April 20 – April 22, 2020



James Abbington, Antonio Alonso, and Karol Kimmell, Plenary Presenters. A plenary panel session will be moderated by Paul Westermeyer.

It begins with breath: the breath of an individual, the breath of a community. As with the Spirit that hovers in creation, infusing creation with life anew, the Spirit is at work in and through breath joined to heartbeat. Singing is natural to creatures, as hymn writer Robert Lowry asks rhetorically, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” In response to God’s revelation in Christ by the Spirit’s power, we cannot help but sing.

And yet: keeping the song, pausing to breathe, and finding our voices are not so straightforward for us as individuals or as the body of Christ. We praise the incarnate Word dwelling among us, but is attention given to how this Word forms us through musical languages and experiences? How do we both welcome the gifts of skilled musicians in service to the liturgy and nurture the collective voice of our intergenerational singing assemblies? How do differing cultural understandings of musical formation shape our embodied practice? Do pastors and musicians work together in encouraging and supporting the assembly’s song, seeking out the diverse gifts within it?

Lowry’s hymn also notes that our lives “flow on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation.” How can we sing in the midst of the  lamentations and injustices in our local communities, the world, and the groaning of the earth itself? Above all the sights and sounds clamoring for our attention, can we listen for the still small voice, catch our breath, and connect to the heartbeat of the community for the sake of healing and wholeness?

In 2020, the Institute of Liturgical Studies will attend to these and similar questions around the theology and practice of music in our worshipping communities, questions of value not only to church musicians, pastors, and worship leaders, but for the whole people of God. What we sing matters for us and the world God so loves. We will gather to reflect, inquire, and to sing, seeking the Spirit’s guidance in our care for the church’s living breath of liturgy and song.