It is likely that this is something you already know about me: I am a lover of music and I deeply appreciate the hymnody of the Church. I grew up encouraged daily, by loving, musical, Christian parents to identify a song for every occasion and circumstance in life, and, as a result of their love, I find great meaning in songs which express our existence as lived in the presence of a creative, loving God. Music helps me to dig deeper into the ashes of life’s disappointments and pain and discover hope which renews my confidence in the One who inspired yesterday, and inspires still today, the greatest hymn writers and composers.
As one of your pastors, I am privileged to be made aware of and to pray for many painful situations in the lives of God’s children. As I reflect on the many concerns of each of our hearts, as I pray for you and for your families, it is no surprise that God’s assurance of hearing and healing comes to me in song. I have shared, from the pulpit, the beginnings of the “prayer songs” which I offer each Sunday as a portion of the message which God, through the Holy Spirit, places upon my heart each week. For those who may not remember or who may not have been present on that particular Sunday morning, let me briefly describe the origin of the prayer song offertory prior to each sermon.
I began the path of ministry when still very young, (I was 18), it is only as we grow older that we realize how very young we once were, isn’t this true? My first assignment in ministry was while I was still in college as I served as assistant to our college Chaplain, and in a number of churches through music ministry and Bible Studies with youth and children. While a student at Yale Divinity School, I served as an Associate Pastor in a Congregational Church. (My Divinity School encouraged us to work ecumenically.) I served with the Chaplain of the University through Rutledge Chapel and had really amazing experiences while still a student intern. Music was an integral part of my education and focus through the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale, and the Masters of Divinity degree I have represents a full music and divinity curriculum during my years in New Haven.
All of this is to say that when I arrived in South Carolina, for my first appointment as a full-time pastor, I wore my warm “New England” black robe (in July, in churches which had not yet imagined air conditioning) and I preached my 3 point sermons from a 5 page, double-spaced typed manuscript, just as I had been taught to do in my divinity school homiletics courses. The ironies of my Yale education, in the midst of my first appointment, are many, and most I will save for another reflection, but for the purposes of today’s thoughts, let me assure you, I did not speak the language of the very poor, mostly illiterate congregations, who surely didn’t want a “woman preacher” in the first place. It did not matter to the people I was sent to serve that I was their first preacher to have a “seminary education”, an attempted selling point of my faithful District Superintendent, in 1977. I was lost in a culture which I did not understand, and I had no idea how to “speak to their longing hearts”. I had been assigned for only one week when, as I prayed at the altar of the largest of the three churches, I heard within my own heart the Holy Spirit speak, “Sing for me, and sing for these children of mine. Music will reach their hearts and minds, when just words are not enough. Music really is my universal language and through it you will also come to understand and appreciate one another.” In light of God’s guidance in the early portion of my years of ministry, and even to this day, please let me share these personally meaningful song lyrics (written by Rolf Lovland and Brendan Graham in 2002) in the hope that you will be comforted by them, as I am.
“You Raise Me Up” - When I am down, and oh, my soul’s so weary. When troubles come and my heart burdened be, then I am still and wait here, in the silence, until you come and sit awhile with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, you raise me up, to walk on stormy seas. I am strong, when I am on your shoulders, you raise me up to more than I can be. There is no life, no life without its sorrows, each restless heart beats so imperfectly, but then you come and fill our hearts with wonder, it’s then we know we glimpse eternity.
God’s Love in the journey, Pastor Debra