If you asked me what life event compelled me to be a champion for intergenerational worship, I’d quickly tell you it was my singing in the adult choir in my home church next to my grandfather while in high school.
When I was fifteen, I had just felt the call of the Lord to vocational ministry. I was hungry to get some experience learning, watching, and singing in an adult choir since this is what I wanted to do with my life. My grandfather, who had always sung in our church choir, personally contacted our minister of music asking if I could sing with them. In fact because I was only fifteen, he agreed to bring me home after choir practice each week. I was honored to get to sit next to him in the choir and to get to see a different side of him than I did normally. I met some other great giants of the faith in our church and we worshiped together while making music and sharing life together. Little did I know how significant this experience would be for me, because honestly, in the early 1990s it was normal to know and experience worship with all ages.
My grandfather was a great singer, but not a music reader. He was, however, what I would call a great functional music reader. He knew basic rhythms and could follow his part very well. His tonal memory and retention were excellent. He used to kid me that with my music reading skills next to him, he became a better musician himself. Of course having his approval meant everything to me. He’d invested so much in my own life; I was honored I could even invest in his in some way.
My favorite memory during those years singing with him was during a particularly difficult choir rehearsal. We were working on a difficult passage and our music minister kept stopping us constantly. You could tell my grandfather was getting a little frustrated, and I was too. We were sight-reading so it wasn’t familiar to us yet. I’ll never forget what happened next because I can still remember distinctly to this day. He said to me, “You know, we’d get this the next time around if he’d just let us do it again.” This stuck with me and I remembered thinking, “I better remember this so I don’t frustrate my own choirs.”
Fast forward several years and I’m directing my first church choir while in college. We’re reading a new piece and there were tricky parts and I started stopping every measure or so to correct. I could hear the deep sighs in my choir room and immediately I was ushered back to that moment when my grandfather’s voice echoed in mine and said, let them do it again–pick your battles–it’s frustrating to start and stop all the time. I’ve tried to mend my ways—you’ll have to ask those I lead if I’ve gotten any better over the years!
Fast forward to today. I think about my years singing with my grandfather often. It was one of the sweetest and formative times in my life. I learned what it meant to BE in a church choir and the community building it affords. I learned as much, if not more, than the adults during that experience. While I was already a good singer and sight-reader, I learned more about relating and interacting with adults than any other time in my childhood, which has benefitted me as a worship pastor. The tenor of my home section loved that I brought vitality and singing skills, but their investment in me was unmatched. I’m still benefitting.