Music at University Congregational United Church of Christ has carried us through times that are tragic, celebratory, mundane, both as church and as individuals. And so in some ways, this time of pandemic and social distancing is no different than any other. And yet, in addition to the health crisis, it is completely different because two months ago, I announced that this season would be my last as music director of this beloved community. When I made this decision, based in reasons of personal health and family needs, I had no idea that my last weeks and months would be virtual. And so these “lasts” of my tenure take on an added grief.
I tell my choir members that our efforts are both evanescent and eternal. We might work for weeks on a piece that is over in five minutes. But the moment we created, the lifted heart, the invitation to Spirit – those resound. This is particularly comforting when we mourn the loss of someone in our community; we know that the harmonies we sang together exist in our souls and in our bones. Music changes and abides. So it is with what we’ve played, what we’ve sung, how we’ve come together as a community for the past thirteen years.
We come together, ordinarily, in official groups such as the Chancel Choir, Joyful Noise Chamber Players, Children’s Choir, Viriditas, Sacred Groove, Fellowship of the Ringers, and Consort Spiritus. We come together in “pickup” groups, we come together by sharing solos, and we come together as a congregation. And we are still coming together in this most uncertain moment. Through Zoom, Facebook, YouTube; in the morning shower and on the way to the grocery, we are still raising our voices.
This church has an astonishing rate of music participation. We have a program the size of many cathedrals, and in a given year, almost half of the congregation sings or plays an instrument during worship. I tracked this officially in 2010, when we had 180 participants in music. 180! More than once, a Lecture Series speaker or other guest has commented that we are a congregation that sings. (“Don’t all congregations sing?” I sometimes ask. “Yes, but yours really SINGS.”)
In this unique, history-making time, as we look backward and forward, I hope we will see that it is the coming together, the communion among us, that has made our music sing. A lyric from the movie Frozen 2 says, “You are the one you’ve been waiting for.” Congregation, that’s you! Music directors, clergy, and staff will come and go. The congregation itself will shift and change.
That’s the beauty of congregations. So long as there’s a University Congregational, there will be a YOU. And we may know there’s an even larger YOU that holds us, too. If there’s a gift in this time of COVID, it’s feeling the presence of the larger YOU, even as we miss, well, you.
I share these words from a piece I wrote with organist David Nichols:
I call community
I call compassion in me
I call communion with thee:
God in me, God with us, God in all.
I send forth healing for you
I send forth wholeness for you
I send forgiveness for you:
God in you, God with us, God in all.
Convene the beloved community. Let the people sing. Keep coming together.