“Lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing!” (Psalm 98:5)
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
So begins our opening hymn this Sunday, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” An earworm if ever there was one, “Leaning” is a feel-good gospel song that can’t help but lift the spirit. That’s why I love singing in church: as we lift our voices together in praise, we lose ourselves in the “joy divine” – even if only temporarily. While we may not be able to forget our worries or fears altogether, we are invited to lay them down for a moment in order to participate in something bigger than we are. My grandmother, a woman who was not particularly given to displays of emotion of any kind, used to talk regularly about being “moved to tears” when singing alto in her church choir. She couldn’t explain those tears, and they always surprised her; it was as if something deep inside her welled up, inexplicably, and she couldn’t help herself. I didn’t have the language for it then, but I know now that my grandmother was describing experiences of God. Music is that powerful.
Here in this parish we are blessed with a rich and varied tradition of music – which is fitting, given that St. Dunstan himself was a renowned musician and visual artist. I regularly give thanks that our congregation sings, joyfully and well! (Trust me: I do not take that for granted, having spent the past eight years trying to cajole reluctant teenagers to open their mouths in Chapel.) The good acoustics in the chancel help, but there’s more to the magic than that. Even the most enthusiastic singers, in the best worship space, need skilled leadership who knows how to support the voices in the room without overwhelming them. This is where St. Dunstan’s is particularly blessed. Following the departure of Michael Austin at the end of last year, Jeff MacKnight wisely appointed Joey Arkfeld as Interim Music Director, with the understanding that it would be up to the new Rector to call a permanent musician of his or her choosing. Well, I may be many things, but foolish is not one of them: I am delighted to announce that, effective immediately, Joey’s title no longer includes the word “Interim.” He is here to stay, as our incomparable permanent Music Director, and I could not be more pleased. Please join me in celebrating this and all our blessings in our worship this week. Let us make a joyful noise!