There is more than one type of sermon when considering the impact of a church’s music ministry. There is one spoken by the pastor and a musical “sermon” that represents the message given.
At First United Methodist Church in Victoria there are two distinct types of music used in their worship services, a traditional choir with pipe organ in the main church and an adjacent service called Ignite which uses contemporary music to help people to reach out to God.
Senior Pastor Wade Powell said some people criticize contemporary music as “singing Jesus love songs” in which you can substitute the name of any boy or girl. Some, he says, think they lack substance. At the other end of the spectrum are those who say traditional church music is boring and slow.
“In many ways, it comes down to preference,” Powell said. “I don’t know if you would call it theological differences. In my mind, these are differences in where the music takes the worshiper.
Powell said that in his church, they refer to music from Ignite worship services as music of praise and worship while traditional music is described as hymns.
Associate Pastor Amanda Banda leads Ignite. She explained that contemporary music helps build the flow of worship during the service. “You want to create energy,” she said, “and prepare their hearts for the message.”
“I try to be prayerful in choosing the music,” said contemporary worship leader Will Durham. “A lot of times I look at the scriptures that are used, or Amanda sends me her sermon ahead of time, and I think about the themes.” Durham is looking for music “that will allow people to express their praise to God and be able to connect with him and just be able to spend that time with him.”
Durham did not study music as a career, but grew up in a musical household. “It was part of my life growing up through choirs and playing instruments. … Some families want their kids to do athletics, and they play baseball or football, but we had to play instruments in my family,” he said.
Durham said he and the band Ignite weren’t there as performers. He sees his role as one that allows him to use his spiritual gifts to lead others in worship, “and to help others connect with God.”
Inside the main church, Keith Cox, the acting music director, rehearses weekly with his small choir. He plays the church’s magnificent pipe organ.
Similar to the contemporary Ignite service, Cox reflects on what the text will be this Sunday “in terms of themes, scripture readings, what the pastor is going to preach about and see where we can try to tie the text of the music with that.
“I’m also looking at what’s going to make sense for the whole thing as well as for me,” he said. “Making sure that the parts and everything work with the composition of people that we have. And, again, that the text and the words have good substance to them.
When Cox demonstrates his playing on the pipe organ, it becomes apparent that he is experienced and comfortable with the instrument.
“Besides playing with my hands, I also play with my feet,” he said, pointing to the crankset under his feet.
Then he showed the versatility of the instrument.
“The thing with an organ is that we have all these different sounds that we can work with. … We can have something with a nice bass sound, and we have kind of a nice sound floating around here. He moved a variety of stop buttons surrounding the three-level keyboard “But we can also do things where we mix different voices together.”
Cox, who is also an accomplished singer, describes her role as complex.
“One thing I find difficult is that when I try to do that, I do the backing; I try to keep time; and I also try to listen, to hear what we need to work on.
Her choir is a mix of men and women, all of whom have spent many years singing in the choir.
Trudy Wortham grew up singing in a church choir in Port Lavaca and loves “just being able to sing praises to God”.
Esther Mitchell grew up around church music. “My father was a preacher. There were four of us, and when he had a service, my siblings and I were usually the music special, and my mom was a pianist. So we started early as a family.
Mitchell sang in the college choir. Everyone in the family was musical and could sing, but she is the one who enjoys singing choral music the most.
“I love choral music and I love singing church music,” she said. She wishes there were more people involved in the choirs. “It’s a real privilege.”
When asked why she liked classics over contemporary music, she joked, “I guess it’s because I’m old.” But in a more serious tone, he added: “There’s so much more complexity, I think, in the music. It has been around for so many years. There is so much beautiful choral music.
Connie Sistrunk was also raised in a family of musicians. “My mother was alto, and I sing soprano, and my sister was alto.” Ever since she was little, they sang harmonies together.
Joye Tripson, who also regularly plays the piano in a local retirement community, said singing in the choir is “part of who I am. I cannot worship without it. It is really part of my spiritual life. And, you know, sometimes I wake up in the morning and I have hymns in my head.
Another longtime choir member is Don Eastham. He joked that he “played the piano for three years. But now I couldn’t even find middle C. Eastham said that if not for the choir, he would never have attended church.” only prepares the ground for worship and opens your mind and heart to the message,” he said.
Hugh Hanes has been singing since high school. He came to Victoria in 1965 and started in the choir the same year. He said he learned to read music by attending choir practice.
“I’ve also loved music since I was young,” said Jay Dougherty. “And that’s how I learned to read music – just being in a band when I was living in another state.” Although he grew up in the 1970s, he developed a love of classical music, something he attributes to his father.
Suzie McReynolds started singing about 50 years ago. She also plays bells at the First United Methodist Church. “I keep retiring and sitting on the benches, and I’m just not comfortable. This is where I belong,” she laughed. “I sing softly because my voice is going away.”
“We are small, but we are powerful. We are dedicated,” Wortham stressed. “We love to sing and be together.”
The main message about differences in music ministries, no matter how remote they are from the surface, is simple, Cox said.
“We are a church,” he said.