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A couple of months ago, I co-taught a preaching seminar in the Rocky Mountains with fellow Twelver, Scott Hoezee, and superstar preaching colleague, Peter Jonker. On one of the days, I was asked to speak for 30 minutes on any favourite subject in preaching. I spoke with the group about using music in preaching. My father, a retired (but-not-really-retired) CRC minister, was often referred to as a singing preacher, and I have followed in his footsteps. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, Heidi,” he will often say to me, quoting Colossians 3, “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs!”

In my conversation with the preaching seminar participants, I noted the many different ways I have used music in my messages – from the home runs of well-placed hymns, sung a capella with the congregation to the flops of my attempts to feather in my favourite musical theatre numbers from high school productions. From sharing the lullabies my mom used to sing to me when I was scared at night to covering Adele’s Hello with my very own Christmas version. From weaving Johnny Cash’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken into an Easter sermon to having the congregation listen to Charles Ives’ choral rendition of Psalm 67 (in a message on the same text entitled “Worshiping Polytonally”), where half the choir sings in C major and the other half sings in G minor.

My dad isn’t the only singing pastor who formed my faith. Fred Rogers (1928-2003) was a PCUSA minister, a children’s television superstar, and a thick thread of my childhood tapestry (a signed photograph of Rogers was taped to the inside of my locker in 7th grade – no word of a lie).

Last Thursday, I sat by myself in a small independent theatre in Kingston, Ontario, to watch the new documentary on Fred Rogers’ life, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film opens with a young Fred sitting at the piano, talking about how he likes to think of his work with children as helping them through the ‘modulations’ of life. He said that some transitions (like the modulation from the key of C to the key of F) are more straightforward. But others (like moving from the key of F to the key of F#) are much more complicated. You have to weave through many things to get from one to the other. In the middle of his soft and thoughtful reflection, he seemed to break character, glancing away from the camera lens and toward someone in the room: “Maybe that’s too philosophical,” he said. “But it makes sense to me.”

YES!!! That makes sense to me, too!

I about gave him a standing ovation right then and there. He had just taken me to church and preached to the choir, all in one breath.

This is my job as a pastor: to help people modulate from one key of life to the next. From infertility to pregnancy to parenthood. From retirement to cancer diagnosis to death. From high school to university. From fear to faith. And sometimes from a certain kind of faith to a holy kind of fear.

As lovely as this MisterRogerian concept is, in and of itself, the idea of this blog post didn’t get clinched until yesterday when I saw this 60 Minutes Overtime piece. Twelve-year-old musician and composer, Alma Deutscher, can draw 4 random notes from a hat, and with those notes and just a minute of thought, can improvise a sonata on the piano. In this feature, she was given the strange combination of B, A, E-flat, and G. “Interesting!” she said with a little bit of glee, when all the notes had emerged. She played the notes consecutively and slowly, entered her mad minute of contemplation, and then proceeded to turn those four odd little notes into the theme melody of an exquisite piece of music.

CBS Correspondent Scott Pelley with Alma Deutscher

And I thought, “These notes are my life!” In the span of eight days, I performed a wedding for a beautiful couple (B), my daughter learned to roller blade (A), a friend and former congregant died by suicide (E-flat), and we had a worship service, wherein I was able to anoint most of my congregation with oil, and receive the anointing myself (G).

I would like to think that there are times when my blogging, sermon-writing, praying, and story-telling have a way of turning the strange combinations of life events into some semblance of a melody, a song.

And still, there are times when the notes and stories just won’t come together and I must simply sit with each naked and lonely tone, hold it in the presence of God, and ask the Holy Spirit to do the composing, the modulating, and the singing.

O, God, I need You to sing.

The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing. 

Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV

 

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

14 Comments

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Lovely, lyric reflection, Heidi. You took Mr. Rogers’ metaphor and brought it to a new level of meaning for ministry. Nicely done!

  • Cara says:

    As one who loves you, and music, and people, and also one who is preparing for preaching and pastoral ministry… I found your post inspiring and helpful, Heidi. Thank you. 💕

  • Marjorie Hoogeboom says:

    Music is truly the language of the soul, and I live for that each day. Thank you, Pastor Heidi, for still ministering to me so often! Love you!

  • Leo Jonker says:

    Thank you, Heidi, for this lovely reflection. As our pastor, you make our hearts sing as you help us negotiate the key changes in our lives. And I do believe that it is God singing through you and through your congregation.

  • Amy Clemens says:

    Hello Heidi, helping people negotiate key changes as a metaphor for ministry is beautiful and memorable. I wrote this lyric a few years back and thought you might enjoy it too: But it takes so long to make us strong in all the broken places / To find mistakes belong in songs like lonely, open spaces / So we wait in what remains, while melody erases pain.

    We can’t just take the melody, can we? We have to take the dissonance and counterpoint, and those key changes that just don’t make sense. I loved the way you ended your reflection…holding all those naked, lonely tones asking the Holy Spirit to compose. Such a beautiful picture of surrender. Thank you.

    • Heidi says:

      Wow – that is some strong resonance between your lyrics and this post! Love it, Amy. Now I want to hear the song! (I’m also a big fan of strong-in-the-broken-places language… One of the only songs I’ve ever wrote is titled, Broken Pieces).

      • Amy Clemens says:

        Don’t know what it is about brokenness and music, but there’s a connection. I’m much more apt to write a song when I’m discouraged, straining toward hope. I never recorded this song, but would happily send you the lyric and would love to read yours.

        • Amy Clemens says:

          That, and well, I just looked at the map and am coming through your town on the 401 in a couple of weeks if you really want to hear it 🙂 August 21, on my way to Maine. Would love to meet you!

  • Jayne Gort says:

    Thank you! You have reinforced for me in a beautiful way that it doesn’t matter what notes you are given in life, it’s the melody you make with those notes that counts.

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