Our 2024 Polyphony conference theme is “The Call: Reclaiming Your Deep Passion.”
The idea for this theme comes from a casual conversation with Filippa Duke and Rozanna Vancil Goocey and Aaron Rice at our conference in Nashville last year. Filippa is Director of Music and Worship Arts at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh. Rozanna is Minister of Music and Worship at Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. Aaron is chair of the department of music at Gardner-Webb University.
All of these colleagues expressed concern at how few students were studying church music at the collegiate level. Several months later Filippa and Aaron and I met via Zoom to unpack this further and to talk about how we might address this topic at our Polyphony conference.
At the same time I have been working with Ann Bell Worley, a pastoral colleague and writer, on a summary report of Harmony Project 2.0. We have been reading the transcripts of the 75 interviews of church musicians conducted this past summer. I am so inspired by your stories, your courage and commitment in the face of challenges, and your persistence. I see you finding joy and celebrating the goodness of God even when days are hard.
Interviewees spoke at great length about their call to music ministry. And while the experience of calling looks different among individuals, the centrality of this calling to the significance of their work and to even sustaining their work when times are challenging cannot be emphasized enough. Every church musician tells a story about someone who said to them, I see you have a gift. Have you thought about church music as a vocation?
So these conversations point to the importance of this topic: who in the next generation will be called to church music and how does the significance of a sense of calling sustain the life and work of a church musician?
This year’s conference will create the space and time for you to focus on two aspects of reclaiming our calling.
There will be times of worship and conversation to reflect on your own call to ministry and how you might rekindle your own energy and enthusiasm for the work that may have become more labor than love. And we will work together to ask how we may actively cultivate this calling in others, especially students. To help us give attention to this bi-focal, here are just a few highlights:
Julie Merritt Lee and Warren Howell and Suzanne Ringer will lead us to pray and ponder our callings. Julie is a spiritual director, helping people through their own “alchemy of heartbreak,” vocational discernment, spiritual malaise or liminal space that wants expression. Warren and Suzanne serve churches and are creative liturgists who will lead us to pray and ponder in word and song.
Filippa Duke and Aaron Rice will lead a panel discussion on nurturing the call in future church musicians. In different roles at East Carolina University and Gardner-Webb Universities they have observed the marked decline in students enrolled in those respective schools and are aware of wider trends across the country. This panel discussion will help us wrestle with current trends.
And then we will engage the entire conference in round-table discussions and brainstorming on activating a network of vocational talent scouts. The call stories of our interviewees almost always began in the context of local churches. We need to rediscover the best practices that seem to have languished and begin to outline what church musicians in congregations can do to partner with music schools.
What practices can we reclaim as spiritual talent scouts? Could you and I be the one who says to someone else, I see you have a gift? How do we create early opportunities for students to explore music ministry? When can we find ways to literally “pass the baton?” How do we lead our churches to create a “culture of call?”
We hope you will attend the 2024 Polyphony conference, Thursday-Saturday, February 1-3, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Come and reclaim your own call to music ministry. Come and celebrate the camaraderie of kindred spirits. Come and consider how we might nurture the call of the next generation. Your voice matters and we want you to be part of these conversations.