In January 2020, I was invited to be part of the Marketing, Animation, and Funding (MAF) Sub-Committee for the “Sing 2025” project, whose goal was the creation of a new all-digital music resource for the United Church’s 100th birthday. MAF is a small group of current and retired church leaders, musicians, General Council staff, and an audio-visual devotee from communities of faith from the Maritimes and Ontario.
Being invited to be part of this project felt like quite an honour. I looked forward to working with musicians, ministers, and worship leaders across the country. I felt pleased that, based on my 62 years of experience in church music—starting in a boys’ choir at the age of eight, morphing through various roles in Anglican and United congregations, including a several-year stint as Music Editor for Gathering—I would be helping to create a new music resource that would speak not only to The United Church of Canada of today, but “to the church that we hope to become.”
In spite of my confidence, however, I did not appreciate the learning curve that lay ahead.
At first, the MAF’s work sounded fairly straightforward. For example, we were tasked with choosing the name. We quickly created a plan for brainstorming, discussing, and whittling down a long list of possibilities to arrive at a consensus on Then Let Us Sing! We also focused on designing the logo; writing articles for church media; creating brochures and other promotional materials; and planning our presence on social media. And in all of this, we’ve had our eye on the eventual need for workshops and webinars to animate discussion about the project. All heady, exciting stuff.
But what I hadn’t anticipated was all the “fresh, new learning” that I would be exposed to. For example:
- When it came to MAF’s task of planning, designing, and producing materials for the web and Facebook pages, I was really out of my depth. Being of Baby Boomer vintage, I’ve learned to step back and listen to “the kids” who have a clear grasp of both the essentials and the potential of using digital media, as I’ve encouraged them to “knock yourselves out.”
- I’ve been nourished by the deep and challenging discussions of the Education, Justice, and Ethics Sub-Committee (EJE) as it created the “Theo-Ethical Framework.” This document expresses how essential music is in supporting our communities’ spirits in trying times—and perhaps most important, how music can both define and inspire our commitment to social justice as we head into our second century as a denomination.
- EJE’s statements on copyright justice and sexual harassment have given me both new insight and language for articulating the United Church principles.
- I have also seen how the EJE’s efforts informed and inspired the MAF and the Materials Curation sub-committees’ work. It was very clear that none of us could work in silos. Each group’s decisions relied on those of others.
- And then there’s the Materials Curation (MC) group. Witnessing their challenges in the search for, review, and selection of new music has been a revelation. It’s more than simply asking for music and picking what you like. So many decisions to make. So many discussions around texts, tunes, themes—all with an eye on selecting music that is meaningful to United Church culture for today and into the future. No surprise that they had to expand their committee significantly!
- Throughout this entire process, we have been supported by the knowledge, wisdom, and friendship of many United Church General Council staff members.
And another part of the learning curve? We have all become Zoom experts! In the three years since this project began, MAF has never met in person, and the EJE and MC only once or twice. I look forward to the day when we will all gather and celebrate together in person—hopefully for The United Church of Canada’s 100th anniversary in 2025!
—Paul Sales is a retired church musician from Orleans, Ontario and member of the Marketing, Animation, and Funding Sub-Committee for Then Let Us Sing! He also served as Music Editor for Gathering magazine for several years.