On any given Sunday at my church, we might sing a Jewish chorus or an African-American spiritual. We'll definitely sing at least one hymn that those of us under the age of 45 have never heard before. You might hear strains of an old Twila Paris song on piano or children singing "Jesus loves me." This morning in children's Sunday School we paraded around the room with tambourines and shakers singing a song from the musical Godspell.
We are a strange rag-tag bunch of ecclesiastically promiscuous worshippers, coming from a variety of traditions (Baptist, Jewish, Catholic, non-denominational, you-name-it) and including a handful of cradle Episcopalians, too. We are PhDs and food stamps, we are blue-collar and white-collar, we are pierced and tattoed hipsters, buttoned-down professors, and permanent-wave grannies.
We have all found a home in an old stone building in a depressed midwestern downtown.
For more than 120 years, the congregation of Gethsemane Episcopal has met in Marion, Indiana. Over the last fifty years, this midwestern town has seen a severe economic downturn. Factories moved overseas or shut down (technology changed, and tvs didn't need those little glass tubes inside, anymore) and people who had grown up expecting a certain kind of job and a certain kind of life now couldn't find any kind of job at all.
Resisting opportunities to move to richer neighborhoods, Gethsemane remains in its historic location, consistently attentive to the needs of the stressed downtown population. It has also become a home for many students and professors from nearby Indiana Wesleyan University and Taylor University. With an emphasis on reconciliation, the church is a haven for all kinds of people in need of refuge.
I've written before about my church, and how I love the liturgy, eucharist, and people. I love the church's commitment to serving the poor and to preaching the gospel.
But Gethsemane has also felt the effects of the changing town economics. Gethsemane operates based on congregational giving and a trust fund, but funds are low. Alerted to the church's need, Jack suggested we work to compile a benefit album. Past and current church members alike contributed Christmas songs over the past three weeks. The songs and styles represent the diversity of our congregation.
There are professional musicians playing on this album, and there are children plunking piano keys. There are beautiful harmonies and missed notes, pauses and hiccups, glimpses of transcendence and discordant moments -- a lot like life in the church. All in all, it's like being crowded into the living room with your grandparents and your cousins and taking turns on the piano and guitar (with a little organ thrown in for good measure). We are not professionals, but we are lovers, and isn't that how the church works best, anyway?
Purchase the album on bandcamp, or hit us up in person to get the ugly sweater sleeve with the disc.
All proceeds from this album go directly to supporting the life and ministry of Gethsemane Episcopal Church. Please give generously.