Rosi Penner Kaufman, Music Ministries Director at Rainbow, will preach this coming Sunday on the theme of Mennonites and music. She has much wisdom and experience to offer us on this subject. Here are links to just a few of her written reflections on this subject:
To further prime the pump for Sunday, I share this reflection on Mennonites and music by Melissa Florer Bixler, Pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church:
…If there is one thing I know about Mennonites, it is that we sing. We sing in Spanish and Swati and, yes, in low German. We sing on school buses and around camp fires, in refugee camps and at protests. Mennonites sing in four-part harmony, to the rhythm of the djembe, with guitars and organs, a cappella and to the sweet sound of the Flutes of the Spirit.
Gathered here we are a body, a body that sings.
Singing is one way to understand this life, this particular life of faith that flows out of Anabaptism, the faith we are working out within this context of the body of the Mennonite church here in Raleigh.
What I love about singing is that everyone’s voice matters. There is no one without a gift, even if that gift happens to be in the area of sound equipment rather than the singing itself. When we sing, we need each other’s voices. We listen to the voices around us. We adjust our sound – not too loud, not to soft. We are best when our voices blend, all together, when all the parts are covered, when no voice is left out.Singing is a way to think about how we do church together, our Mennonite way of being the church. We all bring something to this congregation. What we say here is that no one is without a gift and that no gift is more important than another. To make the song work, to make it worship, we need everyone – me no less than you.
That’s something we learned from the very first Mennonites. Our church was birthed out of a conviction that it wasn’t just the bishop or the pope or even the priest who interceded between the people and God…We all bring something to the body. We all have a voice to lend to the choir. And without all the voices we are incomplete. We need you, not just to show up on Sunday but to preach and teach, to serve the bread and cup and to nurture, to care and prophesy.
What we also find when we sing is that our song is not a possession, something we can tie down. Communal singing is a gift, one that we simultaneously give and receive. We don’t have control over it. We get to be a part of it, to participate in it, the gift of it, of figuring things out together.
Being Mennonite is like that, too. Coming into this faith is something that happens to us, and is always happening to us. Being Mennonite is not something rooted in birth or cultural traditions. It’s a disposition of patience, a slow coming into the life of a community, being vulnerable to one another’s voices, of learning how to receive the gift of another.
…There are many times when I’ve secretly seated myself behind the strongest alto I can find so that I can get through a difficult harmony in a complicated hymn. And when we sing songs that are new to me, songs you have brought, I need you to teach them to me. We hear each other’s stories, learn each other’s songs, and we’re open to having ourselves be changed in the process. We come both offering and receiving, recognizing that being incorporated into the life of the church means simultaneously taking up practices that may have been foreign to us, but also bringing what has formed our faith over time.
Perhaps most remarkably, in Mennonite churches we sing the songs of our historic enemies. Each time we sing one of the old Lutheran or Catholic hymns, I remember that the first generation of Anabaptists were killed for their faith by the Lutheran and the Catholic churches. Even the word “Anabaptist,” was given to us by our enemies. We call ourselves “the re-baptizers,” a name shouted in scorn before drownings and burning and beatings.
We are a body that has found a way to sing the songs of our enemies, to recognize that reconciliation is always possible, even when it takes patience, even when the horrors and crimes are immense.
We can sing like this because of Jesus. We sing like this because you have been brought here by the conviction that ours is a song the world needs to hear, because we believe that God’s peace is making all things new. We sing because this is where the body of Christ happens – here, in our invitation to others to bring their voices, to bring their gifts into God’s life.
We can only know this Jesus when we follow him in the body, only when our bodies are engaged in the work of being disciples. We sing because we see in Jesus the one who showed us the way of peace, God’s son who shows us how to love our enemies, how to act in justice, how to persist in persecution, when all seems lost.
Being Mennonite insists that we are a people whose faith takes place in bodies that sing, bodies that find their way into a common life. This life is constantly changing and always near to the cry “Jesus is Lord.” We are a body always ready to see how the Holy Spirit will act among us in a new way.
…A few months ago we had a guest preacher join us from EMU. We were in the middle of the soundtrack of faith Sunday school class, the one where each week we sang different songs that have formed our faith over time. When Daryl walked into our worship space he saw some of us sitting in a circle and he asked me, “is this your choir?” I told him, “this is some of them!”
As Mennonites, we’re all the choir, learning from one another, adjusting our voices, finding out what we have to give up and what we bring, patiently discovering the gifts we each bring, the part which we will sing.
That’s something I’ve always loved about the Mennonite church. There’s no rule book to read. In fact, our confessions, our statements of belief are ever changing. Our confessions of faith respond to the current questions, the current claims, what we’re asking right now. We find out how to be Mennonite by being Mennonite. We learn how to sing by singing together, listening for the parts over time, asking for help when we can’t quite get the tune, or realizing that we need to sing a new song, that the songs we are singing now aren’t the songs we need to be singing.
Baptism is the time when we say yes to singing together, when we say we’re ready to listen, adjust our voices, that we’re ready to change the way we sing to adjust to others. This is the time we say we’re ready to figure out how our voice fits into the choir. We’re ready to stick it out together, even when we’re not singing so great.
You can read her full article here, along with other sermons she has preached recently on the subject of Being Mennonite: https://signonthewindow.wordpress.com/