Sunday, January 29, 2012

Break Forth - Day 3

First off, let me say how much easier this conference is when the weather isn't -30C on its warmest day! Today was lovely with sunny skies and mild weather. I took time to take a few walks overlooking the river valley - just beautiful!

Outside the Shaw Centre, primary location for Break Forth.

Our day started with two songwriting workshops on writing congregational worship songs by Brenton Brown and Paul Baloche. There was lots of great practical information to be gleaned. I'm too tired to write coherently about it tonight, but I've really experienced a lot of songwriting inspiration this weekend - kind of excited to see what comes of it all.

I finally made my way over to the exhibit hall and bookstore today. Most of the exhibit booths featured colleges and summer camps, which isn't very useful for me, but I managed to get a free book, so who can complain?

The final worship session was vibrant! Robin Mark lead a Celtic-driven set of his own songs. It was so awesome and joyful - I was craving my tambourine on "Days of Elijah"! I took notes on a few songs I'd like to introduce at The Gathering.

There's lots of follow-up to do when we get home - posting photos, reviewing our notes, researching new songs - but I can already feel good things coming from this weekend. I'm so glad we came this year. I can't wait to see how it's all going to seep into our music and ministry!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Break Forth - Day 2

What an awesome day!

We started with worship lead by Brenton Brown (who wrote "Everlasting God") and a message by Anne Graham-Lotz. The worship sessions are a mixed experience. I want to actually worship, but as I'm in the room, I also want to observe. Watching these guys at work is like sitting in a masterclass for worship leading.

Thousands worshiping at Break Forth!

Our first small workshop was "The Holy Imagination" by songwriter Audrey Assaud (who wrote the amazing "Winter Snow"). She discussed the negative connotation that the imagination sometimes has in religious circles, but went on to show how our imaginations can be powerful tools for creating art and songs that can transform lives.

Gerald and I spent our lunch hour indulging in pub food and a long brainstorming session about our Infinitely More CD. We can see the pieces falling into place, and it's really exciting.

After lunch, we attended "When Everything Changes" by Robin Mark (one of our instructors from yesterday). He spoke about facing times of drastic transition in our church communities, and how we can face them with honour and integrity.

My final workshop was presented by GMA Canada. I became the hundred-question-girl because there was so much practical information. It gave me lots of ideas that we'll be able to implement this year.

As we walked into the evening assembly tonight, there was a band playing music and livening up the crowd. I don't know if this was planned or spontaneous, but all the volunteers were dancing and clapping as they welcomed us and checked our wristbands. Some were waving flags, and a couple of the dear, little old ladies were raising their hands to get a high 5. It was so sweet and joyful!

Tonight's worship was lead by Paul Baloche, and it was incredible. He played two new songs including "The Same Love" - this song broke me down! He recorded a "bootleg" of new songs for his students at the conference, so we have a copy to bring home. I can't wait to bring this to our congregation.

Our speaker was Tony Campolo, and he was excellent! Funny, dynamic, and super smart. He spoke about Jesus's mission for his time on Earth, and how that can guide and sculpt our lives today.

Tonight, Gerald and I are recapping the day, taking notes on how to use all this great knowledge, and having late night snacks - these are long days, after all!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Break Forth - The Protester

As I approached the Shaw Centre for tonight's opening session of Break Forth, I saw a lone protester in front of the doors. You hear about people protesting Christian events, but having never experienced it first hand, I approached with caution.

He held a sign that said "Homophobia Kills" and "Stop the Hate."

Tonight's lone protester...

I figured a lot of people would snub him, so I decided to go up and ask him about his sign. He told me he wasn't protesting the conference, but he wanted to make a statement about the Evangelical Church and their attitude towards homosexuality.

I listened to his full statement, and then asked if he was a member of a church. This was where things got interesting.

He answered "Yes, and I'm on the board of my church," and he started to turn away from me.

"Great," I said, "What denomination is it?"

"The largest denomination in North America - the Protestant denomination."

At this point, he actually walked away from me.

I asked why he was walking away from me when I was just trying to talk to him. He told me he had a message to share. When I pointed out that I was trying to learn more about his message, he said "My message is for all people, not just one person."

Dude! Really?

Okay, here's why this moment really got to me:

In recent years, I've become fascinated by lost opportunities.

We see it all the time from all sides of the argument - the students who drove around Vanderbilt campus yelling at students to repent but didn't bother to ask their names; the anti-abortion activists who shout slogans at passing motorists who can't answer back; or the church who hands the visitor a welcome card but doesn't bother to say "welcome."

Why do we think lives will change
just because we stand at a distance
shouting bumper-sticker slogans?

This man tonight lost a great opportunity. I fully support his mission to point out the very real dangers of homophobia. Like racism, this is simply a form of hatred. It doesn't matter which side of the issue you stand on, hatred has no place in Christianity.

But what was he really trying to accomplish?

Did he think someone would walk past his sign and have a epiphany?

Did he think he might actually uproot the complicated tendrils that lead to hatred?

As I felt his attitude to my simple questions, and his resistance to my openness, I couldn't help but think that he was there just to be seen, and that made me mad.

What if he'd made the effort to actually welcome people to the conference?

What if he'd stopped to talk to someone who has genuine struggles with their feeling about homosexuality and homophobia?

What if he'd stopped worrying about everyone seeing his sign, and instead, concentrated on reaching people one on one?

Then, perhaps,
dialogue might have happened,
stories might have been shared,
and lives might have been changed.

And that was a lost opportunity...

Break Forth - Day 1

Awesome start to Break Forth!

Today was the All Day Intensive Workshops. Gerald took songwriting and I took worship leading.

My day started with Paul Baloche. He spoke about the things we can do to put ourselves in the best place to lead worship - private worship, relationships with your congregation, and using scripture as praise.

Paul Baloche on leading workshop.

The next two sessions were lead by Robin Mark. When he goes into a church for a concert or worship event, he doesn't bring his band - he works with the church's musicians. So he spoke about leadership and working with teams.

For the second session, he brought us through the story of Hezekiah, and the importance of prioritizing worship, no matter how large or small our congregation.

Our day ended with Brenton Brown. He compared leading worship to offering hospitality, and now that mindset can affect the way we treat both our teams and our congregations.

Gerald had the same instructors for his day of songwriting, so after 6 hours of training, we met to compare notes and stories.

This evening, Break Forth officially opened with a huge worship gathering. One of the things that impresses me most about this conference are the hundreds of volunteers that make everything run so smoothly. As they helped stream the thousands of conference participants into the hall, one volunteer was smiling and singing a little blessing song over everyone that walked past her. Nothing showy - just friendly and sweet.

The worship was lead by Break Forth organizer, Arlen Salte. The amazing band opened the set with U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" which segued right into a praise song called "We are Free." The song incorporated band, a spoken word/rap artist, and a vibrant choir. It was a great collaboration of musical sounds and styles.

The moving worship set prepared us for speaker, Erwin McManus. I wasn't familiar with Erwin's ministry, but I loved the article he wrote for the Break Forth magazine, so I was looking forward to his message tonight. And I wasn't disappointed!

He spoke about the value of beauty and creativity, not just in the world, but in the church. How does God feel about beauty, and how would the world feel about the church if we genuinely embraced the creativity of all individuals. McManus has a fascinating life, and his talk was really inspiring.

There are concerts tonight, but tomorrow promises to be a long one, so we're settling in for a relaxing night, and gearing up for a great Saturday!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Twas the Night Before Break Forth...

Pre-conference check list:

- registration printed

- Twix bar in my purse

- Contigo water bottle filled

- notepad and pen ready

- iPhone fully charged

- map and directions fully understood

- business cards in my pocket

One good night's sleep and I'm ready for Break Forth!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New photos!

Gerald is watching the Raptors tonight, so I've been adding photos to our sites.

You can (finally) see photos from our fall concert at St. John's York Mills Church on our site and our Facebook page.

Monday, January 23, 2012


We're here!

Safe flight - good movie on the plane - no luggage lost.

For the next few days, we'll enjoy Edmonton and visit with friends.

On Thursday, we'll check into our hotel to start Break Forth bright and early Friday morning.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Goodness...

We started our day at Church of Our Saviour in North York. This church has great musical leadership, with a songwriting minister, Dennis Dolloff, and his wife, Lori, as organist and choir director. We met early to rehearse with the band for the congregational songs, which was great.

The Church of Our Saviour band!

In the service, Dennis generously shared his pulpit and gave us the full sermon time to present a musical message. We focused on the theme of relationship with God, singing songs about calling out to God, and answering God's call to us.

Our time at this evening's Gathering was wonderful! We were competing with the football game, but we still had a great group who sang and worshiped. We were able to find some beautiful musical moments, and the message was excellent.

After the service, we made sure all the details were in place for next week. Tomorrow, we head to Edmonton for the Break Forth worship conference. Our friend, Susan, will lead the band next week, Anne will give the message, and Drew will lead the prayers - Gerald and I wish we could fly back just to sit in the congregation!

Now, we're packed, the house sitter is set up, and we're ready to go! Praying the weather doesn't get too cold...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Voice in Red

Gerald leading the Gathering band in rehearsal.

This morning we returned to Church of the Messiah to lead a dynamic repertoire of music - a classic hymn, a contemporary hymn, praise & worship, Gospel, and our original psalm setting. Over the past few months, COTM has become our second church home.

After the service, an elderly gentlemen asked me, "Do you choose the music for the service or does Tay (the parish priest)?"

I explained, "Tay gives us the readings, we choose the songs, and then Tay reviews them and sometimes makes suggestions."

He replied, "Well, I love the repertoire! It's so uplifting and inspiring!"

I said, "Great. If you hadn't liked it, I would have blamed Tay!"

That exchange totally made us both laugh, but I really loved the compliment. I'm honoured that so many of the senior members of the congregation have pulled us aside and told us how much they love the music. These are men and women who have sung decades of classic hymns accompanied by organ and choir. We're not their tradition, and yet they've connected with our music.

To me, this is just proof that the message of the music can override the genre.

This evening, we had an awesome time of worship at The Gathering. There was a wonderful and natural flow to all the songs, words, and prayers. We sang Psalm 31 as set to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," featuring church chimes, sax, and lots of harmony.

We debuted Gerald's song "The Voice in Red" - a poetic, moving song about hearing the voice of God in the midst of society's noise.

I love Sundays.

We've rehearsed, created, shared, and tonight, we relax...

Friday, January 06, 2012

The 12 Angels of Christmas - Day 12

Happy 12th Day of Christmas!

Today is also known as Epiphany, which is the day we celebrate the arrival of the three Kings or Magi. In our family, we'll celebrate 12th Night with a family dinner and lots of festivities.

For my final 12 Angels post, I decided to share my choir of angels with you. For the last few years, we've opted for a Victorian style Christmas tree. In Victorian days, trees were smaller and were prominently displayed on a table in the front room of the house. (If you've visited our CD table this year, you'll recognize the table cover!) This photo shows last year's tree, dripping with my Nana's vintage glass beads and lots of homemade ornaments collected over four generations.

I love clustering my angels around the nativity and under the tree. The ones you see above represent a range of special people and events in my life.

Most times in Scripture, angels appeared as a solo visitor, but not on that first Christmas night. As someone who sung in choirs for 20 years, it makes all the sense in the world to me that all the angels would want to appear on that first Christmas, sharing their talents and making a joyful noise.

As we leave the Christmas season and enter into the fullness of 2012, may we always strive to work together, sharing our talents and creativity to bring light to a dark work, and proclaiming the Good New that started at Christmas!


To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas,
I'll be posting a new angel every day.
This series is inspired by my Dad's "The Twelve Creches of Christmas."

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The 12 Angels of Christmas - Day 11

Photo by Rev. Hollis Hiscock

When my Dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, first arrived as rector of St. John's York Mills Church in Toronto, he looked around the large churchyard and had a vision. He imagined a dramatic rendition of the first Christmas story with actors on various stages sharing scenes from the story, and an audience traveling the path like pilgrims.

I was honoured to be invited into this creative dream, and for 10 years "The Real Christmas Story" was produced outdoors every December, thanks to a team of over 100 actors, singers, set-builders, tour guides, and other volunteers. We even shot a documentary that aired nationally on Vision Television for several years.

Our creative set designer, the late great Warren Hughes, designed a separate stage for each scene of the play, inspired by the colourful images of children's storybooks. For the angels, he said,

"I want a bright vibrant painting of angels on a starry night. I'll leave spaces for the actors faces. They'll be dressed warmly behind the set, but we'll just see their bright happy faces, their cheerful voices, and their Marilyn Monroe wigs for angel hair!"

The angel scene became an audience favourite, with many children returning to watch it twice. This photo brings back great memories for me. I loved my role in the creation of "The Real Christmas Story," and I love that we were able to share the Gospel in this creative, community-centred way for so many years.


To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas,
I'll be posting a new angel every day.
This series is inspired by my Dad's "The Twelve Creches of Christmas."

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The 12 Angels of Christmas - Day 10

Today's angels come as a pair. We found them at the altar rail of the Anglican cathedral in Montreal this summer while on our East Coast Tour.

There are many things I love about this duo. I love that one is male and one female, implying an equality of the sexes in worship and in service.

I love that they take on different postures, one facing up in patient expectation, and the other with head bowed in humble prayer.

They both sit on a pattern of interlocking hearts, implying that all we do should be based on love, or perhaps that with God as our base, we are supported by a platform of love.

I also love that their faces are calm, suggesting that in the presence of God,
all our fears and anxieties can be wiped away.


To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas,
I'll be posting a new angel every day.
This series is inspired by my Dad's "The Twelve Creches of Christmas."

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The 12 Angels of Christmas - Day 9

Today I'm sharing two of the cheekier angels from my tree - a Pooh angel and a little mouse angel.

I rather like that Pooh's wings and halo are attached like costume pieces. Makes me think that the silly old bear is participating in the Christmas pageant (what a Pooh thing to do...) I obviously love that the mouse is a joyful chorister.

I have no idea why artists and artisans turn animals into angels, but you see it all the time - teddy bear angels, cat angels, puppy angels - the list is endless.

Yes, there can be something cute about the whole thing, but if we think about it a little, doesn't it tie into the desire we have to find the holy in the ordinary? Maybe it reminds us that there are "angels unawares" moving among us.

How would our lives change if we became aware of the holiness that exists all around us?


To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas,
I'll be posting a new angel every day.
This series is inspired by my Dad's "The Twelve Creches of Christmas."

Monday, January 02, 2012

The 12 Angels of Christmas - Day 8

Today I bring you a singing quartet of angels!

I found this little choir in my friend's beautifully Christmasy apartment. Gwen couldn't remember where she got them, but their clay form and simple paint remind me of figures found in Mexico or the Caribbean.

I love their big open mouths and tightly shut eyes. I can almost hear them singing out like children - maybe not getting all the notes correct, but singing with unabashed passion of the new Christmas birth.

May we also unashamedly sing out our praises this Christmas season!


To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas,
I'll be posting a new angel every day.
This series is inspired by my Dad's "The Twelve Creches of Christmas."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The 12 Angels of Christmas - Day 7

Happy New Year!

To start 2012 with a feeling of abundance, I decided to share 3 angels today!

The top angel is formed from wax and hand-painted. I bought her from the Germany pavilion at Epcot Center in Florida, and she's traveled many times since as I've moved around.

The bottom two I made myself. The middle angel I made as a young crafter, using acrylic paint to create a stained glass look. The bottom angel I created in cross-stitch with a lace trim.

I like this cluster of angels because they represent two thing I love most:

Creativity and Travel

I was blessed to have lots of creating and traveling time in 2011, and I'm planning on plenty more in 2012!

I pray 2012 brings you all the things you desire most in life!


To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas,
I'll be posting a new angel every day.
This series is inspired by my Dad's "The Twelve Creches of Christmas."