In the latest issue of the Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, Bishop Brian Cole reflects on his relationship with music in ministry in his first chaplain’s article. If you are a musician in the Diocese of East Tennessee and interested in joining the Association of Anglican Musicians, contact Bro. Andrew Morehead at email@example.com.
Greetings! It is a joy for me to take on this new assignment as Chaplain to AAM. For over 20 years of ordained ministry, I have been blessed by the work of church musicians, who, along with being gifted musicians, have taught me how to gather others in Christian community and make a joyful noise in worship. They have taught me how to make room, both in growing a community and expanding the definition of who is a member of a parish church or cathedral’s music program. A gifted church musician can draw music from all the faithful gathered – to the surprise of those who believe they have nothing to offer.
When I was first ordained a priest in Western North Carolina, I served as Vicar of Church of the Advocate in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. The Advocate was planted to serve the street community, creating worship space for those who, for a variety of reasons, are unhoused.
A deacon was assigned to the Advocate, and a small group of musicians, most of whom sang in the choir at All Souls Cathedral in Biltmore Village, were present each week to lead us in song. Along with the music they came prepared to offer, however, the real gift they gave to those present for worship was how they made room for the musicians who lived on the streets and the campsites of Asheville.
Prior to worship on most Sundays, a person from the street community, possibly attending for the first time, would ask the Cathedral musicians if they could also offer a song in the liturgy. With care and compassion, a conversation would take place, the song would be practiced, and a place in the liturgy would be found for the new offering of song. From Sunday to Sunday, the spontaneous offering of song would either be an old Appalachian hymn, African American spiritual, or an original composition. Along with the music prepared for the day, the Advocate musicians modeled for me how to make room for others to share their gifts – to add their song for the worship of God and the blessing of the gathered community.
While the setting for your work in church music might be quite different than the Advocate in downtown Asheville, I believe you all bear gifts in making room for and in others. Let me give an example from a more traditional church setting.
Several years ago, when my wife, Susan, and I were newly engaged to be married, we were visiting Galveston, Texas in the month of March. Expecting March in Texas to be warm and embracing Spring fully, we were instead met with a series of cold, windy, and wet days. So, we needed to find some indoor activity.
While walking in Galveston, we came upon Trinity Episcopal Church. A notice was posted on the church door announcing an organ recital to be presented later that day. At the appointed time, Susan and I returned, entering a warm church on a cold day.
Before that day, I had never attended an organ recital. If pressed, I guess I would have thought organ recitals were for people who already knew and loved organ music, who understood how the instrument works, the history of the music, and the story of the composer. Before that day, I would have told you organ recitals were not intended for me.
On that day, however, the organist on the bench at Trinity found room in me that I did not know existed. I did not know I was hungry for the music offered that day. I did not know the music offered that day could invite me to a deeper place of prayer.
We live in a moment where all of us need to find more places of beauty, more spaces for transcendence, and more room to believe that God abides with us in difficult days. Your work as a church musician can do all those things.
My prayer, as your Chaplain, is that you come to know that your music finds more room for us to practice hope – a hope rooted deeply in the Christ who holds all things together. We need more room for more of us to gather, practice hope together, and find new ways to pray. Thank you for the music you offer, the music you draw from all of us, to make spacious room in God’s world now.
The Rt. Rev. Brian Cole