(Author’s Note: This little lament was written early in 2014. For three years, I had been orchestra director at a wonderful SBC congregation for a great pastor and minister of music. It was a part-time job and I loved it since I was doing a lot of writing on issues of worship renewal. It was 20 hours a week working with an excellent music staff and faithful singers and players. Suddenly things changed. For some reason the vision for the worship arts shifted from ministry to the Lord to using worship as a church growth tool. A music ministry dating back to the early 20th century was dismantled in favor of “modern worship.” This poem describes my feelings on the first Sunday after this small-minded devastation took place. For an essay on the loss of emphasis on the worship arts in modern worship got to: https://stevephifer.com/wasted-assets/ )
Today I Feel Pain I Have Never Felt Before
On this Lord’s Day, I am experiencing a deep hurt that I have never before felt.
I am a musician without a place to worship the Lord with my instrument. Most of my life has been spent playing and singing for Jesus. I have a treasured photograph of my father and me, guitar and clarinet, when I had just started playing at about the age of 12. I have a portrait of my largest choir and orchestra with Freeda at the grand piano and with me standing so tall with a baton in my hand. In my files one can find impressive pictures of massive productions telling the Jesus Story through music theatre.
In my memory are scores of singers and players, of rehearsals and services where music was made under our leadership. More recent are the memories of the fellowship of other instrumentalists and vocalists when I took my clarinet and joined them in the praise of our Redeemer.
On this Lord’s Day I have no place to play. There is still a song in my heart, a sweet psalm of praise to my God, but I have no instrumental means of setting it free from its cardiac confinement.
How many others are facing another Sunday when lifelong skills are left untapped, and instruments remain in the cases, and steadfast hearts will not be emptied by the power of music and filled again by the Peace of God and the sense of fulfillment that comes when we have ministered to the Lord? How many?
Holy Week approaches.
I cannot remember the last time I did not have the privilege of celebrating the Jesus Story in this season of remembrance. I will not be offering a woodwind “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday, or a dark sub-tone of suffering on Good Friday, or a soaring counter-line of praise on Resurrection Sunday.
Lord Jesus, are you granting me the gift of this pain so that may have compassion for the misplaced and forgotten instrumentalists around me? Having led them, or their cousins in other communities, in high sounding praise, am I now privileged to join them in their forced silence?
I played in four concert band rehearsals last week. The music was challenging and fun and the fellowship was rewarding. Somehow, good music and good musicians are not enough. I want to worship You with 3 ½ Van Doren reeds on my Buffet R13 clarinet—I want to give my best music to You, Lord Jesus. It is my treasured Alabaster Jar, my lifetime of artistry. It is for You, only for You. Will You be as pleased today with my horn in its case?
I must take my heart out of its case, put it together, warm it up, and give it voice. It is all I have to give to you today.
Stephen Phifer, April 2014
© 2023 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
For an essay on the loss of emphasis on the worship arts in modern worship got to: https://stevephifer.com/wasted-assets/ )