Conference Highlights and Thoughts from @NewCityMusic #MusiCon15

I’ve had a few days to rest (play with my kids, talk with my wife, stare at the walls, etc.) and now that I’m back in the office, I’m ready to think a little bit about the conference we just hosted. I want to especially thank Carrie Jones, Michelle Higgins, Adina O’Neal, Lisa St. Pierre, and Sara Ward who did the bulk of the back end logistics to make the whole conference work. simple_graphic

Music

We had some good times playing music together and sharing our worship expressions. This year, there was a much stronger representation of original songs and arrangements. I brought some of my stuff, but there was also the creative work of Michelle Higgins, Michael Kendall, and Matthew Monticchio. New City Music is becoming more and more of a movement of original songs and expressions through the work of the Spirit in our communities. These songs came off to me as much stronger than the “radio” stuff in our times of worship. The open mic time was also full of original songs and ideas. God is moving and working in this generation, y’all.

Teaching

All three of the plenary sessions were fun, moving, and thought provoking. I was not at all the breakouts (i have to rest some time, right?) but I am looking forward to listening to them online. Ruth Naomi Floyd was my personal highlight. Her voice could move mountains. She has incredible control over her instrument making each “clip” of a spiritual that she presented deeply expressive and poignant. Many of the songs she shared, I’d heard before, but I’d never really listened to what the song was saying until she “unpacked it” for us. Edem Dzunu was both hopeful about the power of the gospel to reconcile people, but also didn’t downplay the hard truth that it ain’t easy. It’s always encouraging to know that the struggle that I’m experiencing is not unique to me because there’s something I’m doing wrong, but the struggle is the only path we can walk in order to see the kingdom advance. My dad, James Ward, was his usual entertaining self and I always enjoy his presentations. He’s my mentor so nothing he brought was new to me, but I was thankful that he was able to share about his rehearsal experiences with this larger audience.

Fellowship

I am so thankful for the friendships that are born out of these events. We also grow closer and share more about each other with each passing year. I was especially appreciative of the St Louis community of musicians who stepped up to help. When we hosted in 2011, I felt like I had to “do it all” without much help, but this time, I had a team of friends who had my back and brought gifts that I didn’t even imagine were possible. I was encouraged to see people connecting with each other departing with new connections.

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Healing in Worship: the Chemotherapy approach

I have a good friend whose wife is currently in treatment for breast cancer. She goes in for chemotherapy treatments every 3 weeks. As you have probably heard before from other cancer survivors, chemotherapy is a process that involves weeks when you feel good and weeks when you feel awful. It changes your physical appearance. It’s a kind of poison that you take in order to kill this part of your body that is trying to kill you. Chemo is only part of the treatment which includes a cocktail of drugs as well as surgeries that can sometimes leave you deeply scarred. Healing isn’t always pretty, but it’s the only way to bring new life and restoration into your body.

The church has been redeemed by the Lamb and lives a resurrected life. Yet, we still have the curse of sin living in us like a tumor. It doesn’t belong there and if we leave sin alone it will ultimately destroy our communities. In worship, we enter into a form of chemotherapy for the soul. Often, we feel fine when we walk away from grace and the law of righteousness. Sometimes, it feels so good and right that we believe that the sin-tumor is not there or is something healthy for us. Worship reorders our perspective and exposes the lie of sin. In the light of God’s holiness, we experience the death of the “old nature” or the “flesh”. By singing together, by hearing the law, by remembering the gospel, and by confessing the truth, we do what Paul encourages in Ephesians 4:22-24

“…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and … be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and … put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Like Chemotherapy, worship kills the old self and brings new life into us. As a result, worship should be painful at times. It should make us feel a kind of sickness that leaves us changed and even feeling weak or broken.

What needs to die in our hearts when we come to worship?

  • Idolatry to self-fulfillment, power, or cultural heritage.
  • The comfortable predictability of fear and anxiety or cynicism and apathy.
  • The love of money and security (Don’t miss the meaning of taking up the offering!)
  • The narcotic appeal of being popular.

What other “sin-tumors” come to mind for you?

Are there any of you who have gone to war with cancer who can elaborate on how worship looks like chemo?

 

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What is the relationship between healing and worship?

“The Healing of the Nations” is the theme for New City Music’c #MusiCon15. This phrase comes from Revelation 22 in which John describes the new city of God where a river flows from the throne of the Lamb. Along the banks of the river are the trees of life and John tells us that the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.

If you don’t see a need for healing in our communities, our congregations, our families, or your own heart, then you are probably not paying attention. Worship is a time to listen to God’s voice and to be changed in the process. He is present in our worship and He is holy. Like the woman who only needed to touch the hem of His garment, we come into the presence of Jesus in worship, broken and desperate. The wonderful now/not-yet vision of the New City is that the tree of life grows like a weed. The church is the New City where Jesus glory dwells and where the nations stream up to the throne needing this healing.

Here are a few questions that I have for you to consider in preparation for our conference.

  • How have you personally experienced physical or emotional healing through worshiping Jesus?
  • How has music, whether in worship or not, brought you some form of healing?
  • How have you witnessed healing in whole communities through singing together in worship?
  • What does healing look like in music? To say it another way, what active steps do you take to experience healing?

I’d love to read your answers to one of more of these questions in the comments.

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Come to #MusiCon15


simple_graphicNew City Music Conference 2015 is shaping up. We are getting registrations slowly but I fully expect 2/3 of the conference to register at the last minute. I’m so thrilled to have our line up of speakers and breakout leaders. It seems to get better and better every time we pull one of these together. If you haven’t done it yet, please check out the conference details and register at www.ncfmusic.com/conference/

Carrie Jones is the conference director this time. Carrie was involved in the 2011 conference we had here in St. Louis as the graphic designer and she created the conference notebook which was so full of information and resources that people wanted to get the notebook even though they couldn’t attend the conference. Carrie is also a long time member of NCF (@NCFStLouis) and as well as a highly qualified musician on our team.

The conference steering committee was made up of myself (@kirkwardmusic), my dad (@jcalvinward), and my long time friend, Michelle Higgins (@fast_foodie). We went out to lunch when my dad was here in March and hammered out the rough outline of who and what will be featured at this year’s conference.

I hope that you consider coming. If you are from the local region, we would love to meet you or connect again with you to be able to encourage each other in the struggle. If you are from out of town, we would to meet and connect as well and to hear what is going on in other communities. So much has happened in our nation this year that has served to break down our facades and to reveal the areas where we are divided and broken. The gospel has the power to heal communities when it is planted in soil that will let it thrive and produce fruit. Let’s live the gospel of reconciliation and justice that is available to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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New City Music Conference 2015 in St Louis MO July 23-26

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The Backwards Bike and Cross-cultural Worship

Edit: Oops, I used the wrong URL for the video. Now it’s fixed.

It turns out that riding a bike becomes nearly impossible when you rig it to turn the opposite direction. Your brain can’t perform all the processes when just one is reversed.

I wonder what this says about cross-cultural communication. How many brain processes go into singing, dancing, or performing a worship liturgy? What happens when you have to suddenly perform a familiar action like these but one or more of the “rules” have changed when you are immersed in a new culture.

It also says something about the power of our brains to adapt with practice. The video shows that after a few months of riding the bike everyday, you can teach your brain to adapt. There is a path toward understanding a new culture, but it’s not quick and easy. It’s also every difficult to be a “third culture kid” who has to “ride their bike” in many different ways.

When we face an issue from opposite sides of the cultural divide (#Ferguson, #Baltimore) why does it seem like it’s impossible to get someone to “change their mind” to see things from your perspective? Maybe we are assuming that we can give people the raw facts and make to make them completely change their understanding without the more long term process of relationship and community.

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Review: Doxa “Centered”

Gospel music is good stuff. I’m a fan. I have been deeply affect by gospel over the years. Especially the music of Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Richard Smallwood, Hezekiah Walker, the Hawkins, the Clarks, Andrae Crouch, Israel Houghton, Kurt Carr, Tye Tribbett, the list goes on. Lately, I’ve been uninspired. There seems to be a very strong commercial drive to get the next hit. I realize that this is nothing new in the global marketplace of pop music and the “Christian” sub-genres have been absorbed into that same stream. In fact, after spending weeks listening to new releases, I heard a 1984 recording of Edwin Hawkins, Taste and See and it was like a breath of fresh air to hear a song so thoughtfully composed.

With that being said, it’s very refreshing to hear this recording from DOXA, CenteredDOXA is the name of the worship music ministry of Dr. Eric Mason‘s church Epiphany Fellowship. My dad recommend this to me and the first thing I heard when I previewed it was the glorious horn parts and lush changes. Yes, Lord! Looking into it more deeply through the handy lyrics link on their website, I found that several of the songs were actually written or co-written by “holy hip hop” artist, Shai Linne. How cool is that? Can we start seeing more lyricists lending their gifts to creating congregational music? There seems to be a strong sense of collaboration between the lyricist, the musical director (Aaron Johnson, I think), and the pastor who also sings on the recording. Less stars, more community. They have included a few good examples of using creativity combined with congregational considerations. Hymns and popular tunes covered and rearranged without losing their familiarity. There’s a freshness to this recording that brings to mind the music of next gen black artists like Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding,  or even the band-for-music-geeks, Snarky Puppy.

I’m not sure that I’ve picked on that I can use at New City Fellowship. I’m going to listen for a few weeks and see what sticks with me.

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Changes to the Vocal and Choir Ministry at New City Fellowship – UC/STL

If you are a singer in the choir or the praise team at New City Fellowship, please read this update about some more changes (we can’t get enough!) that I am implementing in the music ministry. These changes will take effect immediately but are always subject to revision if necessary. Basically, the plan is to eliminate choir rehearsals and the choir director position in order to replace them with “Choir Sundays” which will happen 6 times a year.

Before getting into these changes, I want to give a big, “thank you” to Noelle Becker, who stepped in and took up leadership of the choir this year. She’s been doing a lot of work to plan and prepare rehearsals with spiritual sensitivity and aesthetic excellence. I also want to thank Carrie Jones, Helen Scott and Vera Parkin who have been serving as accompanists to support our choir rehearsals. Finally, I want to thank everyone in the choir who has been sacrificing so much to be at rehearsals, to serve on Sunday mornings and to love the congregation through using their voices. These changes are not an indictment on anyone’s performance, but rather, it’s time to take our collective gifts and focus them into more fruitful areas of the music ministry.

As we look forward to what’s next for the choir ministry at New City Fellowship, I want to share with you what I see as our strengths and our weaknesses in regards to the vocal and choral ministries.

Strengths:

  • We have many, many gifted and experienced singers in our church. Some have graduate degrees in vocal performance or other music fields, some have decades of experience singing in many different choirs and some of them are young singers with a fresh new voice to share and a passion to learn.
  • We have willing servant leaders who give and give so much of their time to the kingdom. I see you all giving your lives away in service over and over and I praise the Lord for his righteous acts being on display in the lives of the saints at New City Fellowship. No one can ever accuse New City Fellowship members of being unwilling or selfish with their time or resources.

Weakness:

  • Schedules and availability of singers has meant that we have not been able to maintain a large group (20-25) to meet on a weekly basis. We have changed the time around. We have used promotional blitzes and targeted invitations. We have opened up the restrictions to give more and more freedom for people to participate. However, last fall and well as this winter, we have averaged about 10-12 people at rehearsals. In February (what is usually one of our strongest months), we cancelled a performance for lack of people and some of our performances had to use “on mic” singers to fill in the parts that were low in numbers.

So, based on this assessment and conversations with some of the leaders in the choir I would like to adjust how this ministry operates in order to open up the availability of the many gifted and willing singers in our church. This adjustment will mean creating what I call, “Choir Sundays”. Here’s what a Choir Sunday would look like in bullet points:

  • Every other month (6 times a year), every singer in the music ministry would be assigned to Choir Sunday in the planning center. Also, an announcement would be made to the whole church encouraging anyone to participate. As always, volunteers are free to accept or decline, but the expectation is that every singer on the team will participate if they are available. This ensures that we will have a large, strong team of singers who are both leaders on the team as well as casual singers from the congregation.
  • The planning center plan for a Choir Sunday would go up several weeks in advance with the 4 songs before the offering designated as “choir led.” Songs will be mostly pulled from the weekly repertoire of worship music at NCF and a song or two would be from our choral repertoire.
    • Sample Choir Sunday Set List: Dwell Among Us, Holy Holy Holy, My Desire and Total Praise
  • Participants who accept the assignment can access recordings, sheet music and part-specific demos in order to prepare on your own for 3-4 weeks in advance if necessary.
  • Instead of a separate choir rehearsal, all the Choir Sunday singers would come to the 9:00am-11:00am music team rehearsal. During this time, the choir and the band would prepare the songs for Choir Sunday in much the same fashion that the music team prepares every weekend.
  • On Choir Sunday, the singers would all arrive at 8:00am (as normal) but after the 4 choir songs in the 11:30 service, the singers could depart and I would lead the last 2 songs by myself. So, the Choir Sunday would be easier for music team vocalists to participate in than other Sundays.

In case you are feeling that this change means the loss of something you love, I want to compare some numbers for you:

In our old format, we were singing 16 performance anthems a year. In the Choir Sunday format, the choir will participate in leading worship for 24 songs a year.

In our old format, we have an average of 10 people attending rehearsals and 12-15 on Sunday performances. In the Choir Sunday format, 44 people on planning center would be invited to sing so that even if a quarter of those people declined, our choir would double in size (not even including congregation members who might respond to our general invitation.)

In our old format, participation in the choir required a commitment of 1.5 hours a week, plus a 3 hour commitment twice a month on Sundays.  In the Choir Sunday format, the music team vocalists would have NO additional rehearsal or Sunday commitments and non-music team singers would have no more choir rehearsals to attend and 10 less Sundays a year that they would have to commit to. Less time-commitment means more availability to participate.

In our old format, the church had to pay a choir director, in addition to the music director to maintain a choral program that averages an attendance that is smaller than most of our House churches or Adult Ed classes. In the Choir Sunday format, the music director can maintain the choir operations without the need to budget for the choir director which frees up the churches resources for other use (or a little less end-of-year deficit).

In the old format, singers who were not comfortable with traditional European music notation were often marginalized and left feeling inadequate. In the Choir Sunday format, the inclusion of congregation songs and the large choir numbers infused with song lead singers creates a safe environment for these more vernacular-style singers to be welcomed in. This moves us more in line with our core values.

I would like to make our first attempt at this format on Easter Sunday next month. It might be a little crazy, but why not go crazy when we celebrate the risen Jesus? You can expect to hear more about it soon, but you can also check out my draft-plan for Easter Sunday on the planning center here: https://www.planningcenteronline.com/plans/18182697/public. So then we would have Choir Sundays in June, August, October, and December.

If you have any questions about these changes, please write me an email or set up a time when we can talk. I’m open to any suggestions or ideas.

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No Time for Tears

Kirk Ward:

Here’s a recent post from my wife you should all read.

Originally posted on Life on Maple:

I rarely blog anymore.  I rarely even update my facebook status unless it’s something funny my son, Sam has said, or a vague comment about the stress of having a large family.  I don’t have time to blog and the things I think about sharing on facebook are either to personal/private to my heart, or confidential to my extra kiddos’ lives.  So I share with my husband, my family, and my fellow soldiers in the foster trenches…some of it I bottle in to deal with later.

But Kirk and I rarely have time alone together to share our thoughts and feelings.  When we do it’s a struggle to leave the stress of caring for our kids and family behind.  I want to relax and enjoy my wonderful husband, but it seems to take work to put the stress to the side.  Our marriage is stronger than it has ever been…

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To God Be The Glory: 11th Annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship

Please join us for the 11th annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship on Saturday, February 28, at 6:30.

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Our theme for the evening is “To God Be The Glory” based on the Andraé Crouch song, “My Tribute.” Crouch passed away last month and we will be performing a couple of his songs in the concert to celebrate God’s work through him as a composer and worship leader.

In our planning, we the musicians talked about the passage from John 9 about the man born blind who Jesus healed. The question was asked about why he was born that way and Jesus’s response was that this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him. So as we remember the heritage of African Americans, we might ask “why did so much evil and suffering have to happen in our nation?” and we can look to this blind man, his healing and his testimony to see that all people and cultures exist to display the works of God, for his glory alone. We remember the past works of God in Black community and culture because HIS glory is woven into their story for all to see, and we can all praise Him for the things He has done.

Please pray for our choir directors, Michelle Higgins and Noelle Becker who both have stomach flu running through their family this week. (Also, pray for my wife and the other spouses who have to care for the kids during extra rehearsals this week.)

Please pray for the unity and bond of peace from the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of everyone involved.

Please pray for Thurman Williams, one of the pastors at Grace and Peace Fellowship who will be bringing a sermon.

Please pray for the long, slow healing process that our region is going through this year.

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