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 stuff...in 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
"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