Beautiful Music, and You’re Invited

It’s been a long time since I’ve written.  A lot has been going on and my spirit has been a bit uninspired of late.  Or perhaps I’ve just been distracted and busy. Whatever the reason, I’ve rather missed talking about our wonderful and quirky congregation and so I begin again.  And do I have some wonderful news to share with you!

We have a fabulous pianist at Forest Hill.  I know, every church thinks their musician is wonderful, and in my book, any one who makes music is pretty special, but Adrian is truly amazing. He not only has been blessed with an amazing gift and plays with great passion but he listens, truly listens, to the liturgy. He somehow intuitively knows what notes to play behind our speaking to make everything seem to vibrate with the Spirit.  His music creates this beautiful backdrop, or container, for our prayers and scripture and sermons that somehow brings our words and intentions alive in ways beyond what we could have imagined.

Well, God has placed a dream in Adrian’s heart; a dream that we will have a grand piano in our sanctuary.  He doesn’t want to replace the keyboard that we now use but to open up new possibilities for music to fill the rafters of our sanctuary and for a joyful, and beautiful, noise to be made for God.  He wants others to be able to use our space for rehearsals and concerts and classes and whatever else the Spirit inspires in our hearts.  And you know, I just bet that with the Spirit’s leading, and Adrian’s determination, it will happen.

He’s started a wonderful concert series every Sunday evening at 6:30.  He invites his friends and fellow musicians – instrumentalists and singers alike – and they come to share their gifts and passion for beautiful and inspiring music.  And he invites visual artists to come and paint, or sculpt, or draw what they experience in the concert and they then make their creations available to the audience.  And it’s all their gift to us to help us raise the funds to purchase a piano.  There is no charge for these wonderful evenings of music and art, but donations are gratefully accepted.   Everyone is invited to join us as we celebrate, appreciate and encourage the amazing gifts of many fine young musicians, mostly from the Conservatory of Music here in San Francisco or from San Francisco State.  Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

“Ah, the Blues”

Our first, but hopefully not last, Blues Sunday Worship finally happened this last week and was it worth the wait! I’ve always loved the Blues, especially when there’s a harmonica, and boy did we have one! There’s something about its sound – soulful and haunting, dark and yet filled with energy, sultry and sensual – that just sort of grabs you deep down, and lingers long after the music has ended. I realized something on Sunday, the Blues aren’t just something musicians play but something they feel; all the technical prowess in the world won’t really make a Blues song stir your soul if the feeling’s not there. Perhaps it’s that way with all music, but it really came home to me on Sunday. Our musicians gave us the gift of their music from the depths of their souls and the love in their hearts – from the highs and lows, the joys and the sorrows of their lives. There was no faking the soulfulness of their music – it was not only passionate but it was truthful – it had integrity – and it called forth a response from us.

How like our life of faith! We’ve all witnessed the disconnect in the words of faith and the actions of faith, not only in the lives of public figures and “other” people of faith, but especially in our own lives. How much easier it is to talk a good talk than to really walk what we talk – “walk the walk” as they say. We have to ask:  Does our faith live in our lives like the blues live in the souls of musicians who have experienced the depths as well as the heights that life has to offer and offer their music in response? Can others “feel, see, know” our faith in our choices and our actions as well as in our words? Is there integrity, honesty, passion in how we live out the call of Christ in our lives? Or do we just have the “technical prowess” to look good, sound good, even act good without Love at the center of all we are and do?

1 Corinthians 13 talks about actions without Love: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (NRSV)

Our Blues Sunday reminded me that as important as technical prowess may be to musicians, and words are to people of faith, without heart and soul it’s just not the blues and without Love, it’s just not the good news.

Blessings, Susan

Make a Joyful Noise!

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord!”  Howard’s better at it then most.  Visit Forest Hill and he’s likely to be the first person you encounter.  Stick around Forest Hill for any length of time and you’ll get to know him and be touched by his passion and faithfulness. He may be developmentally challenged but his faith is deep and his passion for worship is contagious.  Music moves Howard deeply and profoundly. In fact, he cannot not sing; the music starts and he moves, or hums, or claps his hands, or sings whatever words come into mind, especially ‘Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes.” He loves to strum his guitar and play his harmonica, sometimes to the dismay of those around since he’s only sometimes in tune. Brandon always invites him to join in the closing music and his exuberance is contagious.

Howard is also what you call an evangel extraordinaire – he’s always sharing the good news about God’s love and our congregation. He’s invited more people into our community than anyone I know.  He’s also quite a welcoming committee. Everyone is his friend and his brother or sister, even when he’s never met them before. He gets so excited when someone visits that he can’t contain himself.  In the midst of worship he’ll alert our attention to someone’s presence or call out someone’s name. He’s also great at answering rhetorical questions; I learned early in my ministry to watch what I asked in a sermon because Howard would probably answer me. He also has this wonderful knack of mimicking the words he hears. To hear his voice speak back the words of the prayers he’s hearing is profoundly moving – like God’s voice echoing back our heartfelt hopes and joys and concerns almost before we’ve finished speaking them. There’s rarely a Sunday that he doesn’t want someone to light a candle for him so that he can lift someone in prayer, often our guests or our musicians, and last Sunday he led our worship leaders in prayer before we began worship, not forgetting to remember those blue suede shoes that are so dear to his heart.

Howard is filled with good news and joys overflowing and besides the music, his favorite time of worship has got to be sharing those joys around the Table. He can go on quite awhile so the art of containment is one of the first skills our student ministers must learn.  Howard is truly one-of-a-kind and we are so blessed by his joy, his friendship, his “in-your-face and in-this-moment” faith, his generosity, his heartfelt prayers and most especially by his love.

Joy and blessings, Susan

Jazz at Forest Hill

Sunday was Jazz worship at Forest Hill, a day always filled with energy, excitement and wonderful music. We have been so blessed by Brandon, our minister of music.  He came to us a few years ago looking for community and I think it’s safe to say he found home.  He’s plays a mean trumpet, leads our Joyful Noise Choir, creates wonderful new music with our amazing pianist Adrian, and brings a wisdom far beyond his years. In fact, he’s an elder at Forest Hill, which means we see in him spiritual wisdom, depth and leadership, in spite of or perhaps because of his youth. He really gets servant leadership and he challenges us with his patience, encouragement, probing questions and deep faith. He’s also fun to be around and because of him, we celebrate worship every second Sunday with jazz – sometimes just he and Adrian, and sometimes a whole host of musicians – and it’s wonderful!  Before long, we’ll have reggae and blues and Elvis and hip hop and maybe even funky Sundays. How wonderful that we can praise and worship in so many ways and sounds and styles. Based on the incredible diversity of creation we would have  hard time arguing that God likes every thing the same, including the way we worship. Our God has an imagination that knows no bounds – just take a look around – and surely a wonderful sense of humor.  Even the Psalms tell us to “Make a joyful noise to God!” – another favorite scripture around Forest Hill – and with all sorts of instruments as well as our bodies.  So let’s make a joyful noise; the world needs to hear some good news.

Blessings, Susan

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