THE SONG GOES ON – FUNERAL AS WORSHIP
Saturday I attended the memorial service celebrating the life of music minister, songwriter, Bill George. I did not know Bill well, having assisted him on a couple of occasions when he was considering church changes, and having talked at length with him through periods of worship environment transitions in churches where he was serving. I wish I had known him better. He certainly had a strong reputation of effective ministry through music in the churches he served. Through the memorial service Bill’s family and their churches bore faithful witness in the time of loss and separation that occurs in the death of a loved one whose passing comes unexpectedly. The need for Christian community is perhaps most strongly recognized and expressed in such times of sorrow and struggle to understand.
I believe that each of the pastors who officiated or spoke mentioned the music of this service, given that the deceased was a music minister. I believe one of the officiants described the service as being walled in by these songs of faith and ministry. Indeed, there were deeply touching moments in songs sung, several of which that were written, or co-written by Bill George himself. By inclusion of songs left with us from his pen, we were perhaps reminded that there is a sense in which he continues to participate in singing worship with us. Worshipers were ministered to through yielded artistry turned ministry of the musicians. Of particular effect for me were two songs shared by the two singers I knew personally, Karla Worley, and our dear fellow minister musician, Jim Murray. Karla sang lyrics she had written for which Bill wrote the music, We Need the Lord. So apropos in this setting of sadness and struggle were Karla’s lines,
We need His light to see
What is eternity
In ordinary daily things
We need the Lord
We need to cling to Him
When we have reached the end
Of all our earthly hopes and dreams
Jim Murray’s sweet spirit exuded through his moving rendition of the assuring, It Is Well with My Soul. The choral music I will note more fully, but must say it was outstanding. My understanding is that the choir was comprised of members of the First Presbyterian Church of Nashville’s choir augmented by singers from churches Bill had served as music minister and others who wanted to sing. The church’s resonant acoustics aided the effect of the music’s ministry.
The service was a refreshing reminder to me of the power of worship as ministry. That is to say, worship plays a powerful role as a means of pastoral care, edifying fellowship, maturing discipleship, humbling confession, and profound witness . The worshiping church ministers through and in its worship. As mentioned before, this particular worship was peppered with ministry songs that expressed cries of the heart recognizing our confessed need and God’s sole sufficiency to provide. We were also privileged and further engaged as participants to sing Trinitarian praise in Holy, Holy, Holy, and Jim Murray invited us to join shared assurance by inviting us to join in on the refrain of It Is Well. Given the memorial setting, our gathered singing connected us with the Church universal that sings, and reminded us that one day we will “join the everlasting song and crown Him Lord of All!” The corporate prayers and recitation of The Apostles’ Creed joined us in shared humility, assurance, and proclamation of Gospel. The musical exclamation points of overwhelming note in this service were the choral anthems. It may be because I know the anthem so well, having led and/or sung it so many times, but the moment I was lost in abandon occurred in the ending expression of My Eternal King, as the choir swells to fortissimo and proclaims the 17th century text set by Jane Marshall,
Not for the hope of winning Heav’n or of escaping Hell
Not for the hope of gaining aught, not seeking a reward
But as Thyself has loved me, O Everloving Lord
E’en so I love Thee, and will love, and in Thy praise will sing
Solely because Thou art my God and King.
Followed by a corporate prayer for renewal, and then finally we stood to sing the Fred Pratt Green text, When in Our Music God is Glorified. The sum total of worship’s point was made crystal clear. God be glorified! It is amazing how abandoning self in a community of selves to this higher call holds salvific power.
We sometimes forget that funerals, or memorial services honoring departed loved ones are to be first and foremost worship. Church leaders have a serious responsibility to help families comprehend that funerals are not ultimately about the loved one being memorialized, but about the Christ whose death paid the price for our sins, and in whose resurrection lies life eternal. While personal antidotes and warm expressions regarding the departed can be important aspects of personal ministry, they cannot become the essence of the purpose of our gathering. Rather, as was so evident in the service mentioned above, the central theme of our worship is the core mystery of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Uncategorized, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship