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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I was going to write a post about how foster care has affected my lifestyle. However, I have only 2 hours to get my worship prep done for the holiday office break. Then I have to be home to watch 4 kids while my wife takes one to play therapy. After she gets back, we have a meeting with a case worker.

Merry Christmas!

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How #Ferguson should affect our worship planning

Yesterday, my son was sick with a stomach bug. When our bodies get sick, there are symptoms that tell us something is wrong. The symptoms are painful and sometimes feel unbearable, but without them, we would not do what needs to happen to get well. If I didn’t get a fever or feel nauseous, then I would not know to lay down and rest in order to get well. Today, St Louis is experiencing the symptoms of an illness that has been infecting our community for a long time. We can chose to ignore these symptoms, but it would only be ensuring the diseases we suffer are going to continue. As a worship planner, I have a few thoughts on what our job looks like as we start to respond to the symptoms with the correct treatments. I have a few gospel based themes that I have been trying to emphasize in the midst of this crisis.

Fear vs. Love

Fear has been a major symptom of the community disease that has infected us. Fear is at the root of race-based discrimination and it is also at the root of self-righteous rants on social media. As Tony Myles shared last Sunday, we are prompted by fear to bow down to the “false narratives” of our culture in the same way that the 3 Israelite youths were threatened by the powers of Babylon with a trip “fiery furnace” if they did not bow to a golden image. How many Black men are killed by people filled with fear that is derived from false stereotypes and deep-seeded racist myths that American culture has perpetuated for centuries? In the days preceding the grand jury’s decision, our whole community was overwhelmed with fear. These fears were fueled by lies that that stand in opposition to God’s Word.

Standing against fear is Love. I’m not referring to “the age of Aquarius” love which was ultimately found to be impotent and self-serving. I’m talking about the love that we find in the power of the gospel. Love in the gospel is both unconditional and accountable. In Christ, I have love that is lavished on me despite being opposed to God in my sin. That same love creates a relationship of accountability to respond with unconditional love toward my enemy. Christ demonstrated this love on the cross and his resurrection empowers us through his Spirit to reject the lie of fear and to say to the powers of fear, “You can throw me in the furnace, but I will not bow to you. I will love the Lord and love my enemy without being afraid of the consequences.”

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pic of Mazaré Rogers by Sean Loftin (i think)

In worship services, we express this by affirming that all authority belongs to the Lord Jesus. No other power can stand in opposition to his glorious reign. We need not respond with violence to any perceived threat from someone who the culture tells me to fear. Because we are one with the Lord of heaven, we can say, “We would rather die than to give in to fear.” We can also boast in His victory over every power even as we grieve the realities of injustice. Sing with joy for the King reigns over all the earth. As Psalm 2 says, we serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling because He is the only power worthy of our reverent fear. His throne is established in Love and the submission to anything other than his authority and reign is a rejection of Love.

Death vs. Life

#BlackLivesMatter has been one of the phrases that has framed much of the frustrations of Americans in response to the deaths of several Black men this year at the hands of police. Even if you believe that the police officers were justified in their actions against these men, you have to affirm that life matters and death is the enemy. Any death is tragic. Even the most evil murderers in history were victims of the power of death both in their sinful acts against others and in the deaths that they themselves suffered. Death reigns in disease, in famine, in disasters, and even in the slow progress of time. Death was let loose on the earth by humans in the actions of Adam and Eve. All throughout history, the powerful have brought death to the weak in order to subjugate. In response, the weak have consolidated their power to bring a reign of terror to their oppressors ultimately becoming that which they have feared and despised. At the end of all that conflict, only one victor stands over the field of battle: Death.

However, we serve the Lord of Life. The whole of scriptures affirm over and over that the one true God is about Life and not Death. His whole plan from Genesis to Revelation is the renewal of eternal life to both individuals and to all of creation. Black lives and the lives of all people matter to God. His agenda is always for life and who ever has the power of life in their hands will have to give account for their actions to the God of Life. Jesus was never going to lead a bloody revolution to defeat Rome by the sword. He ultimately used death against itself, undoing it by the power of the resurrection.

In worship, we can respond to #BlackLivesMatter by affirming that Death has no victory or sting. We go back to the cross and the empty tomb over and over to remember that no matter how many lives are lost to oppression, the perishable will be raised again imperishable. This is not to deny the pain of grief and loss. Nor is it about brushing off the anger that comes from murder and other unjust deaths. Rather, the resurrection is a firm foundation in the midst of the shifting sands of history and culture. The resurrection has been the confidence for Christians throughout the ages to stand against violent oppression  from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr.  Sing with joy knowing that Death is ended! No power that holds death in its hand will ever win the victory over the God of Life.

Fear and Death are the ultimate diseases that produce the symptoms that we have in our community today: racism, violence, oppression, injustice, vengeance, vandalism, discrimination, etc. Protestors have been shutting down interstates and staging “die-ins” around our country to bring attention to these symptoms. If we respond to symptoms without the power of Love and Life found in the gospel, which are the antidote to Fear and Death, then we will only be treating the surface issues. As worship leaders or planners, we can lead songs, prayers, and creeds to reaffirm Love and Life in the church. May the Lord bring crowds of “sick” into our services in order to receive healing.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5

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Messes and miracles

IMG_2513This past weekend, I led worship with my brothers and sisters at the New City South worship site to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. It was a good time. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about God’s faithfulness in the midst of some pretty severe trials. It is a miracle that this congregation survived but I suppose the same can be said of any Spirit-filled congregation. The power of God is not the most evident reason for the existence of any congregation. If it isn’t, then we’re nothing more than a social organization.

This upcoming weekend, I get to leave my life in St Louis for a resort in West Palm Beach, Florida in order to lead worship at a fundraiser weekend for Serge. Unfortunately, I can’t bring my wife with me. However, my dad will be there and I’m looking forward to quality time with him as we play music together and get one last taste of warm weather before ol’ Jack Frost gets to work nipping at noses in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, we’re wrestling once again with volunteer participation in the music ministry. The Choir has averaged less than 10 people at rehearsals for the past few weeks. For some reason, available sopranos are hard to find in the praise team and choir. I’ve lost a couple of musician/leader this fall to other churches and some musicians have been even absent from worship services in general. What causes the eb and flow of available servants? It might just be the natural effects of overbooked schedules, cold and flu season, midterm school work and post-season sports, the list goes on and on… It’s a wonder we get anything done in the church. At this time in the choir season, we ask for renewed commitments, we evaluate logistical barriers to participation, we pray and worry, and worry and pray. And when there’s nothing else left to do, we take a deep breath and plunge into the holidays, holding our breath till January when we’ll exhale just long enough to get ready for the conferences and concerts that come up in the 1st quarter.

It’s a miracle that we ever survive this mess. That’s the thing about God’s power, it takes a mess and makes it a miracle.

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New Guitar: Godin A6 Ultra

godinI bought a new guitar, y’all. The last time I bought a guitar was in 2000, so I’m going to relish this moment for a while – bear with me.

I was thinking about a new guitar for a long time because I needed an acoustic guitar that would be easy to travel with and still be useful in my church applications. I already had a Gibson J-200 with a basic piezo bridge pick up. This is a beautiful guitar and it sounds great, but it’s huge! I have a gig case for it and it feels like carrying a cello around. In college, I custom ordered a ATA flight case for it and that case is huge as well. The flight case also began to show wear even after only flying with it a few times. I also came to prefer carrying my instrument onto the plane for obvious reasons.

So, I looked into selling my J-200. I looked up the serial number and “blue book” value. It’s not a cheap guitar. In fact, the process made me realize that I love this instrument and I don’t want to sell it. I want to pass it on to my children’s children.

I started to look into dreadnaughts and the Taylor “concert” style guitars. These all looked like great instruments, but I was not convinced that they would be any better to fly with or would be that different from my current instrument to really justify the purchase. I was also looking at Godin guitars which I had always been interested in. I especially began to notice them after I saw Jaime Valle play one in a club in San Diego. Godin’s have a thin body shape like an electric guitar. They are instruments designed for stage performance and not recording or “unplugged” performance.

Then I came across the Gidin A6 Ultra. It’s basically an acoustic guitar with that thin chambered body of the Godin. But they added a humbucker pickup so that it’s basically capable of both electric or acoustic sounds. It’s not the first guitar to ever do this, but it’s pretty affordable and it also looks great. Honestly, I’m not a fan of sci-fi look of the Parker Fly guitar. It’s also more like an acoustic guitar that can do electric, so in that sense, it sounds like an arch-top electric.

I was able to really try it out this weekend and there are a few things I need to work out. One is that the piezo lacks gain. Even though there is a battery powered preamp in the guitar, my sound guy was saying that he had to crank the gain up on the acoustic sound. We might try an active DI next time and see how that helps. I’m also temped to get one of these, except it means another $200.

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What does the song “Break Every Chain” really mean?

This song kind of blew up at our church this past summer and it’s really struck a chord especially as we’ve been processing the Ferguson mess. We first sung it at the end of “Jesus at the Center” and we didn’t have to explain much after singing the last verse of that song “Jesus at the center of your church…every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess you, Jesus”

A friend of mine recently wrote to me asking if we sing the song and what I thought about it having a “Word of Faith” kind of vibe to it. That whole, “speak the name of Jesus and your dreams will become manifest” sort of thing. Still, there’s plenty of biblical examples of the role of the Messiah in breaking the chains of the prisoner and the captive. In addition, you can find this stuff in many of “the good old hymns” too:

You can find it in Wesley:

“Jesus the name that charms our fears
That bids our sorrows cease
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears
‘Tis life and health and peace

He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin
He sets the pris’ner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me”

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee”

And you can find it in Watts:

“Blessings abound wherever He reigns
The prisoner leaps to loose His chains
The weary come home and find their rest
And all the sons of want are blessed”

I think that this song works best if we maintain that “the name of Jesus” is not some kind of incantation, but rather a confession. A confession in particular that “Jesus” is the only name by which we are saved and the only name that we call Lord. His name stands forever as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in an eternal kingdom where all forms of slavery have been defeated. Through that confession and the praise of his name, Paul and Silas had their chains literally fall off. In the name of Jesus, we are no-longer slaves to sin but sons and daughters and fellow heirs with Christ.

I’m not going to say every church should sing it, but it especially struck a chord with my church. We followed the song with prayers for the chains of sin to be broken in our lives as well as the chains of injustice and addiction that hold our communities in bondage. The name of Jesus is the only power by which racism, violence, drugs, hate, fear, etc can be overcome. If you still are concerned about the meaning of the song being misunderstood, you could pair the song with a hymn like “And Can It Be” to drive home that there is power in the name of Jesus because of the work that Jesus accomplished in the cross and the resurrection.

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Joy and Sorrow

Kirk Ward:

I’m re-blogging this as well – It’s a post by my wife, Sarah.

Originally posted on Life on Maple:

It’s my first day alone…in so long. I had four kids all summer. I love and delight in all of them but it was hard work negotiating the appointments of two new foster placements (back to back) and daily life with 4 kids. School started this week and I have so much work to catch up on. But I find myself scrolling through facebook and my mind wandering. My brain hasn’t had time to process for the past several months, it’s going crazy with all the silence in my house.

This week is a mix of emotions. Saturday night a teenage boy in St. Louis was shot by a cop. The details of what happened are contradictory. One side says the boy attacked the cop. The other side says the cop harassed the boy and shot him repeatedly as he tried to run away. I don’t know the truth, I…

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Answering Trial With Triumph

Kirk Ward:

I’m sharing this with a hearty “amen”!

Originally posted on Sean & Michelle in STL:

 

Prayer and Fellowship in the St. Louis Metro Area

Wednesday, 10am at First Baptist Church in Ferguson: 333 N Florissant Rd.

prayer, fellowship and clean up in the community

Wednesday, 6:30pm at First Baptist Church in Ferguson: 333 N Florissant Rd.

Wednesday, 7pm at New City Fellowship in University City: 1483 82nd Blvd.

Thursday, 5:30pm at South City Church: 2109 S. Spring Ave.

prayer, worship, and Q&A with Dawn Jones and Mike Higgins. Childcare provided

I will update this list as I hear of more. Please give me dates and times as you hear of them! michelle@southcitychurch.com


 Maranatha, Lord Jesus

Overwhelmed and frustrated with so many recent events in our world, and specifically in our city, I sent a text message to my bright lights and dear family in Tennessee, affectionately dubbed “Team Ellis”. Among other things, I wrote: “St. Louis, y’all. St. Louis”

Karen replied: “Girl, our whole…

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