Keeping Time/Life Passages
ISM and YDS students attended the sessions of the Congregations Project Summer Seminar in June. Some were designated student reporters, and have contributed their reflections on their experience with particular congregations, and aspects of the theme.
Part IV: Congregational Life Passages
Embracing Transition: Revitalizing the Ministry of First United Methodist Church, Evanston, IL
By Nicholas A. Lewis (M.Div. ’13)
A Methodist minister, a church organist, and a jazz musician walk into a room…
To some, this might sound like the lead-in for a really bad joke. In actuality, it is a prelude to the story of an unlikely trio who, collectively, constitute a triumvirate of truly transformative ministry in the making. The minister is Dean Francis, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois. And David Castillo Gocher is the congregation’s newly hired director of music and organist. Eric Pryzby, a lay representative of the church, is a professional jazz musician and composer. Together, these individuals form the leadership team from First Church. And together, they seek to cast a new vision for ministry within the life of their church and their community.
The History/The Past
Originally organized in 1853 by a group of eight Methodists men seeking “a haven from the sins of Chicago,” First United Methodist Church-Evanston was founded on July 13, 1854. Over the ensuing century, the church would grow to become the largest Methodist congregation in the world, with a roll topping 3300 members in 1953. In 1954, First Church hosted the second assembly of the World Council of Churches; the only WCC assembly to date that has been held in the United States. Its pulpit was home to prominent Methodist pastors Earnest Tittle and Harold Bosley, and often featured the powerfully provocative orations of guest preachers such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the immediate decades following its heyday in the 1960s, First Church saw a period of drastic decline culminating in the early 1990s. Since that time, the congregation has seen a period of steady growth and new vitality under the leadership of its current pastor. Over the past 20 years, First church has nearly doubled its attendance in worship, and has seen rapid growth in many of its mission activities and ministries. Even with this renewed energy, the church now finds itself at a crossroads between its historic identity as a once nationally and internationally prominent church and its future life of living witness in and to the community of Evanston.
The People/The Present
For Pastor Dean Francis, his love of Methodism seems to only be surpassed by his belief in and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ as a transformative force in the world. A third-generation Methodist minister (his father, grandmother, and grandfather were all Methodist ministers), he possesses a passion and zeal for promoting diversity within communities of faith.
Energy and enthusiasm emanate from First Church music director, David Castillo Gocher, A classically trained musician of Mexican heritage, he is an exceptional performer with a passion for myriad musical idioms, including Hispanic sacred music, African-American gospel music, and improvisation. Mr. Gocher deeply believes that liturgical music should be a source of inspiration for all who enter the worship space.
Quiet intensity might best describe team lay member, Eric Pryzby. That is, until you get him talking about music. Then, there is nothing quiet about him or his belief in the power music as a potent force for change in the lives of people. A gaming developer by day, Mr. Pryzby is also a professional jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger who often lends his gifts and talents to the music ministry of First Church.
This is a leadership team with diverse and dynamic personalities possessing a wealth of gifts, talents, and skill sets. It is evident that all of these assets have brought to bear in the process of crafting their project for the ISM Congregations Project seminar.
The Project/The Future
The name of their project is “Embracing Transitions.” Its purpose is to revitalize and revolutionize the ministry of First United Methodist Church. Articulated most plainly by Reverend Francis in one of the ISM Congregations Project plenary sessions, “The time has come for [First Church] to define itself, not for the congregation of the past, but for the congregation of the future.” Seeking not to reclaim the glory years of its historic past, but to build upon them, First Church hopes to foster and form a new identity in worship and service as faithful witnesses to God’s love and grace in the community of Evanston.
The “Embracing Transitions” project operates in two distinct ways. Firstly, they seek to broaden the range of its own liturgical offerings with one simple goal in mind: inspire the congregation! Building upon the resources of its strong musical, artistic, and homiletic traditions, they will draw upon multicultural resources and liturgical traditions in an effort to promote greater diversity within their worship that is indicative of the rich ethnic diversity of the Evanston community.
Secondly, First Church is developing relationships and building partnerships with ethnic minority congregations in the area through the formation of the “Embracing Traditions Task Force.” Already in conversation with Second Baptist Church, a predominately African-American congregation, this joint-leadership team is committed to the mutual exploration of each other’s liturgical traditions. Over a period of two years, this task force will continue to seek out the faith traditions of underserved populations in the community in an effort to identify and promote the rich diversity of liturgical practices in Evanston.
With the enthusiastic support of the congregation, the leadership team has taken many active measures to integrate new elements from eclectic liturgical traditions into their worship. Mr. Gocher and Mr. Pryzby have begun to expand the range and repertoire of music presented at First Church through healthy infusions of blues, gospel, jazz, and Latin elements and improvisation. Already known as a dynamic preacher, Reverend Francis has begun to incorporate aspects of other homiletic preaching traditions into his sermons, occasionally opting to intone--or sing--portions in a style reminiscent of black preaching. On a recent Sunday in which he “caught the spirit,” Reverend Francis’ sermon prompted a parishioner to remark, “Why don’t you do that all the time?!” As you can see, the Spirit is alive and well, and the revelation is ongoing at First Church.
Keeping Time/Life Passages
How does First United Methodist Church keep time with the life passage of its congregation? By uniting its historic past of leadership and service with its vibrant present of integration and justice making, as a means of transitioning into a future life of ministry that embraces the rich diversity of their community and God’s kingdom.
Renovation and Rededication: Congregational Life Passages at St. Francis Xavier
by Samuel Backman (M.M. ’12)
As representatives of congregations from various denominations gathered for the 2012 Yale ISM Congregations Project, the focus of “time and life passages” led numerous individuals to assess the changing demands required by their own local church communities. Saint Francis Xavier Church of Lower Manhattan brought to our attention a “life passage” affecting not only the local parish, but the entire English-speaking realm of Roman Catholics. On the First Sunday of Advent in 2011, Catholic congregations faced an adjustment in the language of their common prayer as they began use of the third translation of the Roman Missal.
Shortly before the recent implementation of the third edition, the parish itself experienced a rite of passage, namely a renovation and rededication of the church. Jacqueline Perez, a medical doctor very active in the church’s music ministry, stated that, prior to the renovation, “stations of the cross were so covered with soot, that every day was Good Friday.” However, through the great effort of the parishioners, this beautiful nineteenth-century structure has been renovated to its former glory. During the rededication in the June of 2010, Archbishop Timothy Dolan hailed this vibrant parish as a “booster shot of hope for the entire diocese.”
Since its founding in 1847, this parish has embodied the principles of inclusivity and outreach so prized by the Jesuit community. Reverend Peter Fink, S.J. asserts that the demographic of the congregation “truly reflects the diversity of its location.” These diverse strands are braided through the full and active participation in prayer called for by the Second Vatican Council. Because “St. Francis Xavier prides itself…as a community where music, drama, dance and symbolic gesture are an intimate part of our ordinary liturgical experience,” the new translation provided an opportunity to “experiment musically and textually with the third edition of the Roman Missal.”
Director of music John Uhlein stated his hope that the parishioners quickly internalize the new musical settings of the ordinary of the Mass. Ideally, the changes in the liturgical seasons are marked by the use of different settings for each season. Because the syllabification of the new translation is more Latinate than that of the second edition, plainchant, or melodies in the style of plainchant, seem to be implied. The challenge is to find stylistically diverse Mass settings with idiomatic syllabification. Though Uhlein claims that the adaptation to new congregational settings of the Mass has taken a bit longer than anticipated, he realizes that the first year is still one of experimentation. In presenting at the summer seminar, he asserted that his undertaking was “not so much a project as a search for a project.”
Finding musical settings appropriate to this new translation is an inevitable adjustment, and associate pastor Peter Fink reminds us that this is a change with deeper implications. With the new translation comes a shift in Christological focus, placing greater emphasis on the divinity of Christ. Accompanying this shift is an increase in penitential language, which may well have prompted their congregation at the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass to kneel during the Eucharistic prayers. However, it is not merely prayers of such liturgical weight as the Eucharistic prayers and Penitential Rite that have shifted in focus, but also the colloquial portions of the mass. For the last few decades, the laity would hear the words: “The Lord be with you”, and respond “and also with you.” Now, in the third edition of the Roman Missal, the correct response has been changed to “and with your spirit,” echoing the Latin “et cum spirito tuo.”
When presenting this change in seminar, Fr. Peter Fink asked whether the new language is “distancing or more personal,” provoking diverse reactions from the faculty and participants of the Congregations Project. Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, opined that the new language of this responsorial dialogue was “dehumanizing and potentially hurtful” to the congregants. Martin Jean countered this by claiming that the response “and also with you” sounded “distant, cold, and flat”. Teresa Berger, professor of liturgical studies at Yale, commented that, “as a native of Germany, [she] believes ‘and also with you’ to be much too terse.” She further stated her belief that, in adapting this new translation, “the English-speaking world returned to the fold.”
Amid the various reactions one pragmatic realization among all parties emerged: the third edition of the Roman Missal is now in effect and no longer merely a consideration. The parish of Saint Francis Xavier is undergoing a true rite of passage: something outside their control has called for an adjustment in the worship practices of the parish. Reactions among the parishioners have ranged from “limited delight to distaste.” Nevertheless, the issue does not seem to be divisive within the parish, as those who were displeased with the changes have weathered the storm. “When people come to Xavier’s,” Fink said, “it is not the translation of the Mass that draws them, and a change in the translation certainly won’t send them away.” With a steadfast commitment to social justice, preaching the Gospel, and fine arts, this church has much in common even when the words of their prayers are in flux.
As the clergy, staff, and laity of Saint Francis continue to adjust to this new translation, they do so with the aim “not only to continue to advance our own prayerfulness at worship, but to become an example and leader within the archdiocese of New York for bold, culturally attuned musical Mass settings that involve full congregational participation.”
Making Contemporary Worship Contemporary:
The 9 a.m. Liturgy at Trinity Episcopal on the Green, New Haven, CT
by Glen Segger (M.M., M.A.R., '95)
Churches, like people, go through life changes. The 1947 encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, summarizes this maxim beautifully: “The Church is without question a living organism, and as an organism, in respect of the sacred liturgy also, she grows, matures, develops, adapts and accommodates herself to temporal needs and circumstances.” (59) In other words, that which was considered contemporary to a past generation may not necessarily be contemporary by today’s standards. Musical and liturgical styles, like the clothes we wear, change with the times, but yet remain firmly grounded in the tradition of the Church. How do we as a church navigate the waters of liturgical changes while remaining faithful to our tradition? This is the question facing Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green, New Haven.
Three magnificent churches line the beautiful New Haven Green, all of them built between the years 1812 and 1816. Trinity, being the first Gothic Revival style church in America, distinguishes itself from the other two Congregational “meeting houses,” both built in the Federalist style. Worshipers at Trinity are bathed in light shining through elegant stained glass windows, including three designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. An impressive carved stone reredos adorns the high altar, set against the east end of the chancel. Parishioners of Trinity stand in old wooden box pews with hinged doors while singing hymns accompanied by a glorious Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Worship at 11 a.m. is the traditional Rite One liturgy, with music supported by the Choir of Men and Boys, the oldest extant choir of men and boys in Connecticut, and one of the oldest in the United States. Two other choirs, the Choir of Men and Girls and a mixed adult choir, also sing at the 11 a.m. From William Byrd to Ralph Vaughan Williams, all choirs sing the traditional repertoire of Anglican music. Long time parishioner and lay participant on the Trinity team Carol Davidson acknowledges that Trinity is a church that takes great pride in tradition.
The 11 a.m., however, is not the liturgy that prompted Trinity’s participation in the Congregations Project. Surprisingly, it is Trinity’s more “contemporary” 9 a.m. liturgy that has caused the congregation to reflect on the need to get with the times. For several decades now, Trinity has had a more informal worship service at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Music at this service is mostly led by the Spirit Singers, a choir that sings folk-like songs accompanied by piano, guitar, violin, and tambourine. In recent years, however, the attendance at this service has been dwindling.
The history of Trinity’s 9 a.m. service is an intriguing one. Originating at the parish house several blocks away from the church, its informal style of worship was at one time cutting-edge, foreshadowing later liturgical trends in the Episcopal Church, such as receiving Communion while standing around the altar. In 1970, the 9 a.m. service was brought to the main church building, where a rock band and worship leader were engaged to lead the congregational singing. Embracing the liturgical experiments of the early 1970s that would eventually form Rite Two of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the 9 a.m. soon grew to be the best-attended worship service at Trinity! In the mid 1980s, the rock band was dissolved, and the Spirit Singers, a volunteer adult choir, was established to lead the congregation in singing. Their folk style continued to appeal to the worshipers attending the 9 a.m. throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The style of music at the 9 a.m. continues to have a small but loyal following. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the number of worshipers attend the 9 a.m. compared to the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s. This has caused Trinity to examine the nature of the 9 a.m. liturgy, and question whether the congregation has undergone a liturgical and musical life change. In other words, is the “contemporary” style of the 9 a.m. still contemporary in the real sense of the word?
With the arrival of Trinity’s new Rector, Luk DeVolder, in 2011, serious discussions and town hall meetings have been organized to examine the future of the 9 a.m. liturgy. There have been experiments with new styles of music, including putting the Boys and Girls Choirs into the rotation. Indeed, the music at the 9 a.m. has become increasingly blended, a mixture of old and new, reflecting the rich diversity of our tradition. According to Andy Kotylo, Assistant Music Director, a few people have had difficulty letting go of the familiar, and the musical changes have been met with significant resistance. Trinity’s participation in the Congregations Project aims to examine how best to enter into a new musical and liturgical era without alienating those few who find it difficult to accept the changes.
Igor Stravinsky has said: “Real tradition is not the relic of a past that is irretrievably gone. It is a living force that anticipates and informs the present.” To that end, Maggi Dawn, the facilitator of the plenary session that examined Trinity’s project, posed the question: “How can we be faithful to tradition without becoming traditionalists?” In unpacking this important issue, the group considered the role of worship planner or leader. The worship leader plays many roles in planning worship, including prophet, pastor, arranger, administrator, and performer. Dawn, however, highlighted the notion of understanding the worship leader as curator. Drawing from Mark Pierson’s book The Art of Curating Worship, Dawn noted how the curator of a museum or art gallery has at their disposal vast material from the past. Moreover, in addition to the material in its own collection, the curator also has the opportunity to borrow from other museums or galleries. This model of curator suggests a helpful way in which to understand the role of the worship leader in crafting worship for today. The worship leader, like the curator of a museum, has the ability to choose and borrow from history and elsewhere, and then can “hide in the wings during the show itself.”
Two issues were highlighted during the plenary session. First, when planning worship, the overarching issue should not be “What do we need?” as much as “What do we have?” Second, we should not concern ourselves with the question of “What is appealing?” as much as “What is authentic?” As they moved forward in examining the liturgical and musical changes to the 9 a.m. liturgy, the team from Trinity was given the challenge to discover how Trinity as a faith community understands authenticity.
In a follow-up session, various participants in the seminar offered specific ideas and suggestions to the Trinity team. They supported Trinity’s approach of creating a time of not needing to commit to the changes, a time of experimentation to see how the worshiping community deals with different expressions of worship. One participant noted the importance of creating a sense of play: “See what would happen if the rector showed up in street clothes one Sunday and said ‘let’s get to work!’ Perhaps you could have an instructed Eucharist.” Another participant suggested implementing a time of liturgical catechesis outside of the liturgy. Vicki Davis, the associate rector of Trinity, enthusiastically agreed: “We have already done much work, especially in the workshops, but need to continue to dig deeper.”
I had the opportunity to share a meal with the Trinity team near the end of the seminar. With much enthusiasm, the Trinity team talked about the future. They will continue to experiment with the music and liturgy at the 9 a.m. More importantly, however, they talked about the need to engage in more focused exploration of such issues of catechesis and outreach.
Trinity has strong roots in tradition, and the courage to experiment and embrace the new. I believe Trinity will have much to offer to the larger Church as the parish continues to navigate the waters of liturgical change, as the community continues to “develop, adapt and accommodate” its worship for this generation and the next.
Institute of Sacred Music