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A go-to source for worship ideas

Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ online conference material is now available

by Sally Scherer for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

A wealth of materials from the 50th anniversary celebration and conference of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians is now available. (Contributed photo)

JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — This year’s global pandemic canceled conferences all across the globe, but the most creative and inventive groups figured out ways to turn those gatherings virtual.

That’s what the Presbyterian Association of Musicians chose to do, and now a wealth of resources are available for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) music and worship leaders as many contemplate how to go back to in-person worship this fall, winter and in 2021.

“Churches have been calling us and looking for resources. People are thinking in a different way now,” said Kelly Abraham, executive director of PAM. “By the grace of God, we were able to be at Montreat and now we can offer this content for people to use in their churches.”

The conference

The group had spent three years planning the 2020 Montreat Worship and Music Conference, which was also a 50th anniversary celebration. About 1,200 participates were registered by March 1. But when business as usual came to a screeching halt in mid-March because of the COVID-19 virus, those number dropped significantly.

“We were already in love with the conference plans, and very excited about celebrating our 50th anniversary at Montreat,” said Mary Ibis, a PAM member and associate director of music at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. “It is the Year of Jubilee. What would it say if we took the year off? We decided to embrace our situation, to honor where we’re doing ministry and to offer churches something.”

That “something” is a full Worship and Music Conference, recorded mostly at North Carolina’s Montreat Conference Center between June 21-26, and now available on 96 videos on the PAM website. Viewers will also find curricula, devotionals, anthems and manuals.

Video content includes handbell classes, lectures, worship services in Anderson Auditorium, yoga on Lookout Mountain, musical performances, the PAM annual meeting, Bible studies, art workshops and morning and evening prayer.

For those who love the experience of being at Montreat, (and who doesn’t?) there are videos from the Sally Jones Pottery and Currie Craft Center, Lake Susan, “conversations at The Huck” and the Assembly Inn’s Galax Dining Room.

Ninety-six videos from PAM’s 50th anniversary celebration have been posted online. (Contributed photo)


Normally, the conference takes place in two back-to-back weeks in June with about 1,600 registered participants from 500 churches around the country. This summer, it was the only conference that took place at Montreat, Abraham said.

“We had people spaced out. Anyone who was off camera was wearing a mask. We (a conference team of about 40 including leaders, vocalists and musicians) were all quarantined before so we could give this gift and provide this material to our churches,” she said.

During the pandemic — when many churches are worshipping virally and looking for new ideas — PAM is providing help, she said.

Conference supports PAM

In prior years, conference proceeds accounted for about 65 percent of the association’s operating budget. PAM leaders say that factor was part of their consideration to proceed with the conference, also.

“We prayed that some people who had registered but couldn’t attend would donate their registration fee. And many did. We asked for other donations to PAM. We applied for grants. We sent lots of emails and made lots of phone calls. We communicated with all groups of five or more about needing their help,” she explained. More than $50,000 was donated.

Here’s what you’ll find online from the 2020 conference:

  • For children, youth and their leaders: Five children’s art classes with Chandler Guess; five children’s Bible classes with Julie Hester; five children’s music classes with Anne McNair; five youth photography classes with Scott Neely; and five youth Bible studies that include a youth leader guide, student journals and an additional instruction video for youth leaders. In addition, from the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, you’ll find “Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible” and “Big God, Big Questions,” confirmation curriculum instruction videos.
  • Worship and worship reflections: Four conference worship services; three worship reflections programs with conference worship team; and five morning prayer services and five evening prayer services. Also included are four art workshop sessions led by Anne Laird Jones and Hannah Garrity.
  • Professional development for church musicians: Three choral masterclasses with Eric Nelson; three choral masterclasses with Mark Patterson; two choral masterclasses with Victor Johnson; one panel discussion with Eric Nelson, Mark Patterson and Anne McNair; and four handbell masterclasses with David Harris. Also, PAM professional concerns seminars led by David VanderMeer.
  • Christian formation and creative discipleship: four Routley lectures with Mel Bringle, “Singing Here and Hereafter”; four art workshop videos with Anne Laird Jones and Hannah Garrity; two adult Bible study sessions with Suzie Park, “Witnesses in the Old Testament”; four Matthew 25 mission videos with Alonzo Johnson; and the conference hymn festival led by Mel Bringle, “Surrounded by Story and Song.”

Viewers can sign up to view the full conference for $175. Or the virtual content is divided into four content packages and each can be viewed for $60.

A church experience

Will Breytspraak, director of music ministry at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, and other member and staff at the church watched the livestream of the conference. PAM leaders said viewers from 38 states and three countries did the same thing.

Each evening during the week of the livestream conference, Breytspraak’s group would get together via Zoom, around a Zoom-provided faux campfire background, to discuss what they’d seen that day.

“Part of the magic of the conference is the relational part. I wondered how we’d get that, and so I invited folks to get together around the campfire,” Breytspraak said with a laugh.

By attending the livestream, “We found we went to more types of different sessions than if we’d have gone to the conference,” he said.

Breytspraak’s plans for his church’s fall musical programming were transformed after the conference.

“There’s such a hunger out there. And there are so many ideas. While this (pandemic) stinks, we have no excuse not to connect, grow and serve,” he said.

For example, the Worship Reflection from Montreat provided inspiration for a monthly Tuesday night Taizé service on the church’s website and YouTube page. On what the church is calling “Musicianship Mondays,” church staff is offering 15-minute classes through October via Zoom on musical skills such as sight reading, musical terms and key signatures.

A class “Black Music Matters: Scriptures and Music of Slavery and Freedom” is being offered each Monday evening and weekly virtual choir rehearsals will focus on the texts and musical elements of pieces and will include singing or listening to musical works.

For Ibis, the virtual conference provides many blessings, one of which is that it can be enjoyed not just once, but over and over again.

“We go to Montreat for professional and spiritual development but also to have something to take home with us. Now it’s available and out there to use. It keeps on giving,” she said.

Media company provided support

The “ambitious” PAM event was a “new model” for GNTV Media Ministry, said Josh Thompson, a production manager at the Georgia Company, which was hired to provide all the video for the Worship and Music Conference. The company normally produces church conferences over Zoom and helps church with video systems, he said.

“But the creative staff with PAM provided a lot of good content,” he said, adding that livestreaming from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days proved the biggest challenge for his eight-member team.

“We brought in a lot of cameras and used the Montreat sound system. And, without participants, we didn’t have to worry about getting in anybody’s way,” he added with a laugh.

Abraham hopes more churches will continue to take advantage of all the resources the conference offers.

She doubts the annual Worship and Music Conference will ever be the same.

“We’ll never go back,” she said. “We’ve had to adjust, make changes. But with our focus on God and worship we can do so many things. “

Ibis agreed: “We’ve been able to give people in tiny churches an incredible resource,” she said. “The coronavirus pushed us to do things differently — and gave us so many unexpected blessings.”

Sally Scherer is a writer and communications consultant based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is a member of Second Presbyterian Church, where she is an elder, deacon and a member of the choir.

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