Posted January 13, 2014 by Marg Herder
This post is part of my series on the 2014 Gay Christian Network conference. EEWC-Christian Feminism Today partnered with GCN to present GCN’s 2014 weconnect Women’s Retreat. Complete information on the conference can be found here. My introduction to the conference and the weconnect Women’s Retreat can be found here.
I wasn’t able to sing my way through one hymn or worship song at the Gay Christian Network conference last weekend. I had about fifteen chances. I didn’t make it through a single one.
Before each of the plenary sessions, Rebecca Farlow led the music from the stage while attendees sang along. The music was a mix of hymns and contemporary worship songs.
Why couldn’t I make it through even one of them? I kept getting choked up. I told you there would be some tears, and there were, especially when it came to the singing.
It went something like this. I would start off okay, manage most of a verse, and then realize what was happening. I was standing in church singing (the GCN conference felt like church the whole time). Standing in church singing, just like I used to do all the time before I walked away. Just like I used to do when my grandmother, Margaret, played the piano in our Sunday school classes. Just like I used to do when my mom, Margaret, and I sang during hundreds of services and choir performances. Just like I used to do when my youth group friends would meet. Just like I used to think I would be doing every single week for the rest of my life.
Sure, I’ve sung in church since then. But since I left my church, more than 30 years ago, whenever I have sung in church it has always been as an outsider. Someone’s presentation, someone’s wedding, someone’s funeral, someone’s performance; always at someone else’s church.
But in some strange and inexplicable way, that tightens my chest and makes me cry even as I write this, the GCN conference didn’t feel like just any church. It felt like my church. And when I stood to sing with 700 people I hardly knew, I was standing up and singing in my church for the first time in more than 30 years.
The emotions were overwhelming. Joy, sadness, love, longing, healing, pain. Basically, everything that exists in the chalice of Spirit was poured into my heart.
Too much (it can never be enough).
Too fast (don’t ever let it stop).
So I would sing for as long as I could, then the tears would wash over me and I would stop and do some yoga breathing to bring myself back to the room, to the music, to the present. I wanted to sing every song, even the ones about all the crazy stuff like kingdoms and conquering, blood and sin, thick with “He” and assumptions. I wanted to sing every note, but since for me it’s impossible to cry and sing at the same time, I was granted the precious gift of singing maybe a little less than half.
I was taught that when each of us raises our own unique voice in song we glorify God. I was taught that when we sing together we actually, physically, and certainly magnify Her presence to an extent that it is impossible to ignore. When I was young, I dreamed my life would be lived as a church musician, crafting glorious moments of magnified, impossible-to-miss God/Love/Connection.
When we sing together, we draw ourselves closer to the Expression of God. God is in each of us, certainly, but She is magnified exponentially, She becomes more Herself, when we express Her presence as a group. The best practice we have, the gateway drug to the magnificence of God, is singing together.
By listening and adjusting our own voice to support the shy voice of our neighbor, we teach and learn the value of bringing forth each person’s beautiful, unique manifestation of God’s creation. By listening and becoming aware of the sounds of our neighbor and adjusting our own voice to create unison, we learn the delight in realizing our participation in God as One. By listening and leaning toward the neighbor who is already confident enough to carry a melody and offering the compliment of harmony, our voices together help us to learn and manifest the expression of God as All.
I believe singing together gets our faith out of our heads and into our bodies. Singing helps us to endorse the unique voice of every person, to find unison in all faithful expressions, in hope of eventually learning to participate and delight in the harmonious expression of All That Is.
I think this is one of the reasons I couldn’t sing more than a few stanzas at the GCN conference before being overwhelmed with tears. I may have worked through the grief and pain associated with losing my church and what I thought my life would be, in my head, but my body still has a lot of grieving left to do.
There’s another reason for my tears, as well. There were 700 very different people standing in that hotel ballroom in Chicago. 700 people singing together. 700 people of all ages, all orientations, of different minds about how LGBT Christians are called to walk through this life and this world. These 700 people had been told that people like us have no place in any church. Yet here we were, singing together, experiencing connection, creating and magnifying the presence of God. All very well aware of one thing. We belong. This is ours. This is the one we created; this is our church.
Related Content on Where She Is:
Rachel Held Evans’ Presentation Summary (Saturday)
We are Broken (Friday)
There Will be Some Tears (Thursday)
weconnect – Introduction to GCN Board Chairperson Susan Shopland
weconnect – Interview with Susan Shopland, Part 1
weconnect – Interview with Susan Shopland, Part 2
weconnect – Introduction to Featured Speaker Reverend Audrey Connor
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 1
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 2
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 3
Introduction to the Gay Christian Network’s weconnect Women’s Retreat
GCN’s “Live It Out” Conference Website
Conference Twitter Feed Follow @gcnconf
The hashtags to use are #GCNConf and #weconnect
Gay Christian Network Facebook Page
Gay Christian Network Website
Really powerful, Marg. Love this vision of church. Even though I’m not much of a singer, I would have loved hearing all those voices. (And this would be a great introduction to a book. Just sayin’.)
OMG! I’m crying AGAIN! I so resonate with what you have expressed here. I, too, found it difficult to sing all the songs. And, yes, it was ‘our’ church!
I loved this Marg- you are such a great writer. I couldn’t sing very much either because I knew if I sang, I would cry. And I did. I cried because of shame having not worshipped in a while. I didn’t want to surrender to his grace or love because I felt I didn’t deserve it, but being in that church(GCN), I surrendered. I don’t regret it at all.
Ah, friends. I can’t thank you enough for these kind words. Tiffany, Criselda, both of you had a hand in making the weekend so meaningful in my life. Thanks to each of you for your courage in being and sharing who you are. Melanie, it’s in Portland next year. You might just get the chance to hear the voices.
There could be no better description of the power of congregational singing! Thank you, Marg, for this moving piece.
Remember when you asked me what the high point of the weekend was for me, Marg? And I answered that it was the Praise & Worship sessions? Yes. This. The words you expressed when we were walking and talking about it. The words here in this post. These are the reasons that I feel healing when I sing with this group of people, my church body. Thank you for trying to verbalize what I have had rolling about in my heart on the matter.
Readers may be interested in this reflection, “At Home in the House of God” by Eliel Cruz. When I read it I thought, “Ah, so we all felt it.” http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/at-home-in-house-of-god