of music--and many probably shouldn't--but when they do what they can do well, it will make their common life and worship of the parish richer and their spirituality more connected to lives of the people in their communities.

It is probably true that such programs, be they in a parish or through a national program like RSCMA, won't bring people into church in mega-church quantities. But by every measure that really counts-- lives changed, communities made better, the Gospel proclaimed and generations educated in the faith--our music and arts ministries are not adjunct to our mission but at the heart of our great commission call to go into the world to baptize and teach. Through our art and music, we begin to praise God with our whole heart, mind and spirit. At the same time, our art and music reminds the world in a concrete way that through Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection, God restores our humanity.

I am thankful to the folks at St. Stephen's Pro-Cathedral, King's College, and RSCMA in making this valuable resource available and am proud that it happens in the our diocese. What a week!



The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns
Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA
President, Standing Committee, Diocese of Bethlehem
church: 610-252-7645
cell/text: 610-392-4112

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is." - Albert Einstein

Advent Lessons and Carols, St. Stephen's Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre on December 14th » Advent Lessons and Carols


St. Stephen’s Choir will present the annual Festival Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent on Wednesday, December 14 th at 6:00 p.m., led and accompanied by Canon Mark Laubach.  Offerings will support St. Stephen’s “Voice For Life” Fund and gifts of food and clothing will be received for those in need.  A reception will follow in the Auditorium.

"Come Meet John the Baptist at the Mall" Sermon for Advent 2

[By Canon Maria Tjeltveit, Rector of Church of the Mediator, Allentown]

Second Sunday in Advent
December 4, 2011
Church of the Mediator
Mark 1:1-8

I admit I was pretty shocked to see it on the sign for the Lehigh Valley Mall. Right underneath “Come Meet Santa at the Mall” it said “Come Meet John the Baptist at the Mall.” This was a first!

I turned into the crowded parking lot and finally found a space. Inside the mall it wasn’t too hard to spot Santa. Actually I saw the line first; little kids fidgeting, their parents looking bored or trying to break up squabbles before they got out of hand. There was Santa seated on a large chair saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!” his white mustache and beard bouncing up and down. He welcomed a small child onto to his ample lap; her sticky hand grazing his red and white suit. I stopped for a while and listened as Santa asked each child if he or she had been good (they all had!) and what they wanted for Christmas. The lists seemed as long as the line: Let’s Rock Elmo!, Fijit Friends, Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Dolls and LEGO Ninjango, Leapfrog Leap Pad Explorer, Kidizoom Twist, and Harry Potter Scene It, Angry Bird toys, Barbie Doggie Water Park, Moshi Monsters Talking Plush, Baby Annabelle…and on and on. Each child seemed to want every hot toy there was. Santa smiled and patted their heads, then had the obligatory picture before each child moved on. The parents looked glad to get the ordeal over with as they took their children’s hands and the animated children dragged them off to the nearest toy store.

I had to look a little harder to find John the Baptist. He was over in a quieter corner of the mall next to the water fountain. I guess Jordan Creek is a little too cold this time of year for outdoor baptisms. John, too, had a line waiting for him, although the line was shorter and the people in it were older, a few children but mostly teenagers and adults. John was sitting on a folding chair, dressed in a loose camel hair outfit that was drawn together by a leather belt but still hung from his thin body. His dark hair and beard were unkempt but his face and eyes glowed with an inner light that was compelling. He seemed both young and old at the same time. Those who approached him did not try to sit on his knobby knees but sat on another folding chair across from to him. Again I stopped to listen.

John looked in the face of each person who came to him and said “What do you need to let God turn your life in the right direction?” The answers didn’t always come at once but John was patient. I heard one person speak of how he was estranged from his parents and needed reconciliation. Another spoke of wrestling with addition to alcohol and pain medications and needing to be freed. One spoke of being in grief during this time when everyone else was celebrating and needing to know God was there. A teenager spoke about feeling pressured to go further with her boyfriend than she felt comfortable and needing to be able to assert herself and live out her own values. Someone mentioned feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff he already had and needing to find how to give in a meaningful way to people who didn’t have enough. A child talked about how he and his sister were always fighting or mean to each other and needed to remember that they really did care about each other. One had been unemployed for months and needed to believe that there was hope. Another felt so rushed in this season that she needed to know how to make time for God…. Each person’s need was different, personal, and it seemed like just speaking it out loud to John broke something open for them.

John would listen to each person. Sometimes he would give advice on what they could do. Then he would take each to the water fountain and let the water run over their hands and head. He would say to each one, as he handed them a paper towel, “I have baptized you for repentance, for turning your life around, and for forgiveness, but this is just the beginning. Someone is coming who is greater than me. I have washed you with water but he is coming and will draw you to God with the Holy Spirit. He is coming soon. Wait for him. Look for him. Continue to work with God to turn your life in the right direction. The one who is coming will come to you.”

I can’t say that I understood all of what John was about. But the line of people stayed steady.

I wandered around the mall a little more, going into a few stores. As I got near the exit, I recognized some of the people who had been in the line to meet Santa. The parents were weighted down with bags and looked frazzled, sometimes dragging a reluctant child by the hand as he cried that he wanted something from Cinnabon and how could Mommy be so mean not to let him have it.

I also recognized some of the people who had been in line to meet John the Baptist. Some of them were holding a bag or two, a few holding a child’s hand. Their hair was still damp, but their faces showed a kind of serenity and hope and they smiled at the people they passed as they went out into the cold air.

I watched for a few minutes and then I went and got in line to talk to John. What do I need to let God turn my life in the right direction?

Yuletide Recital by Aram Basmadjian December 11th on Trinity, Bethlehem's newly restored organ

PhotoTrinityOrganistTime: December 11, 3:00 p.m.

Location: Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 E. Market St., Bethlehem, PA 18018

Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem will celebrate both its newly restored Aeolian-Skinner organ and its new Artist-in-Residence, Aram Basmadjian. Aram is renowned among organists for his exciting and spectacular CD recordings and nation-wide tours using Allen theater and church organs. He currently  manages the custom organ department for Allen Organ Company in Macungie, PA.

This concert of seasonal and classical music will mix traditional and modern compositions, including Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 29 “We Thank Thee, God”, Frederick Delius’ “Winter Night”, and “Carol Rhapsody” by Richard Purvis, and a chance for the audience to sing along to Christmas carols. A reception with Yuletide treats will follow the performance.

Tickets are at the door, suggested donation $15, children under 12 free.

For further information, contact Mother Laura Howell, [email protected] or 610-867-4741

Diocesan Life for December 2011/January 2012

Open publication - Free publishing - More floods

You can download a .pdf of the file here: Download DECEMBER2011_DiocesanLife_SMALL

You know it's almost Christmas when St. Paul's Montrose makes its wreaths

[From Paul Walker, Rector of St. Paul's, Montrose]

DSC_0065Members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Montrose, met recently for an afternoon of making pinecone wreaths for their Christmas bazaar called The Country Store, to be held at the church, located at 276 Church Street, on Saturday, December 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The participants from left to right are Margaret Burgh, Rita Leigh, Lynne Graham, Carol Marker, Jennie Bowen, and Ed and Karen Smith, front.


Quiet Christmas at Moravian Theological Seminary

QC postcard for emailA Quiet Christmas service is one of reflection, reading, prayer and healing.  It is designed for those who may have suffered losses in the past year – losses of loved ones, health, employment.  There are seasons in our lives when quiet reflection is more appropriate than festivities.  There will be a harpist and a violinist to provide music, scripture, candle lighting, readings to remember the light in our lives.

All are welcome!

Bahnson Center is accessible for individuals with mobility impairments. Moravian Theological Seminary encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Amanda Griesser at 610-861-1519 at least one week prior to the event.

Lessons and Carols in Wilkes-Barre

[From Andrea]

Wednesday, December 15 at 6:00 p.m. at St. Stephen's Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre. This is an annual program we do to commemorate the beginning of Advent.  This year, however, will be extra special because it is our Organist/Choirmaster Mark Laubach's 25th anniversary at St. Stephen's.  Mark will perform for the first time ever a brand new commissioned piece by David Briggs, an accomplished organist from Great Britain, who performed at our last silent film showing last year.
Find below a memo from Mark with a listing of songs we will be performing. The memo als invites you to join the choir. So, if you don't plan on that, kindly disregard the info there.

Download Advent Lessons and Carols 2010.doc

There is no admission, but as usual, the Choir will collect free will contributions that will go towards our music activities. You are free to give as much or as little as you'd like. Free parking is available next to the church.

Trinity Revels feature Cambiata

[From Mo. Laura Howell]

Trinity Bethlehem’s Annual Yuletide Revels will be held on Saturday,
December 4, beginning at 5:00 pm. Trinity  co-sponsors this evening of
traditional and early music with Moravian College's Undergraduate
Conference on Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

This yeCAMBIATA_Photoar, the featured performers will be Cambiata, with a program of
Yuletide music and antics. The group uses a variety of colorful period
instruments to bring the Renaissance to life through music. They have
been introducing audiences of all ages to sights and sounds from
Renaissance Europe's royal courts to its rural hamlets.

RevelsProcessionSMALL RevelsReceptionSMALL Festivities continue in the parish hall after the concert, with a
Boar's Head in Procession, flaming Christmas pudding, wassail, nog,
ginger cake, and other traditional Yuletide treats.

The Morning Call has an article on the Conference and Concert at,0,4573850.story.

Suggested donation is $12.00.

For more information contact Laura Howell [email protected],
610-867-4741 X304.

Location: Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 E. Market St., Bethlehem, PA 18018 

Jesus' birth exalts the poor

From the Lectionaries
Jesus' birth exalts the poor
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Advent 4 –– Luke 1:39-45 (and 46-55)
20 December 2009

Our Lady headlines the Gospel this week, replacing John the Baptist who held center stage for two Sundays. Enduring, however, are the comparisons and contrasts between John and Jesus except they are made between their parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph. Before Luke 2:1, the beginning of the “Christmas” story, Joseph has but one brief mention (1:27) and does not appear.

When Gabriel announces the birth of John to Zechariah, and Zechariah disbelieves the announcement, he is struck dumb (1:20). When Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary, she doesn’t disbelieve but asks “how” (1:34). And when she visits Elizabeth, she bursts into the Magnificat, the opposite of having her mouth closed for her.

Continue reading "Jesus' birth exalts the poor" »

A prophet with a new message, but he's not the Savior

From the Lectionaries
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Advent 3, Luke: 3:7-18
13 December 2009

John the Baptist headlines today’s Gospel as he did on Advent 2. But he may not be the Baptist you have come to know. Luke robs him of his scratchy clothes and his edgy diet. He has a new message though he appears as one of the old prophets. He doesn’t baptize Jesus. Though his and Jesus’ birth stories entwine, at each intersection Luke distinguishes and separates John from Jesus.

Continue reading "A prophet with a new message, but he's not the Savior" »

Bishop Paul –– Fear and the Future

Fear and the Future
By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
[Diocesan Life, Diocese of Bethlehem, December 2008]

I tend to feel sharply contrasting emotions around Christmastime, and feel them simultaneously, as do many of us, I suspect.

This is our first holiday period after my father’s death. As Advent comes upon us, I feel rather than see the darkness.

Of course that happens every year. In the northern hemisphere, Advent comes as the world is darkening, as things always appear to be dying. I am particularly aware this year that someday Advent will arrive and I will not be here to greet it because I, too, will be dead.

On the road to acceptance of one’s mortality there are feelings of futility, of cynicism, of anger. My light shines so dimly; and the darkness, the afternoon darkness, the winter darkness, the last darkness, seem likely to overcome it.

So, one old prayer for Advent began, “Stir up, we beseech Thee, Thy power, O Lord, and come.” Advent is first and foremost about humanity in the darkness, longing for light to come, longing for God to act. Advent is permission, invitation, for each of us to enter the heart’s fearful dark places that we try so hard to ignore most of the time, and to cry out, “Stir up your power, Lord, and come.”

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