On September 7 at the Centre for Ministry, Uniting Mission and Education hosted musicians, songwriters, singers and a few theologians for the first ‘Synod Jam Day’. This first gathering was advertised at Synod as an experiment in encouraging the use of contemporary music written by Uniting Church songwriters in Uniting Church congregations.
The day was organised around the input of participants and began with a discussion about desired outcomes from the event along with hopes and dreams for music in the Church. There was a hope that the Church could create a pipeline for songwriters to be able to connect their songs with congregations, that an active network could be created, and that congregations could be supplied with music of a wider variety of styles for use in various worship settings.
Twenty people gathered, from a wide range of Sydney basin congregations. New Beginnings Cronulla, Newtown Mission, Willoughby, West Epping, Dee Why, Quakers Hill, Turramurra, Roseville, Castle Hill, Burwood, and other congregations were represented. A book of fifteen songs written by Uniting Church songwriters was produced as a resource.
Uniting Mission and Education, Executive Director, Dr Glen Powell was part of the coordination of the day and engaged in discussion about introducing new music to congregations.
“In a plenary discussion, a wide range of topics were covered including theological themes that might offer a distinctive Uniting theology and strategies for introducing songs to congregations. Ideas and challenges identified included helping congregations to transition from reliance on organs; need to repeat new songs initially to gain familiarity; sharing good ideas across a network on running music in our churches; learning from our migrant communities; and that it was time for congregations to sing more songs that had been written since younger participants were born.
There was a consensus that we did not want the Uniting Church to offer a slick product for consumption by members – we do need to be culturally relevant but not give into Consumer Culture. A strength of Uniting Churches is that they are small enough to offer people an opportunity to contribute their musical gifts and talents. However, we have not intentionally made space for new people to be able to contribute. At the same time, many were tired of having non-musicians choosing songs to a theme and ignoring the quality or vintage of the music itself.”
After morning tea, three bands formed and learned 3-4 songs each. After lunch, the group regathered and taught each other the songs they had learned. Some beautiful music was discovered.
The day ended in a worshipful fashion in the chapel, with two songs sung a capella. These included a beautiful version of the Lord’s prayer by Adamstown Uniting based songwriter Heather Price along with an entertaining and thoroughly Aussie Christmas carol from Willoughby Uniting songwriter Margaret Daly.
An attendee on the day expressed her experience and gratitude for the first Synod Jam Day.
“It’s definitely a day worth coming to especially connecting with other artists and learning about different styles of worship and music. It was great to be able to connect, learn and inspire one another and appreciate how we can truly share Gods love through song.”
Dr Glen Powell saw the day as a great success and looks forward to the future of Synod Jam Days.
“As an experiment to gauge interest and the approach to run such an event, the day was a real success. While participants talked about a quarterly gathering, the current intention is to plan a larger event next year and encourage regional Presbytery based gatherings on a more frequent basis. The next event will finish with worship for people who just want to learn new songs and take them back to their congregations.”
If you are interested in being connected with the emerging Synod music network, send your details and congregation to firstname.lastname@example.org.