Liturgy creates "thin" places, where the boundaries between ourselves, others, and God become more porous. Authentic worship has the power to bind us together in solidarity with one another, as we open ourselves more fully to the movement of God in our midst, both individually and collectively. The deep spirituality at the heart of the Christian liturgical tradition is meant to transform us at the level of mind, heart, and body. Music in worship helps to facilitate that transformation.
It is important to recognize that what is considered welcoming, engaging, "traditional," reverent, holy, proper, or even "singable" within any particular church community depends entirely on its context. There can be no one size fits all approach to "sacred music." Worship should be countercultural, but not merely for the sake of eccentricity or to maintain nostalgic ideas of religious "purity." Rather, Christian worship and music should be an authentic expression of Christian values that incorporates both the musical associations of the local culture and the broader historical traditions of the church's tradition, all while staying open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the potential for transformation, healing, and spiritual formation that can occur through the introduction of new songs and musical styles.
Philosophy of Liturgy & Worship
Congregational Disputes & Mediation
There has never been a time in the history of the church when Christians have not engaged in disputes over music and worship, including:
At nearly every point in history, both "old" and "new" styles of church music have been critiqued, for precisely the same reasons people criticize "traditional" and "contemporary" music styles today! In some ways, these ongoing tensions reflect a necessary process of discernment, as each new generation must strive for a renewed focus and awareness of what it means to be Christ's hands and feet in the world, and how best to express our gratitude and praise.
Conflicts can also arise between clergy, music directors, and congregants about what kind of music is most "appropriate" or beneficial in the context of liturgy, usually due to differing understandings about the nature of music and its role in worship. All parties involved tend to lean on personal and cultural values, rather than Christian values, in order to defend their positions.
As a layperson with training in Western classical, folk, and popular/secular musical styles, ecumenical training in liturgical design and worship from Union Theological Seminary, and undergraduate training in dialogue and conflict negotiation, I am in a unique position to offer nuanced, practical support and mediation for churches struggling to articulate a shared theology of music and worship. Leaning on my extensive research about music in the history of the church, I can help ground conversations about liturgy and worship in Biblical, theological, and spiritual values that reflect your community's culture and faith tradition.
level of congregational involvement
new variations of "traditional" hymns
incorporation of familiar tunes or "popular" styles
"Your historical diagnoses and concrete suggestions were very helpful in beginning to think through our contemporary Eucharist."
-Rev. Drew Harmon, Associate Rector
Saint Francis Episcopal Church
Writings on Music, Theology, and Worship
I spent four years researching theological aesthetics, worship, and the history of church music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where I also had the benefit of learning about the Christian liturgical tradition from Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, AME, and Baptist faculty. My master's thesis examined the theology of music and art from a postmodern and postcolonial perspective, highlighting the covertly religious underpinnings of modernity, and deconstructing contemporary cultural understandings of "secularism," "spirituality," and "the sacred." Follow the links below to read some of my writings on music in the church:
Special Liturgies & Worship Services
I am grateful to have participated in a number of creative worship experiences and experiments throughout the country, and I have also developed a number of special liturgies and worship services for particular liturgical seasons, spiritual themes, Scripture readings, and pastoral needs. Below are some examples of the unique worship services and liturgies I have designed, which can be adapted for a variety of contexts.
Music That Makes Community & "Paperless Singing"
I spent several years training with this ecumenical organization that promotes the practice of "paperless" worship music and singing. You can read more about paperless singing on my Worship page.
The Contemplative Society & "Songs of Presence"
The Contemplative Society, advised and led by Cynthia Bourgeault, is a group out of British Columbia that teaches and composes new contemplative chants, sometimes called "Songs of Presence."
Convergence Music Project
The Convergence Music Project is a resource for churches who are looking for new, "contemporary"-style worship music, but with more inclusive language and theology.
In addition to leading worship music and offering workshops for churches on music, singing, and chant, I also work with church leaders who are seeking new ways to transform how their congregations experience worship.
Do you want to:
encourage greater participation and singing in your congregation?
expand your congregation's musical repertoire beyond "traditional" and "contemporary"?
integrate more diverse music traditions or blend new styles into an existing liturgical framework?
develop and articulate a shared vision for your church's musical and aesthetic values?
learn about ways to enliven or deepen your worship experience?
explore what it might mean for your church to "decolonize" its musical and aesthetic values?
I also work with clergy one-on-one, offering:
private lessons on liturgical chant
support and guidance for finding the right music director
assistance with developing special liturgies and worship services
thinking through various theological and pastoral approaches to song selection
One of the most complex issues faced by the church today is the question of how we reconcile our Christian faith with the history of European colonization and the reality of widespread violence and oppression that occurred under the guise of Christianity from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Since most liturgical churches nowadays tend to outsource the training of their music directors to academic institutions of Western art music, ideas about "sacred music" are often heavily influenced by curriculums that were explicitly developed in the late nineteenth century to promote a white, Eurocentric canon that supported notions of "Western" musical superiority over "primitive" cultural others. These ideologies are still baked into the standard teachings on "sacred music," resulting in a situation where attitudes and assumptions that are antithetical to Gospel values still influence church musicians and music directors today.
"Incarnation is basically 'content meeting form.' The Gospel is not an ethereal, conceptual message. It is an enfleshed reality. We are not robotic copycats of a message. We are the message. Therefore, form matters. Therefore, our worship music should reflect our cultures and, potentially, the mishmash of cultures that have responded to the Gospel."
Decolonization is not about getting rid of church organs, abandoning "traditional" choral hymns, and replacing them with guitars, banjos, or African American spirituals. In many cases, this kind of top-down approach would only replicate colonial patterns of objectification and appropriation. Deep discernment is needed in order to determine what "decolonization" looks like within a particular worshipping community. For churches who are interested in beginning this work, I highly recommend the following two articles as a starting point for conversation about some of the underlying values embedded in Western music education: