What is it About Candlelight Services Anyway?

CandlelightJohn 1 ESV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

If you’re like my church, you do some sort of candlelight service during the month of December. Many churches even pair these candlelight services with the Lord’s Supper. Unlike many churches, our church opts to do this service the Sunday evening before Christmas (or Christmas Eve if it falls on a Sunday, which it does this year). This year, our service was last night, the 17th. It’s always a special time and of course the “best part” is lighting those candles…as we hear scripture about Jesus being the light of the world and how we are to take the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.

As a young boy, I looked forward to Christmas Eve Candlelight services. Perhaps it had something to do with my fascination with fire (another story!), but the experience of passing the light of Christ and in unity celebrating that the LIGHT HAS COME and kneeling to receive the body and the bread made (and still makes) a profound impression on me. Sure, singing O Holy Night and Silent Night was great, but the kinesthetic action of experiential worship made all the difference in the world to me. Together…with my family…with multiple generations of my church family…together in unity worshiping the Christ-child.

Several years ago, I was sitting in a conference and the leader asked us to jot down the most memorable worship service/experience we’d ever had a part of in our lives thus far. Of the hundred or so participants in that workshop, ALL recalled worship services that promoted something experiential. Many recalled physical acts of worship, special musical times, and the like, as worship experiences that impacted their spiritual formation in a profound way. There is a reason Howard Gardner gained so much attention in his work on the 8 multiple intelligences.   Read more about Gardner’s Theory here.   Continue reading

Xennial Christmas Music Memories

I am a Gen-X minister of music. Based on my birthdate, some would classify me as an older Millennial, but I feel like I identify with the Gen X generation more than the Millennial generation. Perhaps I feel this way because I am the third born of four children, born in 1977, and my older brothers are definitely Gen Xers. Recently, I’ve read some articles that have re-classified those of us born between 1977-1985 by grouping us into a new classification, calling us Xennials. Even one article I read called us the Oregon Trail generation. These terms are basically interchangeable because the characteristics described are synonymous. I laughed at the Oregon Trail reference, because it’s true, I definitely froze to death in Oklahoma while on the Apple II computers in the classroom-converted computer lab at my elementary school! Whatever you call us, there is definitely something about being born during a bridge period in generational history. I’ve included some articles on these terms that I think you’ll find interesting. It explains the dichotomy of being a bridger. After the articles, I’ll explain how being a Xennial has influenced my Christmas music memories and how I consider Christmas music to be a brilliant way to bridge gaps among generations.

Read here about Xennials:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/06/28/xennials_a_23006562/

http://www.businessinsider.com/people-born-between-gen-x-millennials-xennials-2017-11

Read here about the Oregon Trail:

http://thefederalist.com/2017/07/21/finally-theres-name-generation-gen-x-millennials/

Christmas Music Memories from the Xennial perspective

As a so-called Xennial, I was raised in a family with Boomer parents and Builder grandparents in the same town. I had no idea that my Christmas “traditions” were somewhat skewed by the generational traditions of my elders until much later in life. You know when I realized it? When I started projecting my own idea of what celebrating Christmas should be to my own children. Let me elaborate specifically on the musical aspect of my Christmas memories…

If you grew up in my house, you developed a fondness for Christmas carols and holiday favorites from artists such as Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters and the like. I can still see the record covers today (my absolute favorite is featured here in the cover photo); they are etched in my brain. To this day, I much prefer these renditions of familiar Christmas songs to anything newer. These songs/renditions have been my soundtrack for the season for years. I can’t hear Holly Jolly Christmas or The Christmas Song without being transported to another time and another place; it’s uncanny! However, during my formative years, I learned all kinds of new Christmas songs also that are now “classics,” such as Mary, Did You Know, Welcome to Our World, Breath of Heaven, and In the First Light, among many others. I grew fond (and still am) of so many “newer” Christmas songs, but nothing “warms my heart” like Bing, Nat, Burl, Gene, and Andy Williams!

I realize that my “bridge” status between generations allows me to “talk the talk” in a broader way than most. In fact I believe it’s a wonderful thing because I love all types of Christmas music and can lead them (generally) with ease. I also identify with both groups so I can understand the differences that divide and try to find common ground beyond our theological beliefs. However, I’ve found that people in general prefer nostalgic Christmas music, which certainly is different for everyone. It is interesting to me, however, that people of all ages have a fondness for more traditional Christmas carols. People who wouldn’t necessarily prefer hearing a choir and/or orchestra any other time of the year are suddenly rushing to services offering just that.

One of the first churches I served had multiple types of worship services with varying music types. On Christmas Eve we would host three worship services with varying styles of music similar to the styles during the rest of the year. Even though at the time our most modern worship service had the most attending, our “traditional” Christmas Eve services were always the packed out ones. I remember asking a few who never came to traditional services why they chose to attend the more traditional service on Christmas Eve. Their uniform response was…”I like singing traditional Christmas carols on Christmas Eve because it brings back many memories…it feels like Christmas to sing these familiar carols.” At the time, I remembered thinking, “of course…I feel the same way” and then just left it at that. It got me thinking later, why is this the case? Recently, I’ve been grappling with the question: what if nostalgia, for nostalgia’s sake, can be hurtful to our spiritual understanding of musical worship? Can our “hold” on tradition limit us from experiencing the joys of “new songs?” Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. When nostalgic music (and it can be newer and nostalgic) is more important to us than “putting a new song in our mouths,” we can alienate others.
  2. The converse is true. When we try to forget the perceived “tired and worn out” songs and assume that those who like them are emotionless, out-dated, and tired in favor of only new songs, we can alienate others.
  3. Because Christmas carols (especially those found in most hymnals) are universally sung and known, they can provide an excellent way to bridge the gap in services that typically don’t sing “older” songs. Want to try intergenerational worship services at Christmas? Sing something everyone knows (carols) even if the carols are accompanied by different instrumentation that you prefer; it is a great way to start.

If you’re like me, and newer Christmas music is familiar, but not your favorite, you are not alone. This does not give you a pass to forgo newer Christmas music, however. It’s important to remember that of all the times of the year, Christmas is the most nostalgic, so use it to your advantage to incorporate new and old music in worship services. You’ll find more “modern” versions of Christmas carols than anything else newly composed. Use new versions of older carols, along with new songs to bridge music gaps in your services that speak to all generations.

Reflections from Christmas at Ivy Creek

Christmas at Ivy Creek is always a highlight of the musical year here at our church. This year we had over 1200 guests in three presentations, 73 singers, 28 in the orchestra, 30 in our older children’s choir, 22 in the youth choir, 5 working in audio/visual, one narrator, and a partridge in a pear tree. Approximately 160 of our Ivy Creek people of all ages served in worship ministry this weekend. It is truly a joy to serve with these people.

Each year, my goal is to provide a worship experience that allows our intergenerational worship ministry the opportunity to share their musical talents. Not only do I intend to use groups of all ages, but I try very hard to select music that is varied in style. We sang congregationally as well, but here is a list of the songs and arrangers we used this Christmas in the link below. I always like knowing what types of things my colleagues are using each Christmas so I can get ideas for future years.  This year I pulled several things that have been around for awhile and mixed them with some new things. Don’t underestimate a song that is 10-15 years old and reuse it when it works. If it’s still available, it’s probably because it’s a good tune and worth repeating. I ALWAYS use things I’ve used before if it’s appropriate and it fits. 100 percent of the time, these tunes are some of our choir’s favorites. This year is no exception. This year, we used several tunes I used in the early 2000s and our choir LOVED them.

CIC 17 order

Finding things that I know will work musically/textually for my groups is essential. Here are the criteria I use when selecting music for Christmas at Ivy Creek each year in NO particular order:

  1. The music must be varied stylistically. There must be a balance between new and old (familiar). There must be SOMETHING from the major music types. I try to find something that hits black and southern gospel, a carol arrangement or two, something more “choral” or traditional, contemporary Christmas music, something “fun” (perhaps even secular).
  2. The music must be “catchy.” Call it cliche, but I believe if you want people to enjoy singing and playing in your music ministry, they have to love the music. Otherwise, the congregation will not enjoy listening if the choir and orchestra is not engaged.  I have a theory that selecting music is 70 percent of what makes a good event. I don’t think there is an exact science to it, because every church is different, but I do believe we should examine what characteristics are common in popular music and apply some of that to our selection of choral music. Personally, I’m listening for the “hook” in the song. Does the song grab my attention by the first chorus?
  3. The text and music should complement each other. Musicians study word painting in music as part of their training. We should never stop this! In fact I try to capitalize on it. When rhythmic figures and musical phrasing lend themselves to accentuating the text, we do that to bring out the message of the song.
  4. Some of the music must challenge my singers and players. Every year there is a piece or two that everyone knows will require some more time. I like that, because it gives us a goal to stretch our abilities. It’s definitely more satisfying in the end!
  5. The texts (each song and collectively) must tell the gospel story. I always, always make sure we never forget to mention the cross, the resurrection, and the second coming. We have JOY of the Christmas story and HOPE because of what happens AFTER he was sent.

I’m praying for many of my friends who have musical presentations in the coming weeks. May the gospel truth be shared boldly and the Holy Spirit prick the hearts of those listening to respond in faith!