Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ukulele Hymns and Summer Worship Update

It seemed worthwhile to post an update on the trajectory of our summer worship services.  The challenge for us has been how to provide a quality worship experience during the "off" months of July and August.  The services need to adapt to the setting and situation that we are faced with.  Most of our members (youngish families especially) are away and cannot be counted on to attend.  Those that are around are often busy.  It is hot.  There is no music director.  This has prompted us to develop a 30 minute service with overlapping and connected parts in order to help folks have a quality worship experience while also allowing people a little extra time to get on with whatever summer plans they might have.

In fact, I find that I tend to conceive of the summer service format as a sermon with many movements.

Anyway, at the beginning of this post you will find a picture of our "summer sanctuary".  It is, perhaps obviously, a portion of the larger sanctuary.  A couple years after my arrival, we made this the traditional summer arrangement.  A smaller crowd needs a smaller space to feel connected and at home.  We moved the focal point from the large, central pulpit to the lectern on the floor.  This cut the sanctuary in half.  We further encouraged people to sit near the front.  Now we use slightly over a quarter of the sanctuary space.  As you can see, there are some other features.  The most prominent differences between the worship space now and what it looks like the rest of the year are the uke (with associated hardward like the music-stand and the stool) and the picture board.

First, I would like to make a couple comments about the picture board.  It is a new thing I am trying out this year.  We are not a "power point" church.  However, with the tight schedule in the summer it seemed a good thing to try to engage more of the senses with the sort of props that don't take over a service but can inform it.  Two Sundays ago we talked about the Parable of the Sower.  I put up two classic paintings inspired by the story.  This past Sunday we were talking about the gap between our dreams and our reality.  On the board went pictures from The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music.  That final picture is of the chapel at Trapp Lodge.  So far the response has been neutral-to-good.  Some folks have found them helpful to understanding and following the service.  It doesn't appear that anyone found them to be a distraction.

Next, of course, there is the ukulele.  I am using the concert-sized Fluke pretty-much exclusively this year as the mellower sound and improved playability make the musical segments less anxiety-provoking and a bit more contemplative.  Most of the hymns have fit closely with the sermon topic (as I said, in my mind they are part of the sermon).  The first Sunday in the series focused on creativity.  I chose two hymns that came from a folk tradition (the African American tradition in this case).  They were Michael Row the Boat Ashore and We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder.  Both of these have many different versions that fit the contexts of both the singer and the audience.  My final Hymn was Bring ,O Morn, Thy Music by William Gannett.  Here the tune ( Holy, Holy, Holy) is well known, but the words are not. 

This past Sunday included Amazing Grace, I'll Fly Away, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.   It was a bit "bluegrassy".  I'll Fly Away in particular is a bluegrass standard that I remember from the various festivals of my youth.  During this service, I also played Edelweiss as "special music".  However, I encouraged people to sing along if they wished and some folks did.  It isn't a terribly formal service, after all.  The chord progressions for all seven of these are easy to find so I won't replicate them here.  I will say, however, that the "special music" did give me the opportunity to play around more with the uke.  Accidental church musicians like myself must always remember to keep the playing simple for the actual congregational singing so everyone can follow along.

In all segments of the service (readings, pictures, hymns) there were introductions, explanations, and/or stories that lead into the theme of the day.  This meant that the actual "sermon" served more as an extended meditation or conclusion to the the unified worship experience.  At least that was my goal...I suspect that it worked better for some and less well for others.

I am out of the pulpit for a while now and I do not know how the other preachers will modify what I have been doing.  All four of them (my colleagues Matt and Donna as well as two lay-preachers Sue and Molly) have been party to the general service planning.  However, I hope and suspect that they will have different takes on what to do with their time.  I will reflect on what I have learned and then return in a few weeks.  Increasingly the summer services have become a time to experiment.  Who knows what we will think of next?

Finally, it should be noted that attendance has been pretty good for us.  We had fourteen people on the first Sunday and thirteen on the second.  We had visitors, too.  Feel free to drop by if you have the time!  It is great to be in church.

Here is a link to a post I did this past winter about the Trapp Lodge Chapel.  That post was on a different subject than my sermon, but the picture is nice and it is about religion, worship, and art...


  1. I am now an avid ukulele worship follower, and I'd love to hear some worship audio.

  2. Thanks! We are rather low-tech but are trying to figure out audio and video for the (hopefully near) future. We shall see (sigh)...