Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Report from the Field: New City Music Conference

I  recently returned from an eleven-day singing tour of the South with my head full of tunes and ideas about congregational singing. This is all part of my semester-long study leave from Ashland University and research for THE BOOK.

When I tell people about the book -- “It’s going to be about congregational singing, church and reconciling communities.”-- I tend to get a polite look of disinterest. It is as if I am saying, “I am writing a book on knitting and theology.”

So it was with great relief that I found that at the New City Music Conference in Chattanooga my sentence-long book proposal was met with understanding and interest.

What is the New City Music Conference? This will take a bit of explanation.

New City is a church founded in Chattanooga in the 1970s by Randy Nabors, a white conservative Presbyterian pastor with assistance from James Ward, a talented young musician. An urban ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America, New City has become the flagship of a small but vibrant multicultural worship movement in this predominantly white and southern denomination. This single congregation has become the hub of the New City Network: a loose connection of urban congregations interested in “cross cultural ministry.” From my observation, this seems to  include congregations that are deliberately trying to be multiracial as well as congregations ministering to particular refugee communities.
The Conference Choir practice with Jim Ward-- New City's
musical godfather--on keys. This is the first time I have sung
gospel music from a score -- it was tricky -- a lot of syncopation
and repeats

These churches have developed an ethos of worship music that attempts to be an authentic expression of the particular congregation’s ethnic sensibilities. Every couple of years, musicians from the New City Network gather together to share their songs and worship together and I was lucky enough to be there this summer.

I sang in Spanish, Swahili, French, and English. 

I had wonderful conversations with many musicians.

I am still processing the experience.

You can find many offerings from the conference over at the New City Music website -- it is well worth exploring.
Here is one sample -- a blues lament written for the conference by Kirk Ward. Kirk (son of James Ward) is a musician at New City Fellowship - University City in St Louis. He has written about this song over on his blog "Worship in the City." The lead sheet is available here.

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