Over the years I have been blessed to work with amazing colleagues. In larger congregations, an effective staff team makes all the difference and working as part of a team like that has been part of my pleasure in serving here at Plymouth for the second time! Thank you!
Four years ago, when I arrived as your Sabbatical Senior Minister, I had the great honor of welcoming Mark Heiskanen to your staff as the new Director of Music. What a joy to be able to renew that working relationship.
I freely confess that I worship in the music and these weeks have been a blessing. Every Sunday is a smorgasbord of hymns, choral selections and instrumental music that have comforted, challenged, enlightened, and carried the scripture and sermon message the pastors and particularly this pastor has sought to convey.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that most members of a given congregation have little idea how a worship service comes together, often viewing the morning worship service as a series of isolated pieces that are randomly strung together to make up the hour. While that might happen in some places, that has little to do with my experience and nothing to do with how that happens here or in the other amazing congregations where I have served.
Worship themes are often established months in advance through collaborative effort. Often the Season of the Church’s life or the Lectionary sets the theme. Then the tone for a given service is established in dialogue between the pastor and the musician. The best musicians choose music that not only carries the theme, but enlarges it, often using a prism that magnifies and adds color to the theme drawing on texts and tunes traditional and contemporary.
For example, on September 5, when I decided that I would focus on 9/11 in my sermon, Mark suggested several hymns and other musical selections. Then a fluid process with lots of dialogue began. My initial idea of using a piece of poetry written since 9/11 as a key worship component evolved as Jim Heaton, a Plymouth member, wisely suggested alternative poetry. The musical choices evolved in response to this suggestion. The service included music from contemporary selections to traditional but none of it was random or offered without reflection and serious thought.
The early service was non-traditional and the later service traditional, but both services flowed from a place of reflection and remembrance to affirmation. Both services concluded with the great praise tune AZMON (O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing), set to words by UCC pastor Miriam Winter, that present a powerful image of God’s reign of peace. In my mind it was an amazing Sunday, but more importantly it was a Sunday when the people you call to serve you did their best!
It may be no surprise to you that I have often received criticism about my hymn selections or the types of music I have encouraged partner musicians to perform. I came to accept those critics as people Jesus calls me to love, and to meet that criticism with a forthright expression of my goals in worship leadership and planning. (Just ask me—I’ll tell you why I did what I did that you didn’t happen to like!)
In good conscience I know I cannot be a pastor who uses the same dozen or so hymns repeatedly or tolerates safe chestnuts that don’t break any new ground just because someone (especially me!) likes them. At the same time, my goals as a worship leader need to reflect the call to respect and inclusivity that makes our tradition so remarkable! It’s all part of a creative process that is ongoing. Thank you all for the chance to serve again on the staff of this amazing congregation!
Rev. Ron Patterson
From July 12 to October 3, the Rev. Ron Patterson will be with us again, having served as a sabbatical interim four years ago, and then serving as our interim conference minister during The Rev. Sue Artt’s sabbatical. Ron retired as Senior Minister of Naples United Church of Christ in Florida. Ron and his wife have family here in Fort Collins: their daughter is a member of Plymouth, and their grandchildren are active in Sunday school. Pronouns: he/him.