By Rachel Hebert
August 14, 2017

O God of newness, we are grateful for the sunrise of this new day, for our spirits are in need of rebirth and renewal, and every day reminds us of that promise.

O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

God you remind us that fear is the greatest enemy to love. We are reminded of those who perished with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 72 years ago this week, and are reminded of the deadly combination of fear and power combined, and the innocent lives that are sacrificed at a physical, mental, and emotional level, from soldiers to civilians.

O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

God of grace, we feel the vines of fear and the grasping for power across the world. From political elections, to world leaders threatening each nation, to civil wars that still have not ceased.  

O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Loving God, we feel the fear so near to us with the rallies in Charlottesville over this weekend. We weep, unable to understand how such hatred and violence can still be manifest? We pray for all those involved, for the peace-makers who were killed, to those who believe that individualism and skin color is more important and of more value than peace and unity.

O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

God of Strength, we can feel so overwhelmed by fear, can feel its suffocating powers distracting us, leaving us speechless and numb. When such fear strikes so close to home, we can be lost in our own maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that we forget that you have already extended a hand towards us. Help us to reach out to you and grasp the hand in the midst of the storm.

O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Hear our prayers for this world, and it is because you call us to boldly approach the throne of grace, that we boldly pray that love will be the conquering force in this world. Help us to spread love, to be your instruments of love. That we would be aware of our own microaggressions that contribute to sexism and racism, that contribute to judging others and putting others down to build ourselves up, that contribute to caring more for our status, our privilege, our individualism, rather than for the sick, the lonely, the homeless, and our community.

O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Hear our prayers for never-ending love and peace. You are writing a story of peace, and you wish to use our gifts, to use the precious ways in which we can be bearers of truth and life. Help us to proclaim the good news, that fear, power, and hatred will never win, but that love, grace, and peace are the pillars of your kingdom, a kingdom that we are citizens within. The storms may threaten us, but we have faith in You—even faith as small as a mustard seed—O God of truth and grace, that we will never be shaken or moved, and that nothing in this world, can separate us from your love.

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By Rebecca Elton
July 21, 2017

Day 6

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for… the Chorister’s Guild Day Awards have been presented and the winners are (drum roll):

  • Day 1 – Most Confusing
  • Day 2 – Most Overwhelming
  • Day 3 – Most Emotional
  • Day 4 – Best Food
  • Day 5 – Most Productive
  • Day 6 – Most Celebratory

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was “I can’t believe it’s Friday already!” That is amazing, considering on Tuesday I was feeling like a whole week had been packed into two days! Today we finished up with our classes, met with our mentor groups to discuss our action plans and celebrated our time here at the Helen Kemp Banquet. Everyone received certificates and the Year 3s celebrated their graduation from the program. The faculty even sang a song to the tune of “Be Our Guest” that honored each of the Year 3s and the contribution they had made to the program.

It was a day full of reflection and celebration. Pictures were taken, hugs were given and goodbyes were said. Throughout the day, with each final class and conversation, the same message found its way to my heart. “Ok Rebecca, now you know what to do… so, go out there and do it! It will take practice and discipline. It will take time. It won’t always be easy. But, it will always matter and it will always bear fruit. Never forget, I am always with you…”

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By Rebecca Elton
July 20, 2017

Day 5

Prayer – We have been learning about how to make prayer more accessible and interactive for children. Today, we got a chance to design our own multi-sensory children’s prayer, complete with actions and sound effects! I was so impressed with every group’s ideas. I plan to use prayers like these during Gather Together, Wee Worship and Sharing Faith with Children.

Rhythm and games – In our Pedagogy class, led by Amanda Smith, we learn by doing. We have so much fun doing the games and activities that we don’t even realize that we are learning! Afterwards, we discuss the pedagogical value of the activities and all the different things the children are getting out of them. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with a few lines of painter’s tape on the floor!

Anthem planning – Also in Pedagogy, Amanda modeled how to introduce a new anthem to the choir using various steps. Then, we were put in groups and tasked to design a 4-week lesson plan for a different anthem. We collaborated and brainstormed ideas in small groups before coming together as a whole class to share our plan. I look forward to using all I have learned this week to be much more intentional about my planning process in the future.

Conducting – In conducting class, it was my turn to get up in front of the class and conduct the piece “Good Things”. There was another piece I could have chosen, but I found it easier overall and I wanted to challenge myself. Plus, “Good Things” is the piece that I fell apart conducting earlier in the week, so I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Once I stepped up in front of the group, I found that my nerves disappeared and I was completely comfortable. I know the Holy Spirit calmed me so I was able to get the most out of the process and the feedback I received. I left the classroom feeling very empowered to continue my growth as a conductor.

Talk and listen – I have been making so many friends this week. Everyone is so open to meeting new people. The conversations I have had during walks to and from meals, and around the table at meals, have been so inspiring. When I get frustrated or overwhelmed during this upcoming year with life and all of its craziness, I will remember these people and the fact that they are fighting the good fight in the choral trenches all across the country. They are one email away if I need their support.

Ideas for inspiration – During “More Thank Worship”, Heather Potter reminded us that what we do is not simply about the product. It is also about the process. We need to see these children for what they are – unique children of God with their own gifts to offer to the church community. Whatever we do, however we speak, we must strive to set a positive example for our children, so that they are prepared to accomplish works of service in God’s name. In the words of Helen Kemp, “At the center, love must live”.

Congregational worship – I had the opportunity to lead this morning’s prayer service with a wonderful group of women, some Year 2s and some Year 1s. We rehearsed early in the morning and the run-through went great! Before worship started, we lifted our hearts in prayer that this space would be filled with God’s presence. As the service progressed, about 6 things went differently than they did during our run-through. But, most of those unexpected changes made the service better than we had originally imagined it! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering who was actually in the driver’s seat.

Evaluate – Throughout the week, we have been asked to evaluate our practices. What is working? What isn’t? How can we reach these children in a way that no one else in their lives can? Is our room set up effectively? Are we choosing the right anthems? The reflective and evaluative questions do not stop. I know that I will need a mental break when I get back to Williamsburg to process all this information and find meaningful answers. The journey never stops.

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By Rebecca Elton
July 19, 2017

Day 4

I have been exposed to so much new music this week through multiple “Reading Sessions”. Each faculty member picked three pieces they wanted to share with us and led the whole group through them. Because the music is specifically geared toward use with children’s choirs, multiple pieces have sparked my interest. There is one anthem I absolutely fell in love with – “I See You God” by Mark Burrows. I would share some of the profound lyrics with you, but that would mean ruining the surprise! You are just going to have to wait to hear them in worship.

Tomorrow, I will be leading the morning worship service and presenting my conducting piece during class, so I know I will have much to share. For now, I just want to share a God-moment from my Choral Methods class.

In the middle of class…

Mark Patterson: Who would like to volunteer to try this warm up?

Rebecca (thinking): I really should step outside my comfort zone and try this, but I’m not sure what will happen, so I’ll let someone else have this turn.

Katie raises her hand and completes the warm up effectively.

Later…

Mark: Can I get a volunteer to demonstrate this above/below pitch exercise?

Rebecca (thinking): I need to have more confidence in myself and my abilities and I think God is calling me to give it a try…

Ellen raises her hand and completes the exercise fluidly.

Mark: You can also try that another way. How about another volunteer?

Rebecca (thinking): But that means I will have to sing by myself, in front of all of these amazing singers. I’m not sure how I feel about that…

Maryann raises her hand and completes the modified exercise expertly.

Mark: Let’s try it one more time…

Rebecca (thinking): I’m sure I could have done that last one! Oh well, too late. God, am I imagining this voice telling me to raise my hand…

Anthony raises his hand and completes the exercise confidently.

Later…

Mark: I want to show you all how you can work towards blending by adjusting the volume of just a couple of singers. Ok, I’m going to need two volunteers to come down front and sing “Amazing Grace!” Rebecca(thinking): Ok, Ok, God. I get it. Sorry you had to shout. You know I can never say no to “Amazing Grace!”

Rebecca raises her hand and, along with Janis, completes the activity beautifully.

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By Rebecca Elton
July 18, 2017

Day 3

Let me just tell you about my amazing, talented, fun-loving suitemates. We are all Year 1s and Karol Kimmell, one of the faculty at the Institute, put us together in the same suite because she stalked us on Facebook and found out that we are all young moms with children around the same age. But Karol could never have foreseen that we would have so much in common outside our roles as mothers. We bonded instantly because we found ourselves experiencing this crazy thing together. We support each other through the homework, the worship planning, the conducting practices and the exhaustion. Our bond grows stronger with each conversation and interaction. It is like those friendships made during summer camp – they form quickly because the shared experience is so unique and inspiring. However, unlike a summer camp friendship, I predict that these ladies will still be in my life long after this three-year program has run its course.

I’m glad to report that I only cried two times today!

Ok, I know that does not sound like much of an accomplishment, but this experience leaves one so emotionally raw and physically tired that I’m amazed that the number is so low!

The first time was during my conducting class. The students were each taking turns conducting a piece picked by the instructor for our study and practice. It was our first time up in front of the group “driving the car”, so to say. I was the last student to get a turn and, when I got up there, I was thinking about the conducting choreography so hard that I nervously fumbled many of the passages. My instructor started to praise me on something I had done well when I suddenly started to tear up… even though I wasn’t really upset. I think it was just a lot of nervous energy finally finding a way out of my body! All my classmates rallied around me and encouraged me. I was able to get through the passage twice more, each time with multiple improvements.

The second time was during the evening prayer service. The opening hymn was “How Firm a Foundation," a text and tune that hold a very special place in my heart. I put my hymnal down and sang my heart out! During the last verse (my favorite), I looked out through the upper windows, noticed sun beams beautifully breaking through clouds and thought to myself “Jim Weaver is smiling down on me right now…” I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit so strongly in that moment and I lost it.

Throughout my life, I have been inspired by so many supportive, engaging, talented musicians. They left their fingerprints on my heart. I would not be where I am today, doing what I am doing, without their influence. I now find myself poised and ready to pass those blessings on to our children at WPC.

Never mind… make that three times today.

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