A Job Well Done Takes Time and Lasts



What do Johnny Appleseed, Medieval stonemasons, and thoughtful 21st century worship and music leaders have in common?  The short answer is that they all did/do their work well for the present and it lasts beyond their lifetimes.

First, John Chapman (1774-1845), affectionately known as Johnny Appleseed.  Folklore may present an image of a man with a tin pan hat randomly crossing the country with apple seeds, planting trees wherever he went.  That was not the case.  Rather, he established nurseries for the apple trees, fencing them for protection from wildlife, and securing a caretaker before moving onto a new location.

Second, medieval stonemasons were highly skilled craftsmen who belonged to guilds.  Their work was arduous and poorly compensated for a church they would not complete in their lifetime.  What would they often say when asked about their work?  “We are building a cathedral.”

Likewise, clergy, musicians, and congregational leaders who care deeply about worship think about the long term value of their decisions when planning weekly and monthly.  They know the words we speak and music we sing has formative, eternal value and cannot be considered as temporary or decided lightly.  They choose liturgy and music with truths in the spirit of Psalm 78:6-7:

. . .that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. . .

A recent article calls for such care in decision-making “longtermism.”  Though a secular article, the proffered definition is remarkably similar to what Christians would consider the Great Commandment:  “Morality at its core is about putting ourselves in others’ shoes and treating their interests as we do our own.”  Further, the article calls us to consider what we do now as affecting not only those currently alive, but also future generations, and encourages us to influence the long-term future as a key moral priority of our time.  Future people count.  We can make their lives better by how we think about the long-term impact of our decisions.  The author notes a remarkable overlap between what is good for people in the here and now, and what is good for our posterity.[1]

How can we create environments within our congregations that will have long term good?  Rev. Dr. Tim Shapiro who heads the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis talks of the formative power of congregations and suggests telling stories, attending to relationships, observing religious practices and reflecting on practice as important parts of formation.  He lifts up worship, prayer, singing, study of scripture and rites of passages or sacraments as particularly formative.[2]  If we value formation, how we approach these activities assumes great importance.  As Erik Routley reminds us:

"You can't make a congregation sing just by putting music in front of them.  You can do that with a choral society or a church choir, it's their job to sing what they are given.  But put an awkward and unfriendly tune before a congregation and it will simply stay [silent]. It has the right to strike, and it does." 

The Church Music Institute consists of its members, newsletter subscribers, and others who care about the worship and music of the church. We are the stonemasons and tree planters who seek to “build the cathedrals” and nurture faith of Christians yet to come. Join us in this task of finding and implementing the best resources, tools and practices for worship and music. Our efforts are worthwhile.  We have the examples of others who bequeathed us texts and tunes for hundreds of years that continue to enrich our lives and connect us to God.  May we be the worthy stonemasons of this era so those in the future will have more treasures from which to choose, all because we carry on a tradition of long-term faithfulness.

Charlotte Kroeker, August 2022

[1] MacAskill, William.  “The Case for Lontermism.”  The New York Times, Augut 5, 2022.  Mr. McAskill is professor of philosophy at Oxford University and author of “What We Owe the Future.”

[2] Shapiro, Tim.  “The Formative Power of Your Congregation.”