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Conference highlights ‘Music as Ministry’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The 2008 Baptist Church Music Conference -– with “Rebuilding the Wall: Reclaiming Music as Ministry” as its theme –- focused not just on music’s place in a worship service.

“In the next two and one-half days, we want to be reminded what it means to minister through music in order to accomplish the work of the church -– worship, training and evangelism,” BCMC President Thomas W. Bolton wrote in his greeting to participants who gathered June 15-17 at New Orleans’ First Baptist Church.

To that end, the conference’s sessions provided a diverse look at what a church’s music ministry can be.

The first night included a performance by the New Orleans Baptist Community Chorus, a combined choir directed by Ken Gabrielse. The group was founded in 2007 by Gabrielse, who chairs New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s division of church music ministries, and fellow NOBTS church music professor Benjamin Harlan.

“[The community chorus] came about when Dr. Harlan and I wanted to provide a festival choir opportunity to people in the area who had been singing in a church choir prior to [Hurricane] Katrina,” Gabrielse said.

Due to lingering displacement of members and financial difficulties, many area churches are not able to support a choir. Gabrielse said the community chorus gives members “a place to fellowship and sing choral literature” that may not be available otherwise.

Following the combined choir, the New Orleans-based interracial gospel choir Shades of Praise sang.

The two performances highlighted the unity possible within the Christian community through the power of the Gospel, Gabrielse said.

“What unifies us is our love for God and the recognition that music can help us bridge some of the manmade gulfs that we have created between people,” he said. “Dr. Tom Bolton, president of the Baptist Church Music Conference, wanted to start the conference with a picture of how music has helped unify people in this area.” (Bolton also is dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of church music and worship.)

Topics on the second day of the conference ranged from music ministry for students and drama to the use of hymns and praise songs in worship services.

Randy Edwards issued a call for churches to reinvigorate and reclaim music ministry’s role in ministering to students. Edwards, an accomplished conductor and minister of music, is the founder of YouthCUE, an organization dedicated to influencing students through youth choir experiences.

LifeWay Worship’s Patrick Watts previewed the new LifeWay Worship Project, which connects a traditional printed hymnal with an array of online and digital features.

Renowned hymn writer Keith Getty, best known for the modern hymn “In Christ Alone,” headlined the Monday afternoon “Reclaiming Music Ministry Through Worship” session.

“I am a modern hymn writer,” Getty said as he introduced himself to the crowd of musicians. “I am a practitioner of church music. That is my life’s passion.”

Commenting on the songs sung in churches throughout the world, Getty said, “The words we put in the people’s minds, emotions and intellects that they sing as congregations are so important.”

Getty offered two emphases or distinctives he aims for in writing modern hymns: “… number one, to teach the Christian faith through the songs we sing” — “that is the historic, Bible-centered Christianity, the very doctrines of our faith.”

“And, secondly, to write songs that every generation can sing,” he said.

Getty briefly taught participants some of hymns he has co-written with his wife Kristyn and Stuart Townend. Many of the hymns, while teaching important truths of the faith in the first few verses, have a last verse that answers the question, What now? Several hymns were benedictions, while the hymn “Speak, O Lord” is meant to help worshipers prepare themselves for a worship service and “Behold the Lamb” is specially written for observing the Lord’s Supper.

Other sessions of the Baptist Church Music Conference included presentations on musical drama and the role music ministry can play in evangelism and missions. Dramas performed by NOBTS professor Ed Steele and director emeritus of Southern Seminary’s Church Music Drama Theatre Mozelle Sherman were scattered throughout the conference. A portion of New Orleans’ annual Keyboards at Christmas concert was presented on the New Orleans Seminary campus. And a “N’awlins Banquet” at First Baptist Church featured a concert by the jazz trio from the French Quarter’s Court of Two Sisters restaurant.

The 2009 Southern Baptist Church Music Conference will be June 7-9 at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.
Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information on the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference annual meeting, visit www.sbcmc.org.

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  • Michael McCormack