Summer Travels

I traveled to a foreign country this week, and enjoyed my stay very much. It was only 45 minutes away in Baltimore, but the foreign country was a biennial gathering of Lutheran church musicians, to which I had been invited as a guest conductor and workshop leader. I always enjoy meeting colleagues and sharing ideas, and this was all the more interesting because, though we might speak the same languages of Christianity and music, we spoke in the dialects of Lutheranism and Anglicanism.

Even I was surprised at how many differences, small though they would seem to just about anybody, there were. It’s not important what the differences are and to name them might seem judgmental. I enjoyed observing and participating in different styles of worship, music and learning, in the same way that I enjoy taking in the culture of any foreign land.

What might be more useful is all the ways these two close branches of Christianity are the same. There is a fundamental sameness of course – our Trinitarian God, the Bible, a belief that love is at the core of our faith. And there are more subtle similarities, such as a fearfulness about declining numbers, and an even greater fear that making so many changes in order to attract new members will cause them to lose their cultural identity as Lutherans. A sense that they are trying to be everything to everyone – a great goal, were it possible, but one that comes with the cost of doing nothing well. There seems to be a desire by leadership in the denomination to find ways of recapturing their early pre-Reformation history by exploring liturgies and music from the early church. Easter Vigil, Tenebrae, chant… Participants were urged to find the difficult balance between creativity (a live donkey leading the procession on Palm Sunday perhaps?) and gimmickry (are you kidding, a life donkey on Palm Sunday?).  We share a knowledge that worship is truly the heart of what a church does, because without that beating heart, the church’s missions cannot live and breathe, but a fear that worship’s music and liturgy have become the least valued part of a congregation’s life.

These are all things that I heard from my Episcopal colleagues last month at our annual gathering as well. It might all seem depressing to hear the same issues come up again and again…and again, except that at the end of the conference yesterday afternoon, 120 Lutheran musicians stood up and sang – magnificently I might add – George Herbert’s Easter text, “Rise heart, your Lord is risen”, and my heart soared. It reminded me that a sense of optimism and abundance are better teachers than fear.

Easter, Roland Martin

Musicians gathered to share and learn, because they want to serve. That’s good news, and I was grateful to have been a welcomed visitor. I’m traveling to two more foreign countries before summer’s end. First, to play for an ecumenical worship service and then a brief recital at the Epworth Heights summer program in western Michigan, and finally to South Africa, where I’ll be doing an exchange with an organist there.  But more about the latter when I write these Daily Cup offerings from Cape Town during the month of August.



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2 Responses to Summer Travels

  1. Ted Andrews says:

    Real creativity might involve finding a way to clean up behind the donkey!

  2. John Daniel says:

    How very interesting,these differences, and the Episcopal CHurch is in a theological communion with the Lutheran Church. I recall in the Search for a new Rector (eventually Scott Benhase), we were told that, “Yes, theoretically we could call a Lutheran as Rector.”

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