By Dr. Charlotte Kroeker
CMI is the grateful recipient of an estate gift from someone I last spoke with 20 years ago. Jan and I shared appreciation for a common upbringing with music rooted in congregational singing that at the time was shaping a framework that would become the Church Music Institute. Unknown to his attorney, executor or to me, he has followed CMI’s work for two decades until his unexpected death in January, 2022. Now Jan has invested in CMI as we invested in something he cared about. He returned the favor.
So many of our actions are much less purposeful than we believe. Who of us could anticipate the trajectory of our vocational lives? The places we would live? The relationships that would be most important to us? The joys and sorrows that would shape our lives? The dreams that would be dashed only to be replaced with reality better than we ever could have believed?
For those of us who have lived longer, we acknowledge how little control we have over what happens to us. If we think we have control, we fool only ourselves. One aspect over which we do have control is our choices that build character. As Christians, we call this discipleship, the lifelong task of becoming more like Jesus Christ, our example, whose birth we celebrate this season. We have options to invest in timeless truths, beauty and goodness the world needs, and about which there can be little disagreement.
A helpful tool is the formative nature of music, and the power it has to influence our character. The Biblical mandate to “Sing to the Lord” repeated consistently through scripture is no accident: neuroscience tells us we remember longer words we sing than words we hear or speak. Music has always been a central part of worship from the earliest times. CMI takes this centrality seriously, helping congregations, clergy and musicians choose music thoughtfully, to think about when it should be used and how it can best be offered.
A relatively unknown 18th c. hymn of Charles Wesley set to an equally unknown but sturdy tune by James Lucas is an example. As we begin 2023 it calls us to consider anew our calling and purpose. Dr. Ann Knipschild, a professor and friend to CMI, has set it for reproduction. Both tune and text are in the public domain, can be used without copyright infringement, and with gratitude to these wise benefactors from our past.
We don’t always know what is lasting, especially when information bombards us from all directions demanding our attention and consideration. Those of us living within the traditions of the church are most fortunate to have scripture, psalmody, hymnody, and worship practice that have lasted. Time has sorted those truths that have served generations before us, truths that speak to us today, and insights that may give us clues about what will last into the future. I’m betting on it. Just like Jan did.