With apologies to President Abraham Lincoln, I commandeer this famous phrase from his Gettysburg Address which he gave just a few miles from St. Peter’s.
As the program year starts up, choirs rehearse, our worship is enlivened and the general pace of things picks up, I can’t help but think about this turn of phrase as relates to the music we make in church.
First, our music is of the people. The music we do at St. Peter’s is certainly reflective of who we are as a gathering of the body of Christ. However, our music can also point to something beyond our singular community when we sing in a variety of musical styles and idioms. When we do this, we point to the wider community of faith and stand in solidarity with others who share our believe in the grace-filled God.
Second, the music a community of faith makes is by the people. In my office there hangs a poster entitled, The Role of the Cantor. Cantor is the historical term for the person who led the community of faith in song. On this poster is the following:
“The cantor uses whatever musical resources are available, using them in a manner appropriate to the talents of those serving and the needs of the people who are served.”
So, the music we do at church belongs to the people of this church. The most valuable musical resource we have is not the piano or the organ. Not the handbells or drums. Not the microphones, folders of music, or any other thing. Our most valuable musical resource is each one of us and the music we have on Sunday morning is an expression of thanksgiving for the gifts we’ve been given.
This brings us to the final part of this famous quote: music is for the people. To be sure, our music can be seen as an offering to God in thanksgiving for the time and talents we have been given. The great reversal is that we offer our gifts to God only to have God turn around and bestow them upon us again. We give to God, but God comes to us in the giving.
It’s a paradox I never tire of thinking about and I hope I never do.