The Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia is Rector of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Albuquerque, NM and has been a presenter at Music that Makes Community events since 2013.
Here's a video of Sylvia leading I Feel It in My Heart at our MMC Presenters Retreat in September, 2015.
I’m a new rector (that’s Episcopalian for “senior pastor”). I’ve been in my current congregation for four months now. We’re a small Episcopal parish (50-75 people on an average Sunday) with an amazing location across the street from the University of New Mexico.
Over my first few months as a new rector, I’ve been profoundly grateful for the ways that my leadership—not just my musical leadership, but my spiritual leadership—has been shaped by the practices of Music that Makes Community. Improvising, risk-taking, listening, inviting, noticing, making mistakes, sharing leadership, negotiating uncertainty, claiming authority with grace in order to help a community discover it’s voice—this is what pastoral leadership, at its best, is all about.
I’m also curious about how the practice of singing paperless music is already beginning to shape and re-shape our community. It’s definitely a stretch for them. I mean, transitions are hard, so the community is already a little anxious. They are anxious, in part, to do things “right” and to please and impress me, their new rector. I know that won’t last, which is why I decided to jump right in and start introducing a few paperless songs in worship right away, before the magic wears off.
For starters, there was a small once-a-month bilingual Eucharist on Sunday evenings. They had been having trouble finding and keeping a musician for the service, so when I arrived they weren’t singing at all. (Our Sunday morning church organist, who has served the church for 40+ years was not looking for a Sunday night gig.) So....how about we try singing some simple paperless music in Spanish and English?
Then my husband noticed a long awkward pause at the beginning of communion on Sunday mornings, while all of the altar party and servers and organist received communion. Why don’t we try a paperless song at that point? How about a paperless song by candlelight to conclude our Tuesday night Campus Ministry meetings? Or to gather the community in the courtyard of the church (and later at the zoo) for the blessing of the animals on St. Francis Day? Or in procession across the street to the UNM campus to celebrate our first “Mass on the Grass?” There were SO MANY places to add paperless music into the life of the community without subtracting a single beautiful, beloved hymn from Sunday morning worship!
It hasn’t been easy. I still look out and see people looking slightly panicked, or flipping frantically through the bulletin, trying to find the music for the communion song. But with each passing week I look out and notice more and more people looking up from their bulletins and out and around—at each other, and at me—to figure out what it is we’re doing together. One parishioner will still knit his brow and come in on Monday morning to tell me it feels awkward when we sing the song at communion, because he’s never quite sure when the song is over. I agree. It is a little awkward. But I believe it is a generative awkwardness. It is the awkwardness of discovering that we can make decisions together by listening to each other, and we can make beauty together even when it isn’t perfect.
The most important discovery, I believe, is the discovery that things can get better. That we can get better. The first week we sang a paperless “Alleluia” it was disastrous. The second week it was pathetic. The third week it was not dreadful. And the fourth week—it was pretty dang awesome, if I do say so myself! And that, I hope, will become the pattern for our congregational experiments and adventures (musical and otherwise) in the years to come. We try. We notice. We try again. We notice. We try again. We notice. We grow. And we praise God!