Monday, February 28, 2011

Black History Service at COTM

Last Sunday we celebrated Black History Month a the church. We had a guest musician--Glenn Marais--which presented some interesting planning challenges. Glenn is a performer and educator interested in bringing change into the world through education. He is primarily used to giving an hour and a half long presentation to high school groups and other venues. And while a musical tour of black history would be interesting, it wouldn't necessarily be the gospel. And my people need the gospel, yeah know? So the challenge was to squeeze his presentation into a 45-minute "Liturgy of the Word" part of the service.

Because Glenn does not know how to lead congregational singing (hymns and such), I had to rely on my choir to lead the few hymns we did a capella. I used the RCL's Hebrew Bible lesson (aka "Old Testament"), but changed the Gospel reading. I also selected a relevant Eucharistic Prayer. I had to cut or streamline a bunch of other stuff, and those you interested in liturgy might like to see the leaflet I made:

Click here to the leaflet.

What the leaflet does not reveal is some of the cool stuff that happened spontaneously. For example, after communion someone passed me a note asking whether I thought we should lay hands on Glenn and pray for his ministry. So at announcement time we did just that--forming a holy-huddle of hands around him as I prayed that he would receive the Spirit's gifts of wisdom for his work of spreading a message of peace and reconciliation. We've only done this a couple of other times since I've been at Messiah, but the nature of this community is that they are totally prepared to "roll with it." Afterwards I was telling someone about how the Quakers handle "leadings" of the Spirit--there are many useful pieces of wisdom from that tradition.

Glenn was quite humbled and moved by the experience. I was pleased about that, too. Our community might be struggling to figure out the money thing, but we certainly have some solid spiritual foundations on which to build!


PS. I think most churchy people are service bulletin/leaflet connoisseurs. If you are of that mindset, you will find some of the things in this leaflet design worth noting, like the deliberate creation of margin space to put extra notes and marginalia. Most of this design has evolved over the years, especially when my former Music Minister, Eric, took over doing the leaflets. We went back and forth on the design and made huge strides--even just switching over to InDesign (previously they had been done on Microsoft Publisher) was a huge step forward. It gave him (or whomever was making the leaflet) far more dexterity. Since Eric left we hadn't had a leaflet--I just didn't have time to make one with everything else going on. But last week it was necessary because of departures from the BAS Glenn's visit inspired.

Annual Vestry....

A week ago Sunday we had our Annual Vestry Meeting of the Church. Actually, it was just the first half of the meeting--the other half will happen after the Stewardship Campaign has run its course. So, because of that, the financial plans for 2011 are probably going to shift somewhat depending on how successful the campaign is.

The other thing we did differently this year was actually integrating the Annual Vestry Meeting with the Sunday morning worship. So we had Eucharist and all that AS WELL as doing most of the stuff necessary for it to be a canonically correct Vestry meeting (and those things we didn't get to on Sunday we can do later before the Vestry is officially adjourned).

So here is the actual Vestry Report. You can scroll through it in the window below. You can also right-click on it to get other options (like viewing full screen or printing it). (Here's the link to the actual PDF file.)

Yes, I realize this is much more attractive than most church Vestry Reports. I think that people are far more likely to read it and get something out of if it is visually engaging. Mostly I just used last year's as a template. InDesign is a beautiful thing! But there are a couple of pages that I was particularly proud of from a design/layout point-of-view. Not bad for a few hours work...


Friday, February 25, 2011


I've had some great experiences working with various musicians to create liturgy in the last few weeks, but one of the learnings for me is that I cannot take for granted the people I'm working with share my language for liturgical music. For example, I was talking today with someone and realized that even though he is going to be leading worship at my church this upcoming Sunday, as far as I can tell he has little or no experience or interest in leading congregational hymn singing as we know it in the Anglican Church. He's happy to play beautiful, worshipful music and even lead pieces that involve the choir, but he really has no idea where to start when I say something like, "Can you pick a hymn to sing during the offertory"? This just isn't one of his gifts or part of his background. No problem, that's why I'm thankful that I have a choir capable of filling in gaps like this. For the offertory we'll simply do Ben Allaway's "Freedom Come" as a paperless piece--very apt for a Black History Month service.

Meanwhile, I met with another church musician who has a much stronger background in church music, but mostly in the genre of praise and contemporary music. Interestingly, she asked me about how our congregation does paperless music and we had a long conversation about that I showed her some clips on You Tube of some of my favourite examples. She has no trouble at all leading or picking hymns.

Two Sundays ago we had an incomparable accordion player who doesn't know much about liturgy, but is pretty much fearless about learning whatever he needs to know. He also has great love for God. If I had to choose between working with someone with great musical skill and no liturgical training or background versus someone familiar with church land but with poor musical sensibility, I would take the former every time. Of course the ideal is to have both.

This time is requiring me to dig deep into what I know not just about how about music, but about you form people to lead worship and those people form us. I'm pleased about how much I am having to learn to work with people from such different musical backgounds and traditions.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Also in the news: I finally got at iPad. I love it. Perfect for my work. The main things I do is read, talk to people, attend meetings, and write. It's perfect for all of these tasks. Meatier than an iPhone but as bulky as a laptop. I especially like using mine to read with. Applications like Flipboard and Kindle and iBooks are great for reading all the articles and PDF's that people pass on to me.

Evernote is also changing the way I manage information. I'm learning to rely on it to keep all those pesky little notes and scraps of information. I'm becoming far more efficient, I believe.

One of these days I need to do a tech column for The Anglican. I believe most priests in the Diocese would benefit from an iPad. No wonder that at the Missional Summit we had last week (a gathering about about two-dozen missional leaders) there were four or five iPads present.


Update from the Trenches

I'm having a hard time finding time to blog, lately. So much has been happening that it is difficult to find the time and energy necessary to attend this outlet.

First off, my Minister of Music, Eric, resigned. We had a tight collaboration, and I have to say that I have never worked with a more knowledgable partner to plan and execute liturgies. I'm feeling the loss keenly, but I'm also aware that one should never let a good crisis go to waste. So I am working with the choir to grab hold of this "missional moment."

On my mind, the role of the traditional "Director of Music" is small parishes. Is it sustainable in our era? There have been so many resignations among Music Directors in Toronto in the last two years that it raises some serious questions about how we understand the roles of clergy and musicians in making worship happen. I have a theory--I think that a lot of the problems happening in the parish-music-world have to do with the enormous pressure church musicians are under. Many are being asked to do things they were never trained. The church most of were trained to serve is rapidly passing away.

Another question on my mind has to do with some of the basic assumptions of where "good" liturgy comes from. I was trained to think that good liturgy is the result of experts applying accumulated wisdom from the tradition to plan a service on behalf of the people. Parishioners are expected to come alongside basically after the planning has been done, which limits participation in liturgy to the execution side. Yes, I absolutely realize that many churches have worship committees and other ways to spread out some of the planning responsibilities, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

So I am experimenting with a return to fundamentals. The last two Sundays we haven't even had a leaflet, I've simply called out hymns and page numbers and people have figured it out with the BAS and hymnbook in hand. There are a lot of limitations to book-based worship, but it does simply things in many ways. For the moment, simple is good as we get our legs underneath us again.

The Annual Vestry meeting is this upcoming Sunday. The big issue is clearly stewardship. Giving was way down in 2010, and even though we managed to keep expenses under budget, we still managed to accumulate a lot of debt thanks to our operating deficit. It is not sustainable. So we are going to have to make some hard decisions, in all likelihood. My hope is that the Stewardship Campaign over the next few weeks will substantially increase giving, but if it doesn't then we need to take a ruthless look at the budget.

The pressure on me feels enormous. Clergy easily become the "symptom bearers" of a congregational system. Meaning, when things are dysfunctional in the parish, clergy become symptomatic. I'm experiencing wild mood swings, depression, disrupted sleep patterns, and difficulty in my prayer life. The parish has noticed, and I've had spoken my mind with my Wardens, but the problem is really only get solved in one of two ways. Either the people in the parish are going to take on more responsibility for addressing our challenges, or I am going to become more differentiated. That is, I'm not going to take the problems of the parish so personally.

Yet that kind of heathy differentiation is much harder to achieve, especially in a Pastoral-sized parish and especially in a first-incumbency, than I expected. I am the one responsible, it seems. Try as I might to get others to be in charge of one aspect or another, it just seems to always default back to me. That's why I have to arrange the chairs on Sunday morning and pickup the discarded papers and hymn books after worship on Sunday afternoon.

If I were healthier I would simply let the chairs go where they will go, and not worry about cleaning up the church after worship, either. But right now I care too much about this place not to make it tidier. See the dilemma? This is at the heart of one of the fundamental issues in parish life: how do you form disciples and fellow ministers, rather than simply engage people with worship. Worship is great, don't get me wrong, but we are called to far more than simply coming to church on Sunday!

As I said, I think this is a classic problem in parish ministry, and that probably it is harder for those of that are relatively new to the craft. Then again, I might be totally out on a limb. We'll see!