Musicians looking forward


Musicians looking forward
Music is a rich, diverse and changing aspect of our worship and traditions as a church.
Photo ©/John O'Hara

By Wendy Healy

Jay Beech, a widely known musician, composer and member of the ELCA, is raising the bar on music and worship resources for congregations and ministries across the country.

Perhaps best known for his contributions to ELCA worship resources and playing with the Jay Beech Band at ELCA Youth Gatherings, Jay is now busy creating The Center for Worship and Music Studies, in partnership with the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod, Southwestern Minnesota Synod and South Dakota Synod.

“I would like for the center to become a ministry where people in our church know that they can send people for excellent training and can reach out to when looking for musicians to serve their congregations,” said Jay. “I also want it to be a place where they can engage in lively, creative, collaborative conversation around worship.”

With a planned opening in the fall of 2015, Jay’s vision is to help tomorrow’s musical leaders by providing music and worship resources and training that are grounded in Lutheran theology and heritage.

The leap of faith

As with many new ministries and ventures, this one required a leap of faith, so Jay left his position as music director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minn., last year to develop the center.

“I prayed and swallowed hard, and moved to the Twin Cities area so I could engage in this new work,” he said with a smile. 

The center’s office is at the Minneapolis Area Synod office in Minneapolis, and Jay hopes that before long, it will extend its partnership to music centers at ELCA colleges and universities.

Ann Svennungsen, bishop of the synod, is excited to partner with Jay.  

“Since the Reformation, the Lutheran church has regarded music as vital to worship,” Bishop Svennungsen said. “We have emphasized participatory singing, theological integrity and quality music. As musical styles expand, this new worship and music center can provide wisdom and tools for church leaders seeking both excellence and commitment to Lutheran theology.” 

Today, there is a great proliferation of different styles of services, according to Jay, and a dichotomy of traditional and contemporary styles.

“At Trinity, Moorhead, I got a lot of calls from congregations looking for musicians with a varied skill set – someone who had interest in what it means to be Lutheran and in our worship traditions – but with a broader range of skills. There are a limited pool of candidates to offer,” he said.

Conversations like these sparked the idea for The Center for Worship and Music Studies.

Preparing musicians to meet diverse needs

Jay is focusing on two core concepts: 1) to help prepare musicians and worship leaders who are thoughtful and vibrant; and 2) to train people to teach and mentor congregations by guiding and engaging the worship community.

Many congregations, according to Jay, struggle to find musicians that have the vision and skill set appropriate for their community.

The skill set for the church of tomorrow, he said, requires several things. Key skills, he said, include “theological acumen and familiarity with the history of worship practices, along with an ability to handle a broad variety of musical repertoires, including hymn and choral music, not just pop-driven or geared towards praise and worship.”

Church musicians, he said, also need a good imagination that drives a capacity and willingness to innovate while valuing tradition. “Musicians need the skills to guide their congregation members as they move forward and appreciate who they are.”

Jay is working with a team of musicians and academics to develop the center, including Rollie Martinson, retired dean of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and Mary Preus, musical director at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.  

“Jay has assembled a diverse group of gifted musicians and theologians for the center. Together they can help congregations articulate the good news of Jesus in various cultural contexts, ensuring high quality and upholding Lutheran identity,” said Bishop Svennungsen.

While the planning and leadership team brings a wealth of skill, experiences, creativity and wisdom to the process, Jay is actively inviting feedback and comments from congregations.

“We’re eager to draw upon the wisdom of people already involved in worship and word and sacrament ministry,” said Jay. “Their input will help us develop new and effective ways to train musicians and worship leaders who will serve our congregations, now and in the future.”

Wendy Healy is an ELCA member, owner of Griffin Communications in Danbury, Conn., and author of “Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal after 9/11.”

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