Sunday, November 13, 2005

St. John's West and lots o' hymns!

What an amazing and blessed day of worship and music!

Every month, I ask Gerald to come and see me do something, and my reason why it's so incredibly crucial for him to come is cause it's my "first time" doing it. His complaint is, "Allison, you're always doing things for the first time!" So, yes, he does come to see things, but his point is that I'm always challenging myself with new things.

Well, today was definitely a new thing for me. A very big "first time". Today, for the first time, I was the sole music leader for an entire worship service!

Let's remember, I'm a singer. Singers always have an accompanist, and, on a good day, a choir, and on a great day, a band. But not today - just me!

St. John's West Toronto Anglican Church has taken an innovative approach to leading music at their morning worship. Instead of hiring an organist and forming a choir, they took their music budget, and decided to hire different musicians each Sunday of the year. Those musicians follow the liturgy, but are also invited to add their own creativity to the music for the service.

When I first applied for a Sunday, I thought Gerald might be able to come and play guitar for me, but then we found out he was going to be out of town! Arg!

So, out came my guitar. I play guitar almost everyday, but it's usually for babies and their moms. Not really the same thing. I've barely played in public performance, and I've never had to do so much music at once.

Last month, I started organizing my songs. I decided to go with my strengths, which I believe to be singing and song leading. If nothing else, I guess I just wanted to set a spiritual tone with the music. I wanted people to feel the joy of the Lord in song. On the way to the church this morning, I prayed that God would just use me to sing His songs and lead His people in praise. I also prayed that I wouldn't drop the guitar and swear into the mic.

Before the service, I sang Twila Paris's "How Beautiful". I immediately felt calm. (Isn't it amazing how easy things are when you just let God take control?) My next song was the Gaither's "Jesus is Lord of All", which is so suited to guitar, by the way! I then decided I'd get everyone singing, so I sang "All Night, All Day". We had put drums and shakers in the pews, so I encouraged the congregation to play and sing, and they all did. Just awesome!

The first hymn was "Seek Ye First", and the singing and played was definitely joyful. I played a Celtic "Alleluia" for the Gospel processional, and during the anointing I sang "Prayer of St. Francis" and "Spirit of the Living God", which was inspired by yesterday's Alpha day. For the offertory hymn, we did "Lord of the Dance", which was rocking! People sang and played, and some even danced. In an Anglican church! Whoo-hoo!

Ooooh, then came my big risky choice for the service. They had asked me to play the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) during the communion prayers. I decided to play it on the djembe. For anyone unfamiliar with the djembe, it's an African drum with a huge bass note. I knew it was a bold choice and quite different from the guitar, but I really loved the way it sounded, sooo.... When that point came in the service, I banged the bass note and started to sing. To my great happiness, not only did people sing along, but several people picked up their drums and played along too!

During communion, I sang my song "I Call Out Your Name". It felt awesome to hear people singing along on my own lyric. I also did the Lord's prayer that's set to the tune of Amazing Grace. We ended the service with a rocking version of my favourite song - "This Little Light Of Mine".

I was done, and it felt so good! Once it started, I just felt like I was in the right place. After the service, the comments were incredibly positive, and people loved the djembe on the Sanctus (big sigh of relief!). One woman was impressed with how well I kept the flow of the service, but with all my experience in working with my Dad and with Boni, I've learned a lot about the importance of smooth transitions, and the musician's role in keeping it smooth. And the best part of it all - I've been asked back! Yay!

Today was a test and a risk and a great reinforcement. Last year, I told God I wanted to start singing in other churches. I wanted to start right away, but His timing took a little longer. It just felt so good to be used in this way - to know that I helped lead people in praise and worship. Just awesome!

After the service, I raced back to St. John's York Mills. This year, I've had the pleasure of meeting a great new parishioner, Rev. Gerald Butterworth. Gerry is a hymn writer, who has hooked up with a few musicians who are setting his texts to music. Today, our choir and congregation had the chance to be a part of a recording of these new hymns. I think that the hymns will be recorded, and then a book or digital-book of the music will be published as well. (The details are still shaping up.) The choir was set up in front of the church, and about forty members of the congregation sat in the front pews. A mic was set on each group. We rehearsed five hymns, and recorded sections of four. I always love singing new music, but new hymns are really exciting, especially when you know the writer!

What a great day it has been! I have a very full week of music and performing ahead of me. I'm saying prayers for good sleep, calm nerves, and deep breaths.

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