As we plan and offer worship through these pandemic times I have been needled with the question: what can a contemporary Christian worship service be like? We certainly know it can be virtual. At once removed but uniquely intimate. Perhaps evidenced by watching on Sunday mornings in your own home, with your own coffee mug, and in your favorite leisurely nightwear! Personally, my view on this topic has evolved incredibly over the past ten years and particularly in my tenure here with you. Traditional worship is the backbone worship format in our community but there is so much more.
The Vespers service has been a particular blessing during this pandemic. Based on the ancient office of the canonical hours, this brief 30 minute prayerful service is intended to be a source of rejuvenation and healing as the day draws to a close. A service of comfort and hope. A reminder of the eternal Light in the darkness. Chants or hymns are sung interspersed with prayers, poems, and scripture. Musically, one can expect a broad range of contemplative styles drawing from the Celtic, Ionian, Anglican, and Taizé traditions with touches of jazz, folk, and minimalist influences. Those who have attended the 6:00 p.m. services will often find many similarities, including the regular use of the sung "Prayer of Jesus" by John Philip Newell.
Another similarity with the 6:00 p.m. service is the free and improvisatory nature of the music-making. I will often say to the musicians who participate that we never play the same thing twice! I have yet to do so with the "Prayer of Jesus."
We also explore the connections between sacred and supposed secular music by recognizing the intersecting spiritual dimensions. You will have noticed we occasionally have a "6:00 p.m. @10:00 a.m." service which has featured music by The Beatles, David Bowie, even Dave Brubeck. The structured appeal and respect for history of traditional worship is beautiful. The music and ritual honed over the centuries is a treasure to the church at large. But it is a blessing that at Plymouth we have the freedom to create new traditions with just as much intention: all for the glory of God.
A revelation to me was in my preparations for this week's 7:00 p.m. Vespers service on August 5. I knew I wanted to compose a chant or two. Arrangement and reharmonization is a weekly task for this service just as it was for the 6:00 p.m. But I wanted to do something different....and then the floodgates opened. I did not so much compose all four chants but rather notated what was flooding into my mind. The results were satisfying and surprising in their insistence to come to life. And I thought how wonderful to be so inspired and contribute to a service at Plymouth in this way. And to have the freedom to do so. The process and experience was no different than composing for any band I was in back in the day.
Diversity at Plymouth comes in many forms. It is the one aspect of being here that continually enriches. From my corner of worship life, it is a blessing to be a part of. I invite you to take part in Vespers, perhaps this week, and immerse yourself in Plymouth's vital worship life. Even during a pandemic we can be connected, if not in person, in spirit.
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.