Sunday, October 18, 2009

Choir as Community

"To our Lord we sing returning
Home to our blue-green hills of earth."

The choir of King of Kings Lutheran Church, 2685 Packard Rd. in Ann Arbor, are a group who really enjoy being a group, and I don't think they are faking that. Their rehearsal is filled with a lot of joking around. They have a good time, and even though they sometimes need to be reminded by director Lois Miller of when they should be singing in harmony and when they should be singing in unison, they have more than enough talent and heart to deliver a performance that connects with their small congregation and makes a positive impact.

Without this being my intention, I happened to be with this group on a week in which they had a party, something that they do every month. Therefore, in addition to Wednesday evening rehearsal, on Saturday evening they had a potluck dinner followed by rehearsal. One member said that sometimes they rehearse first, then eat, and I thought, "Wow! They have managed to avoid becoming creatures of habit! This is an incredible group!" The party was hosted at the home of Melissa and Chris House, so the obvious joke was used repeatedly: It's at the House house. Because this choir has a significant representation of the under-40 demographic (although there are also several older members), there were quite a few young children at this party. Following friendly conversation over food and drink, plus singing church music, they pulled out "The Beatles: Rock Band" video game. I was a novice at this, but tried doing my best Ringo, and managed to break one of the special drum sticks that is part of the game set. Later, after several people had left, I was the only one left standing who had a good idea of how to sing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", so I got that duty. The toughest part was the nonsense syllables at the end.

As in my visit to Northside Community Church three weeks ago, this is a small church, and things are informal. The attire is casual, some people sat sipping coffee and tea, and the sanctuary is designed as an open room with nothing bolted to the floor--seating, altar, lectern, and baptism font are all movable.

Announcements came first in the service, with various people simply standing up in order to be recognized to give an announcement. A short while into the service, Pastor Michael Ryan said, "Are you guys ready?" The significance of this was lost on me for a couple of seconds, but kids started gathering at the center of the room, and it became obvious that the children's sermon was beginning. The question of what things makes the kids feel special or important quickly led to kids telling random stories about what their parents do at work and at home, while simultaneously some girls were whipping their long hair around, and kids were taking their shoes off and crawling around with their shoes on their hands. When shoes started flying through the air, Pastor Michael said, "I'm going to cut my losses and stop," and then handed out Halloween-decorated cups. Communities like this church are able to forgive when things start to get crazy during their church service.

Soon after that came something that I did much in past times as a Lutheran, but not much in recent times--we chanted a section of Psalm 91. Soon afterward came the sermon, in which the disciples James and John wanted to be considered to be the greatest among the followers of Jesus. Pastor Michael said that in the Gospel of Mark, the disciples are often dense, and in this case, they didn't get the message that they had been given, creating a teachable moment for Jesus. The sermon boiled down to people in times of uncertainty going back to their accustomed ways, and asking us to examine what those ways are for us.

One thing that might impress a visitor most at King of Kings is the passing of the peace, in which people shake hands with each other. In this room of maybe about 60 people, it seemed that many of them made a full pass around the room to pass the peace to everyone. This took some time, and was both preceded and followed by liberal use of hand sanitizer. Following that, during the collection of the offering, the choir sang the anthem for this week, "Blue Green Hills of Earth" by Kim Oler and Carl Strommen, with a solo performed by Deanna Hicks.

Emerging trends: small churches have a large proportion of their members singing in their choirs, children's sermons somehow involve shoes, choirs want more members, and something that I had nearly forgotten from my childhood--choirs don't always segregate themselves by sitting in a special area through the whole service.

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