Scott Weidler is Program Director for Worship and Music at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Chicago, IL. He is a Music that Makes Community Presenter and has been Board of Trustees Member since 2014.
Bishop Claire Schenot Burkat at the Separation Wall in the West Bank.
I was in the West Bank visiting a small village that had been cut off from neighbors and family when the Separation Wall was built through their town. This was shortly after becoming involved with Music that Makes Community. I was privileged to be part of the staff that accompanied the ELCA Conference of Bishops to the holy land. My job was coordinating their worship and leading their singing. That day in the West Bank, half the group of bishops was in a town hall listening to heart-wrenching stories while the others were at the Wall planting olive trees as a sign of peace and solidarity with the Palestinian people. It was a poignant day for everyone.
The printed schedule (which changed by the hour) said that the two groups would reconvene together for “worship” near a particular gate in the wall (which was chain link fence with barbed wire, at that point) at a certain time.
I was assured that Bp. Younan (Lutheran bishop of the Holy Land) would plan and lead that moment of worship, so I had not prepared anything. As we boarded our bus for the 10 minute drive to the place we would gather, Bp. Younan asked me if I had worship prepared. I must have hidden the terror in my face as I responded, “Yes, Bishop.”
Scott Weidler near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
In that few minutes, I checked my notes for some appropriate Scripture, recruited a reader, invited someone to lead extemporaneous prayer, and I quickly crafted a 2-part refrain for Psalm 85 around which I would improvise a chant for the verses over a drone. Standing in the middle of a dry rocky road, in the shadow of barbed wire and armed Israeli soldiers, surrounded by a pack of emotional bishops, I led the singing: “Steadfast love and faithfulness have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
I could have asked them to bring their hymnals off the bus. Any number of fine hymns could have been appropriate, but that particular moment cried out for something simple, yet extraordinary, to sing together. I have no idea what the melody was we sang that day. It was for that moment in time. It served its purpose and was gone.
Music that Makes Community had helped me imagine a different way of singing and worshiping together. It doesn’t replace the other ways I have learned and love; rather, it enhances and expands them for various contexts and moments which call for different approaches, songs, and leadership.