Jacob Slichter is an MMC presenter, writer and drummer based in Brooklyn, NY. He has been a Board of Trustees member since 2014.
Gathering a group with a paperless song is a powerful way to set the tone for connection, openness and learning in worship. Here are three of the reasons we think so, and some tips on how to start strong.
Here's a video of Marilyn Haskel leading Peace, Perfect Peace by Robinson McLellan. Its not the best quality but it is a good example since the place where Marilyn's leading, St. Paul's Chapel, is a busy space where getting the group's attention can be a challenge.
1. Gathering with a song declares, “Here WE are.”
The act of singing together creates one giant we that includes regulars and newcomers, those in grief, those amid great joy . . . everyone. A paperless gathering song can further reinforce that declaration by lifting everyone’s attention from a page to the other faces and voices in the room.
Tips for success:
Teach the whole song, even if some know it already. When leading a gathering song, teach the song, even one familiar to the entire group, as if no one knows it. Why? Because even if everyone in the room has sung the song before, and no newcomers are present, your teaching leads the group away from insider behavior and models hospitality. Thus, your leadership prepares the group to welcome and include everyone who walks through the door.
Don’t force the mood. Consider that you are leading a song, not imposing a particular mood on the group. Get people to sing together, while allowing them to occupy their varied emotional spaces. For example, consider the difference between leading with a relaxed smile that says, “Be who you are,” and with a forced smile that says, “Get with the program. We’re here to be happy!” Allowing people some space will bring forth more authentic and powerful singing.
2. Gathering with a song says, “We make this together.”
Singing together invests everyone in the room with authority. We are no longer members of an audience who cede the work to experts or performers. A gathering song can thereby remind us that from here forward, we are invested with the power to make things happen.
Tips for success:
Make a connection. Paperless song leading, which allows for more eye contact and a greater reliance on gesture, gives you a more immediate connection to the group. You can use that connection to let the group know of its power and to affirm the beauty of what it makes together.
Remember you aren’t performing, you are inviting others into learning. If you feel self-conscious about your singing voice, leading the group in song is a great way of saying, “Look, here I am, not the best singer in the room, taking the risk to sing. If I can do this, all the rest of you can too.” You can affirm this by stepping back into the group once they’ve learned the song (stepping forward when you want to bring the song to an end).
3. Gathering with a song says, “We are here to learn from each other.”
The experience of singing a gathering song can remind us that we needn’t be experts or arrive with some prior bit of knowledge in order to participate fully. We can rely not only on instruction from the song leader but also on the learning of those next to us. As MMC co-founder Donald Schell has often observed, the group learns a song before any one individual. The person standing next to you might learn the elusive third line before you do, and yet that same person may be leaning on you as you sing the second line. Singing together builds the unconscious awareness of group learning.
Tips for success:
Remember teaching is not a prelude to worship, it is an element of worship. Your eye contact, smiles, nods, and gestures can draw attention to the learning as it happens. And when some little detail—a particularly difficult passage—needs a little extra attention, you can bring the group back to repeat it until they’ve got it. Holding the group’s learning with grace and love reminds everyone that we are not here to perform, not to nail it, but to learn.
Be patient with yourself. An even more powerful way of communicating this: Hold your own learning with grace and love. If you start on the wrong pitch, flub the words, or forget the melody of the third phrase, let the group know that this, too, is okay. Forgive yourself, laugh with yourself, and thereby remind the group that they have entered a place where grace and learning go hand in hand.
Just sing. Finally, consider gathering people with singing, not with spoken text. (Try it and notice the difference. Just sing and invite. Taking this bigger risk asks for a bigger response and helps the group discover its power.) Consider how leaping straight to song communicates all of these values.
Watch the video above of “Peace, Perfect Peace” led by Marilyn Haskel. Notice how she includes everyone, brings the group into an awareness of its power to make something beautiful together, and declares, “This is a place of learning, where we find out what we are capable of doing together.”
If we learn to gather this way, imagine how these values can begin to inform all of what we do together.