By: Jorge Sayago-Gonzalez

Enjoy this article about music from our archives,  first posted in our print format.

With diversity growing at rapid rates, churches are now facing new challenges of engaging the ever-changing needs of their surrounding communities. Church educators are always searching for new ways of creating space for awakening-the-soul experiences. Music can help mold the space in which this awakening process occurs. A particular song can move us to moments of connection, peace, healing, liberation and reconciliation. Persons may not remember the discussion in the last small group, but they hum or sing the last hymn they heard during worship for the rest of the week. Out of this understanding, I have come to realize that music serves a bigger purpose in our spiritual lives and in the lives of our congregations. Music is a bridge that allows us to connect, affirm and give voice to the needs of the world. It is a channel through which we are reminded of God’s love for us. If we take advantage of music as a bridge, we allow the Spirit to use music as a creative tool to awaken our souls to new horizons of love.

It is important to remember the power of music in our lives and in the worship experience, because it is through music that the experience comes to life. When we embrace the idea of music as a bridge, we reclaim music for what it is: a universal language in which we can communicate and experience life and God. Thus, in a time when both the church is challenged to expand its borders, to embrace and reflect diversity in proactive ways, we must take advantage of the power of music and let it be a channel for unity. Therefore, “multicultural worship” (embracing the voices of other people, places and nationalities in our worship experience) is essential for today’s church. Music in multicultural worship and all the different venues in which music can be expressed such as dancing, communal signing and performances are powerful and effective ways in which the church responds to the world’s needs and celebrates who we are as people of God.

Music functions as a bridge for multicultural worship because it creates and facilitates a unique space to encounter God, reminding us of our identity, regardless of origin. A nurturing element in the music allows us to connect our story to moments, places and situations. The sound of the beating drum, the shouts of joy and dance during worship in a multicultural church in Louisville, KY, allows members from Sudan to reconnect with their homeland spiritually and emotionally. The “momento de canticos” (moment of song) with some salsa or ranchera music brought identity and belonging to the Hispanic-Latinos/ as members from West-Nashville during their blended worship service. Contemporary “praise and worship music” is a key element on youth and young adult worship. When their voices come together and are celebrated, we begin to learn from and connect with one another. Churches, therefore, can begin to respond prophetically to their calling as Christians by giving witness of God’s unconditional love.

Multiculturalism can take many shapes and forms. Some congregations see the faces in their neighborhoods changing and they welcome the new groups of their community. Knowing that these new groups have the need to connect and feel part of a community of faith, these congregations allow room for the influences of other cultures in their worship experiences. As the members reach out, they provide a hospitable environment to the new faces in their congregation. These congregations have come to realize that God is calling them to a new way of doing worship. Besides the challenges that emerge when different groups with different opinions try to work together, the openness to the “unknown” turns out to be a blessing in the life of the congregation. It works both ways because both sides of the congregation awake the plural ways in which people God and express their identity and sense of belonging. Other congregations, due to their homogeneity, find themselves without the need to respond in such immediate ways. Yet, they are willing to celebrate the diversity of the body of Christ. Many times the way of doing this is through music and worship.

There are numerous ways to apply this idea of music as a bridge for multicultural worship. A great opportunity to celebrate other cultures is during World Communion Sunday. On this day, give your service or lesson a different twist. For example, members can do parts of the worship service and prayers in different language, especially if you chose a language that has some relationship to your neighborhood, mission or members of your congregation. For congregations without members of other nationalities, sing songs from other countries, in different languages and in different styles such as jazz, reggae, salsa, hip-hop, or gospel. You can also plan a worship service celebrating the partnership of your church with other congregations around the world or other churches in your community. Combine both choirs or invite the music group from another church to have a special song during the worship service and explain the meaning in their culture, tradition and community. Small group discussions are an excellent way to follow up these experiences. You can organize a dinner, a party, or a concert where other cultures are celebrated, combining food and music from other nationalities.

Resources are out there and the opportunities are numerous; it is just a matter of intentionality. Regardless of the demographics of your congregation, through music we all have the opportunity to celebrate in news ways the wonderful diversity of the body of Christ.

Jorge Sayago-Gonzalez, M. Div., is the director of youth ministries at Second Presbyterian Church in Louisville, KY. He is a worship leader with special interest in multicultural, contemporary and emergent worship. His article first appeared in the print edition of the APCE Advocate.