‘Attending with faithfulness to the church’s worship and community’

For the first time in 51 years, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians is holding a hybrid Worship and Music Conference

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

This week Montreat Conference Center in western North Carolina is hosting the 51st Worship and Music Conference for the Presbyterian Association of Musicians. (Photo courtesy of Montreat Conference Center)

LOUISVILLE — The first-ever hybrid version of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship and Music Conference began in person Sunday from Montreat Conference Center and includes an entirely online offering June 27 through July 2. View the conference livestream schedule here. Register for the online conference here.

Together with PAM president Eric Wall, Assistant Professor of Sacred Music and Dean of the Chapel at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the father-and-daughter team of Tom Granum and Meg Granum Gurtcheff, conference co-directors, shared some of their thoughts and hopes for the 51st annual event as they prepared late last week to host the in-person gathering.

Montreat “was a quiet place this past year,” Wall said in an email, “but this summer the church’s noise is back in these mountains. I’m writing this while hearing the tumultuous sounds of the Youth Conference in the auditorium, and I’m so grateful that PAM’s Worship and Music Conference will add its own voices to this valley starting [Sunday].”

Eric Wall (photo courtesy of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary)

The “central, most cherished act of this conference is singing: the extraordinary power of congregational song,” Wall said. “This year, it’s masked singing, which might mean a little less volume, but it will be just as powerful, the power of ‘freed’ song after a pandemic year, the power of reunion, and the power of the community that cares for one another. The first stanza of the first hymn may not have more than three or four words because there’ll be more weeping than singing, but they’ll be tears of joy.”

In a year when singing was silent in most PC(USA) worship services, “PAM members kept up this community of theology and artistry,” Wall said. “The Worship and Music Conference this year feels, in so many ways, extraordinary: for so long, we weren’t sure what might happen, and there’s so much gratitude for it that we’re almost pinching ourselves. And yet, in another way, it’s the most ordinary thing in the world: this is just what PAM and Montreat do, year in and year out, attending with faithfulness to the church’s worship and community.”

“I am particularly excited,” said Meg Granum Gurtcheff, a doctoral choral conducting student at the University of Kentucky and the choir director at Pisgah Presbyterian Church in Versailles, Kentucky, “about the mix of traditional offerings, new experiences and happy byproducts that resulted from thinking creatively around COVID-necessitated changes.”

The worship team “has crafted beautiful liturgy, powerful sermons, inspiring art, and implemented fantastic music — all of which are based on six of the mini-major festive days of the church year.” Each service, she said, is based on the lectionary for the coming year “with the intention that everything we do at the conference this year can serve as a model for churches ‘back home.’”

Meg Granum Gurtcheff (contributed photo)

As for the new offerings she’s particularly excited about, Granum Gurtcheff listed the hymn festival choir, an intergenerational hymn festival choir that’s being led by the conference’s Routley Lecturer, Tom Trenney; and the youth Living SCRIPTure class led by Ruth Sall, where middle and high school students will use acting, movement and improvisation to explore ways to share Bible stories, both familiar and new. During the week, students will be featured as liturgists during worship.

The Tuesday Night Art Conversation will be a dialogue facilitated by Wall and the conference artist, the Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman, who will discuss the art she’s created for the worship services and ideas for how to incorporate more art back home.

“The plans for the conference have gone through more versions than I can count over the past 16 months,” Granum Gurtcheff said. “Particularly over the past six months, it has been a balancing act of trying to make plans while remaining hopeful and flexible, all while keeping in very close contact with the Montreat Conference Center and paying close attention to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and North Carolina [COVID safety] guidelines.”

In the midst of all the planning, “we added two incredible additional planning team members, Kaitlyn Davros and Will Breytspraak, who are focused on all the online offerings and acting as a bridge between in-person and online,” she said. One of the online offerings will be a “newsroom,” hosted by Davros in person and Breytspraak online, who will interview faculty, planners and board members about the in-person offerings between sessions and serve as hosts and resource point persons to online conferees.

“We are excited that several of our in-person classes and events will be offered to our online community as a livestream opportunity,” she said, including worship, the organ recital, the hymn festival, the Routley Lecture and worship reflections. Those sessions and others will be recorded and will be made available on the conference video and document library following the conference.

“More than anything else,” she said, “my hope is that all conference participants will enjoy an opportunity to worship fully, enjoy fellowship and find inspiration for creative aspects to implement in their home churches.”

Tom Granum is pictured with his wife, Doris. (Contributed photo)

Her father, Tom Granum, who most recently served First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said that like the PC(USA), the conference represents congregations of different sizes. “We have been intentional about modeling and providing resources for congregations with small worship attendance,” he said. “Our theme, ‘Gathered in My Name,’ draws from Matthew 18:20. As we planned worship, we frequently asked ourselves how conferees might take these ideas home and use them in a smaller context with fewer or different resources. In fact, the Rev. Meg Flannagan is leading a seminar on how to adapt big-conference ideas to smaller congregations ‘back home.’”

Granum said Dr. Michael Burkhardt and MorningStar Music “have made possible two new works to be used in worship and then available as part of the PAM choral series. Both work well in small and large congregations.” Burkhardt has also prepared a new arrangement of “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” with multiple options for congregations with different resources.

“Although it’s a national conference drawing people from across the U.S. and abroad,” Granum said, “the majority of our conferees are from the Southeast. Prompted by COVID, our adding the online option also gives us the opportunity to share what we’re doing to a broader geographical spectrum of the PC(USA), especially those for whom travel to North Carolina would be challenging for any of several reasons.”

Wall said the PC(USA)’s largest intergenerational gathering has been blessed by the efforts of the father and daughter leadership duo, which has “done fantastic work leading their team and faculty to this point. We have an extraordinary faculty, who have adapted plans over and over during this past year. It is all a testament to the Spirit’s faithfulness.”


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