I was walking back to the parsonage from church just now and couldn't help but notice the remarkable decline of traffic on our usually busy road. It must be summer again. I preached my final "regular" service last Sunday. My colleague Matt Carriker is preaching this week. Then we are on to those summer services, which will begin on July 10. Eternal custom at Eliot dictates that there be no service on July 4 weekend.
I have been getting ready for the summer series. Unlike many of my UU colleagues (but very much like many pastors in the UCC) I do a lot of preaching in the summer. It is a time to do different things and to experiment. The results of those experiments sometimes find their way into worship after Labor Day.
Earlier posts on the "uke" theme at this blog have discussed the difficulties and joys of a more "folk" worship style over the summer. This creates some new challenges while offering a different spin on some old ones. In particular, there is the question of how music relates to the rest of the service and how the change in medium informs the tone. Music, after all, needs to contribute to the overarching worship message. This is a fact that many people (mostly lay people but--alas--sometimes clergy) forget.
Most worship leaders will try to select hymns that connect to the service. This is true during any season and in any worship style. Music Directors will do the same with offertory and interlude. That both of these individuals take the time to do so would indicate that it is more than the lyrics of a hymn that are important. The music, itself, affects how the words impact us, how we take them to heart, and how we "hear" or comprehend the rest of worship that day. This means that when we sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" this summer accompanied by the uke. It is experienced differently than it is when we are backed up by the organ or piano. It is more intimate. It is more delicate. It is in some sense more personal. We are not praising a grand and distant God or power, but instead a God who lives in small moments and small things. One who appreciates the uke's sometimes ironic commentary. In fact, the spare nature of the uke probably makes the experience different from what it would be on a steel-string guitar. This, however, may be a matter of degree.
I was speaking with a couple of Eliot's regular summer attenders about this. They both suggested that we try to focus on some of the old hymns that we don't otherwise sing. I have some listed in a previous post. To these they added "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" and some others. This makes sense. There are, after all, some hymns that the traditional church instruments just can't make work well. We should sing some of those. Of course, that folks are making recommendations is a good sign. It means that the worship experiment is something that we are all willing to own. It makes it more collaborative and conversational.
This summer I will be preaching sermons with the following titles: "Living Creatively", "Filling the Gap", "On Baseball", and "To Be What We Dream". I will also be officiating on Labor Day Weekend, but I don't quite know what I will do with that. Preaching in the summer is different, too. I preach from the lectern rather than the pulpit. I use fewer notes. Sometimes the sermon is broken up into smaller pieces.
Anyway, If you have thoughts about how music could interact with these topics, let me know. The Baseball sermon comes before our annual field trip to the PawSox, so some baseball-themed music might be in order. Also on Labor Day, perhaps a few songs from the rich musical tradition of our nation's labor movement. Let me know if you have any favorites. It is likely that the magic uke will be in the driver's seat many of these Sundays...
Here is the previous post about my summer uke project.