I just returned from a week of rest and renewal at the conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians held this year in Portland, OR. These conferences are always a wonderful time of fellowship, worship, and learning for me and this year was no different.
Worship services are structured in much the same ways as we worship here at St. Peter’s, the exception being that worship planners are counting on 300-350 professional musicians in the room; you just haven’t heard four-part a cappella singing until you’ve attended one of these conferences.
Workshops and lectures make up the bulk of these conferences and this year’s theme was all about doing common things uncommonly well. I always enjoy these, but I was particularly struck by one of the lectures given by Robert Buckley Farlee. Bob was one of the editors of Augsburg Fortress publications (ELCA’s publication arm) for a number of years and himself writes a lot of music for the church, including “Lamb of God” from Setting 1 in the ELW.
Farlee was speaking to us about how we sing together when we gather as people of God. Our voices (common to many of us) are raised together (communally) and create something that is rather uncommon (how often do large groups of people sing together in public these days?).
One of the things Farlee kept coming back to was the phrase “everything in the forest is the forest.” Every tree, flower, sapling, broken branch, stream, pine needle, decaying log, mushroom, gathering of moss, or any other living thing in the forest is part of the ecosystem. He likened the church’s song to that forest.
The songs Christians sing make up the whole body of Christian songs sung in praise of God and God’s love. These songs might be different from one another. Some might still be living; others dead. Some might be in a particular form that speaks to me; others might speak to you; others might speak to both of us.
Yet, we are also called to be part of this forest. Everything in the forest, after all, is the forest. We sing these songs, the ones that speak to us and the ones that don’t, because they are what we all have in common. We have in common a desire to praise God and to worship a God who would become flesh, dwell among us, die and be raised to eternal life.
As we approach the fall, when the program year ramps up and the forest begins to undergo seasonal change, let us remember that we are all part of the forest and that all our praise is part of the forest. Our songs of praise have a greater purpose than to build ourselves up; rather they serve to extol the God of the forest, of this world, of the universe. Remember that everything in the forest is the forest and see what kind of support you are led to through the music we share in the ecosystem that is God’s creation.