Review by the Reverend Elizabeth O. Banks
Senior Minister, Unitarain Universalist Church of Davis, CA
I grew up in a family of church music directors and choir members, so church music is an important part of my ministry.
Music is the way we come to feel the heart and spirit of our worship. When designing a worship service I ask, “What songs or hymns can I bring our congregation to feel the hope of Unitarian Universalism?" During Sunday worship I look for ways to blur the boundary between speaker and listener, choir and congregation, and music is one of the most powerful ways for everyone to breathe as one entity. Music becomes a breathing meditation that rises and falls with our voices
Every year the choir has a retreat to build community among its members and learn music that is challenging. In February, at the darkest part of winter, the congregation receives a wonderful gift from the music program. We invite a musician to offer a whole church workshop that will musically stretch the choir and the congregation. We’ve introduced everything from Taizé to world music and gospel, and every year the congregation seems to become more a part of the choir. Why should singing be the purview of only a few?
In some ways, our winter workshop for the choir and congregation is similar to our use of Singing the Journey. The choir and the congregation are ready to try music, especially music that uses rhythms and lyrics that are new for most of us. By taking the lead from some of the recommended percussion markings, we’ve found ways to use rhythm to involve people of all ages and make a service instantly multi-generational.
There are several pastoral hymns in our newest hymnal supplement that bring a sense of peace. It has been a natural process to learn them by heart, so they can travel with us wherever we go. Over the past year, congregation members have been offering each other the gift of singing these songs in moments of great need. “Comfort Me” is sung in small groups, pastoral associate sessions, and by family members circling a hospital bed .
Singing the Journey has added new ways for us to tell the contemporary story of Unitarian Universalist theology. One hundred and twenty five youth, children and adults from the congregation protested for the marriage rights of same sex couples singing “Standing on the Side of Love.” It was the music that created a cohesive group, and sent the message of love. The minister of the neighboring Baptist church said he heard our song before he saw us coming down the street and the hymn was a welcome sound.
We’re going to be doing some outreach into the Spanish speaking community this coming year, and Singing the Journey is one important way we’re beginning our study of Spanish as a congregation. The multi-culturalism represented in the music of this new hymnal continues to open doors for us as a tool to learn and a gift to share with others.
We are stepping through those doors, and it is an even more complex and rewarding world on the other side.