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Presbyterian Association of Musicians conference opens with the theme ‘Lead Us Homeward’

Two-week event at Montreat Conference Center features music classes, concerts and more

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

The chamber choir rehearses on Monday during the first week of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Music and Worship Conference. (Contributed photo)

The annual Worship & Music Conference of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians kicked off two weeks of offerings in Montreat, North Carolina, on Sunday with evening worship, followed by a full schedule of classes in choral and congregational music, lessons in specific instruments, hymn-writing, liturgy and preaching.

The conference will also feature daily worship along with more than 30 options over the course of seven hourlong class periods for everyone, including youth and children who’ve completed the third grade and above. Along with classes and small groups, there are plenty of opportunities for participants to perform, from children, youth and adult handbell choirs and instrumental ensembles to age-level talent shows and choral and instrumental concerts. There will also be ice cream socials, games on the porch, activities for youth at the barn and beer and hymns at the White Horse Tavern. One of this year’s sponsors, the PC(USA)’s Special Offerings and Presbyterian Giving Catalog, is emceeing the talent shows and hosting a dessert reception.

As night fell over the mountains overlooking Anderson Auditorium on Sunday, opening worship began with a quiet hush before a solo cantor, Dr. Swee Hong Lim, the Deer Park Associate Professor for Sacred Music of Victoria University at the University of Toronto, who is also this year’s Routley Lecturer, chanted in Chinese. The translation appeared on a screen: “In a deep, unbounded darkness long before the first light shone, you, O God, beyond all merit, worked a wonder faith makes known.” The lyrics appeared from the hymn “Lead Us Homeward,” a phrase that is also this year’s conference theme.

After the call to worship, a solo guitar strummed an upbeat greeting with the beloved conference tune “Welcome” by Mark Miller before Rodrigo Almeida, co-service musician for the conference and a commissioned pastor through the Presbytery of West Virginia, sang the lyric, “All are welcome in this place.”

Creative banners brighten the chancel of Anderson Auditorium for the PAM Worship and Music Conference. (Contributed photo)

Kelly Abraham, PAM’s executive director, said she expects over 1,500 people to join the conference over its two-week run.

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon Steen, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, Florida, opened with a prayer emphasizing the peripatetic nature of followers of Christ, whom he called “our friend, nomad and savior.” Steen is serving as the liturgist for the conference and leading the Robert Stigall seminar with Dr. Martin Tel, the C.F. Seabrook Director of Music at Princeton Theological Seminary.

After the prayer, the congregation was invited to “greet one another, travelers together,” with the peace of Christ before being called back to sing as one body with a chant by the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, Associate for Worship with the Office of Theology & Worship. Gambrell chanted a version of Psalm 120 while also emphasizing in the refrain this year’s conference theme.

The Rev. Dr. Martha Moore-Keish opened her sermon with the greeting, “Children of God, welcome home,” before asking, “Does this look like home?” Moore-Keish emphasized how the physical setting of Montreat is a second home to many, but a totally new experience for others. The professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary told a story of a student with a family history of multi-generational immigration who describes home with an image of “multiple roots,”  with names like Palestine, Jordan, Dubai and Atlanta. Moore-Keish wondered if home was not the place we are from, the place we are now and the place we are going, and if home was not just the ground that has been under our feet but also the horizon of hope where our losses and griefs are reconciled.

Psalms 120–134 were the texts for worship. This collection of psalms is known as the “psalms of ascent,” reflecting the way that humans sometimes have to leave the home they thought they knew in order to be led homeward.

Members of the handbell choir rehearse during PAM’s Music and Worship Conference being held at the Montreat Conference Center. (Contributed photo)

Moore-Keish reminded the congregation that the Israelites of the Hebrew Bible were always a people on the move. “What might we learn from this ancestral memory?” asked Moore-Keish, who reminded those present that their story is “our story, too.”

“Perhaps it means this: We must never take home for granted,” Moore-Keish said. “Those of us who feel settled need to be a little more unsettled. And those of us who are wanderers need to know that we are not alone.”

In closing the opening worship, Moore-Keish invited people again to the journey homeward. “Welcome home, which is a journey. And welcome to the journey, which is home.”

Throughout the two weeks of the conference, from June 16–21 and June 23–28, worship services and evening events will be livestreamed and accessible on PAM’s Worship & Music Conference webpage or the Montreat Conference Center’s webpage.


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