Sunday, June 2, 2019

Music the handmaiden of the Word. . .

Who could imagine that the church that nurtured the faith of and raised up a parish musician the stature of Johann Sebastian Bach would find itself at a time when praise bands have minimized the role not only of the organ but congregational singing and CD players have replaced live bodies on the organ bench.  But, sadly, that is where we are.  Where the Reformation once sang its way into the hearts of the people as much as it was preached there, today the great Lutheran chorales have become more like museum pieces we honor while we spend our time on throwaway music on Sunday morning.  And who do we have to blame for it?  Perhaps it is ourselves.

On this day my parish will give thanks for the gift and service of a faithful cantor of 22 years.  He came when we had a broken down electronic organ and limited resources and opportunities but he has left us with a 65 rank pipe organ in the sanctuary, an 11 rank pipe organ in the chapel, two grand pianos, a clavinova, a well practiced church choir (adults), a range of youth and children's groups, handbell choir, and a musical tradition well know even throughout our region.  It was not all his doing but he was the one whose vision and whose leadership helped to create a climate for this to take place.  Before we retired Lutheran Worship, we had sung all but 12 hymns in that book.  He helped us learn unfamiliar tunes and lead us to see them become old friends.  When we introduced Lutheran Service Book, he was there to provide the confident trumpet sound to rally our voices toward that which was new and different.  I cannot tell you what a difference a good parish musician means.  But if you ask anyone in my parish, they will tell you it means everything!

A parish musician costs money.  But it is money well spent.  To paraphrase our Lord, you do not have because you do not pay for or value highly enough the person who leads from the organ bench.  It is not that there is no money.  It is that we have put other priorities over an organist and good parish music appropriate to our size.  We have plenty of money for the things we think are important or essential but we have largely deemed a good organist to be a luxury and non-essential part of our parish life.  It shows.  Some of what happens on Sunday mornings among us is downright embarrassing.  Our people do not sing, the music is poor, the instrument is cheap, and we do not view what happens on Sunday morning as source and summit for all that happens within the life of the congregation.  We have learned the terrible lesson of getting by.  We get by, as cheaply as possible, at least when it comes to worship.  And it shows.  It shows in the people who have learned from us that what happens on Sunday morning is not all that important.  It shows in the people who may visit once but who will not return; they are looking for something more eloquent (though not necessarily more elaborate!).

We pay our parish musician well though not enough for the things he has brought to us and the legacy he will leave when he retires.  The difficulty will come not in finding someone to play as well as he plays but in someone who shares his single minded commitment to do his best for the Lord week after week after week and whose personality invites others to join him in the holy endeavor of good and faithful church music to serve as faithful handmaiden to the Word of God read, preached, and taught.  I challenge every parish to look over the budget and see how little is usually spent on Sunday morning and to ask the hard questions of whether this is as it should be and whether this may be one reason why the congregation is not growing or even in decline.  Lutheranism has a history of producing profound church musicians and we also have a history both of undervaluing them and trying to pay them a pittance of what they are worth.  Even Bach had his problems there.

Today as we celebrate a Sunday filled with wonderful church music, choral anthems, hymns, and a variety of instrumentalists in support of the mighty pipe organ, I say a public thank you to the man who has taught us how important the commitment to good church music is to a flourishing congregation and how important it is to give your best for His glory!  Implicit in this is the challenge to us here and to the churches all over the world who claim the title Lutheran to invest in the best church music possible for God's glory (He deserves nothing but our best!) and for the benefit of our own life together around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Rocky Craft has taught me so much and has made my life as preacher and presider so much easier because I knew he was there on the organ bench.  I cannot imagine a Sunday without him but I am forever grateful for all the Sundays he has given us!  Well done, good and faithful servant of the Lord!

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Wholeheartedly agree on the value of a trained cantor.