JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) -- They came because they share a passion for sacred music. They were welcomed into a new worship space around the theme of hospitality. And they left with a renewed sense of calling.
Celebrating its fourth year in April, members of Polyphony -- a fellowship of pastoral musicians -- gathered at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., around the theme “Come to the Table: Hospitality through Scripture, Song and Supper.”
“Our recent conference in Jacksonville continued our founding principles of balanced musical and theological content with clinicians who provided thoughtful teaching, encouraged meaningful dialogue and fostered marvelous expression in our large group times and in our worship settings,” said Donn Wisdom, minister of music at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio.
An annual gathering hosted by a local church and its music ministry, the Polyphony Conference is designed for both resource and fellowship, according to its leadership.
“From its inception, Polyphony has been established, organized, and implemented by volunteers -- music ministers who see in this group something that is necessary to our calling, said Alicia Walker, associate pastor for music and worship at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta. “Countless hours of planning, e-mails and conference calls have enabled all of us to share in this resource that is an intersection of our deepest needs as ministers and musicians.”
At each conference, participants are given opportunity to learn from both musicians and theologians through choral reading sessions and other topical discussions centered around the theme for the conference, and to provide time for colleagues to reconnect and establish new friendships.
It also is a way for the group to mentor the next generation of pastoral musicians, something about which the group is passionate.
This year’s conference included sessions with special guests Anne Jernberg, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Boulder, Colo.; Andre Thomas, a professor at Florida State University; and organist Bradley Welch, artist-in-residence at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.
Highlighting the three-day event was a worship service centered around the theme of hospitality. Participants were “invited to the table” through music, provided by the Hendricks Avenue choir under the direction of Minister of Music Tommy Shapard and Andre Thomas, and through word by worship leader Anne Jernberg.
Jernberg preached from Luke 24:13-35, where Jesus appeared after his death to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, comparing the event to the recent Royal Wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
She quoted former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s assertion that the guest list to the Royal Wedding wasn’t just for dignitaries, but for people from “all walks of life.”
“[It’s] completely sensible to invite people from all parts of society and different walks of life not to the Royal Wedding, but to the banquet of our Lord,” she said. She encouraged worshippers to become “a people of faith who are known for radical hospitality rather than a people known for rigid holding patterns” and to be “welcoming before we are wary.”
Organizers of Polyphony say the mandate of inclusion is basic to the organization. The translation of polyphony from the Greek “many voices” also hints at a broader aim, to include pastoral musicians from all churches who share the mission of Polyphony -- “linking and nurturing church musicians who share a passion for sacred choral and instrumental music, hymnody and the arts.”
“Members of Polyphony want to create church music in each unique context that is part of a living tradition, connected to each church's story (and to the history of the church) but always renewing the musical tradition with energy and excellence,” said Doug Haney, minister of music at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. “We are not interested in classical music or gospel music in the way as a museum archive, but rather this music is part of our story of faith.”
“It is a gift to have conversation and fellowship with people who understand the richness of choral music and hymnody both musically and theologically, and who call on that richness to help pastor their congregations,” agreed Walker. “These are people who inspire and encourage me, whose commitment to excellence is driven not by ego, but by a deep desire to glorify God.”
In keeping with the objective of promoting excellence in choral music now and in the future, Polyphony encourages members to create new music by establishing a competition for anthem composition and is also intentional about engaging the next generation of pastoral musicians.
“Polyphony has been intentional about inviting younger ministers of music to the conference and even providing scholarships for college and seminary students,” said Haney. “We think there are gifted young women and men who will bring a new energy to traditional church music. And we value their contributions.”
Besides offering scholarships for two college or seminary students to attend the annual conference, this year Polyphony established a National Youth Honor Choir to “enable teenagers to experience the power of choral art in the context of Christian faith.”
The choir is open to high schoolers who posses exception musical talent and interest. The week-long experience will include three days of concentrated rehearsal, relational and spiritual formation, and the exploration of “calling” to vocational church music.
Polyphony has been supported through partner churches, Celebrating Grace, The Townsend-McAfee Institute and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.