Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gospel Vespers - end of the season!

Today was our last Gospel Vespers service this season, and what a blessing it was!

Our Gospel theme today was The Feeding of The 5000. Mary gave the message in the form of a dramatization. She played the mother of the little boy who gave his loaves and fishes to Jesus. She ended her story at the altar, letting us know that there is always enough at God's communion table.

Our music leaders today were the Voices of Joy gospel choir, directed by Peggy Downes. A few years ago, there was a big fundraising service at St. Paul's on Bloor St. A church in Lunenburg, NS, had burned to the ground, and all the funds raised went to rebuild and restore this historic church. Being an east-coast girl myself, I was eager to offer my talents to the cause. I sang a new hymn, written for the occasion, by Herbert O'Driscoll. Andrew Ager played piano, and Gerald accompanied me on djembe. Great fun! The whole service was filled with the awesome music of bagpipes, handbells, and choirs. Folk legend, John Allan Cameron, even lead the congregation in Lord of the Dance. (Wee bit of trivia: Gerald's dad used to play in a band with John Allan Cameron!). But at that service, the mood was set by the Voices of Joy choir. They opened everything with soulful gospel singing. I remember they sang "Holy Ground", and you could feel God's presence in the house.

So that's how they came to sing at Gospel Vespers today. When brainstorming about good music leaders, Dad and I immediately remembered the Voices of Joy, and gave Peggy a call. And we're so glad they came! They were a great fit for our service. Their music was rhythmic and singable. It was full of praise and joy, but when needed, it was also a tool for peace and reflection. The choir itself was small, but the voices were strong and passionate. I love this kind of choral sound. The harmonies were strong and present; not necessary refined and perfect, but full of power and life. I was inspired to sing and clap and move, and I was not the only one. Today was a smaller crowd, but they were definitely excited by the music and the energy!

Gospel Vespers has a been a real blessing for me, and, I believe, for our church. It has brought in people who have never been to St. John's. It has introduced new music and new musical sounds to our congregation. It has inspired some very creative and dramatic preaching on some very traditional gospel stories. And it has given us a place where we, as Anglicans, can be passionate about praising Jesus. We don't need to be locked into tradition and weekly formats. Dad has a favourite term: "Carving out new ministries." Gospel Vespers is such a perfect example of this. We are finding new ways to express our love, our joy, and our excitement about the Gospels and their stories of Jesus. What an honour for me to be a part of this!

Our next season of Gospel Vespers will start next September. I don't know where I'll be by then, but I'll be praying that lots of people find the joy that I have found in this great service.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Faith Gospel Tabernacle

This morning, I had the great pleasure of singing at Faith Gospel Tabernacle in Brampton.

It's a pretty little white church, right by a pond and surrounded by long lawns and new housing developments. The church was started 22 years ago by Pastor John Williamson, who is still leads the parish. They are obviously doing well in the area. They have started a campaign to build a new building on those lawns to house the growing congregation. In a day when many churches are suffering from declining attendance, this is such encouraging news!

Sunday mornings have two services, and I sang at both this morning. Both services are exactly the same format, but they need two times to accommodate all the people. I arrived at 8:30am for a sound check, and we started at 9 sharp.

The service began with 35 or so minutes of praise and worship music with the band. Eight people playing and singing and just leading everyone in song. The music was great, and the spirit was wonderful. Then I sang my first song, Shout To The Lord. It's a new Sandy Patti track I bought in Nashville. (Well, new for me!) I sing it in her key, so I get to use the track with all the back-up vocals. And it's a great arrangement, going from the very low to the very high. People were singing and clapping along, so that was wonderful to see.

Next were some parish announcements. I always like hearing this, as it gives me insight into the workings of the parish and its people. This is clearly a dedicated community of Christians. At the later service, they gave attendance awards to the young people who have been attending youth group over the winter. It seems like such a small thing, but it's saying, "We value that you come out." It's just so importance to let teens know that their presence is respected in church!

The message was preached by Pastor Roland, who read and preached on the Palm Sunday readings in all four gospels. He ended with a great meditation on "the approaching Jesus" - the Jesus who walked into Jerusalem, who walks into our lives, and who, one day, will walk back into our world.

I ended the service with my second song, Upon This Rock, using Allison Durham Speer's track. Again, a good track for me as we have a similar vocal range. This song received great response! It felt especially appropriate given their new building campaign. "I will build my church upon this rock".

A few weeks ago, I called the church to see what they would like from me. I asked if there were any special readings or themes they would like reflected in the songs. The response was, "Sing what you like. Somehow it always seems to work out". And it did. What a great lesson about the workings of God!

When you bring your best and offer it to the Lord, somehow, it always seems to work out!

Monday, April 03, 2006

There is a season...

I don't even know how to start this post. This is my third attempt to be witty and profound. But all I'm doing is struggling for words. So, instead of searching for perfection, I'm just going to be honest: I'm struggling because today, we announced one of the biggest changes our family has ever faced:

Today, my Dad announced his retirement from full-time ministry.

We knew it was coming. Gerald and I went to church and sat with Mom and Dad while the announcement was being made. Dad had written a letter, and it was beautifully read by one of the church wardens. After reading the letter, some really awesome words were said in honour of Mom and Dad, and the congregation gave them a huge and lengthy standing ovation.

He won't retire officially til next January, but he wanted the church to have lots of time to find a new rector. He knows this is a busy and vibrant church, and a smooth transition from one rector to another would be ideal.

For most people, retirement is a big party, and the next day you wake up in your house and decide how best to spend your days. I don't see it being that simple for Mom and Dad. For one thing, they have to move. Mom and Dad have lived in church-owned homes for almost 25 years. They now have to buy a house and move out of the only area they have lived in Toronto. They will also need to find a new church home. And it will be the first time in ages that they have attended a church without working in it.

It will be big for me too. I have never been a member of a church where Dad was not a member of the clergy. I've attended other churches, but never been a member of one. We have done so much ministry work together, and I'm afraid of losing those opportunities. I love all the times Dad has come to me and said, "I want to have this song in my sermon. Will you sing it?". And my answer is always a resounding, "Of course!".

I know it will also be a big change for Dad because this is not simply a job. It's his life's calling. How do you simply stop doing that? As an artist, I know I will never really "retire" from what I do. I couldn't if I tried. It's too deeply entrenched in everything I do. I sort of feel that it will be like this for Dad. I'm sure that he will still find opportunities to minister. He will probably do interim work for churches that need someone short term. He will also be able to devote time to his loves of writing and photography.

It's such a vibrant time for our family. There will be great challenges and great rewards. But we must always remember that God is in control of it all. And with Him at the wheel, how can we go wrong?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Praising and Pubs?

Today included one of my favourite experiences: hearing gospel music performed in a bar!

I truly love this. I know lots of singers who would never dream of singing gospel music in a bar. On one side, they think it would be offensive to the customers. On the other side, they are so offended by the behavior of the customers that they think it's not a worthy place for the Gospel to be sung. (Clearly these people need to re-read the parts of the Bible where Jesus is hanging out with hookers and tax collectors!)

Once a month, local music club, Hugh's Room, hosts a Gospel Lunch, for two hours of solid gospel music. It's hosted by Ken Whitely, who surrounds himself by best friends and awesome musicians. Today, the theme was "siblings". The Levy sisters did some killer vocals, while the Patrick siblings sang and played keys and hand drums. Ken's son played bass, and his brother, Chris, sang and played guitar, trumpet and harmonica. Just no talent in that family! (Actually, Chris probably doesn't remember, but I sat in with his group for a song last summer at the Distillery District.)

So, you have this amazingly talented group of musicians, and room full of people. And it just started to rock. The music was mix of things, but a lot of old school gospel, bluesy stuff and spirituals. They did a great version of Wade in the Water that started with a solo walking bass. And they tore the roof off the place with Yolanda Adams' "I Believe I Can Fly".

One of the best moments, however, was completely improvised. Canadian blues legend, Salome Bey, was in the audience, and they invited her up to sing. I hadn't seen her for a while, but she's aged a lot. It was a little worrisome at first. She had a lot of trouble walking, and then couldn't remember the words to Amazing Grace. But once they got going, no one could touch her. She passed the solos around, and they would all take turns singing harmonies. And that voice! Rich and full and powerful and ready to rip out your soul. She knew all the right places to riff, and all the right places to just sing. As they say in basketball, we were taken to school! It was really tremendous.

I love moments like this. I love taking the Gospel into unexpected places. I love bringing it into untraditional venues. And I tip my hat to Hugh's Room for being brave enough to feature gospel music in it's monthly line up.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

He knows already!

I've found myself in a number of discussions lately about God's version of time versus our version of time. It started a few weeks ago in our Passport to Easter discussion: If we have free will, how can God know everything we are going to do? We discussed this to great lengths, but none of the answers were satisfying to me. Then I found this quote from Clifford Longley, of "The Times" in London:

"If God lives in the eternal present, He hears all prayers simultaneously. Therefore He can appropriate a prayer from next week, and attach it to an event a month ago. Prayers said after the event can be heard before they are spoken and taken into account before the event."

I had to read this about six times before I could really start to understand it, but what a comfort it has become for me. It means that God knows all the needs and prayers I will ever have, or have ever have. (Bad English, but you know what I mean.) He is constantly listening to and answering my prayers. It may not be in my time, but that's okay because it is in His time, which is a completely different system. I think C.S. Lewis illustrates this wonderfully in the Narnia books. In his stories, London-time is as we know it, but when they go into Narnia, which is Aslan's country (Aslan, of course being God), time takes on a whole other meaning. A thousand years in Narnia can equal a week in our world.

And so it is in God's "world". He can hear my prayers today and attach them to the need I had last week. He knows what my prayers will be next month, and He's already working on a solution for them. What an awesome and comforting thought!

I'm facing some challenges these days as we prepare to bring our music to Nashville. Work is scare right now. Auditions are basically non-existent. And a class I was supposed to teach was cancelled. Unexpected expenses are coming up, my personal favourite being the night I went to visit a friend and my car was towed. (Parking signs in Toronto aren't always what they seem!)

I'm reminded of the warnings in the Bible about working for God. We are told that Satan hates it when we work for the glory of God. Well, I'm working harder and harder for God and, some days, I feel like Satan is upping his attack on me.

But I shall continue to fight the good fight. Fight the "God" fight. I'm praying constantly. My Passport to Easter journey is bringing me into daily contact with the Gospel of Matthew, and especially with the ever-beautiful Sermon on the Mount. I'm reading "Questions of Life" by Nicky Gumbel, the founder of the Alpha course. I am listening to gospel music and surrounding myself by supportive loving Christians.

If God wants me to change my mind about singing gospel music or moving to Nashville, that's fine. He can tell me. But I will not let Satan or any of his attacks hold me back.

So I'm praying for strength and energy and peace of mind. But what a comfort to know that God has already heard my prayers before they have even formed in my head! He is already working on a solution. I don't know how or when He will answers these prayers, but I don't need to worry. My prayers are heard. And God is in control of it all.

I lift my eyes and say, to everything He asks of me, "Yes, Lord!".