Convention’s ‘Life Together’ is in worship

By Katie Schuermann

ST. LOUIS (July 25, 2013) — The Old Adam doesn’t want to go to church, yet the New Adam, Christ Jesus, bids the Baptized to find Him there. For this reason, delegates of the 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS, “Baptized for This Moment,” gathered morning, noon and night around the Word to drown their Old Adam in baptismal remembrance.

Cantor Phillip Magness uses headphones to rehearse on the organ while the convention is in session. (LCMS Communications)

Cantor Phillip Magness uses headphones to rehearse on the organ while the convention is in session. (LCMS Communications)

“This is a unique gathering,” explained the Rev. William C. Weedon, director of worship for the Synod and chaplain of the LCMS International Center. “This is a gathering of the people of God, and the offering up of prayer becomes our primary business … Every other act of business needs to be in service to that.”

“I am so glad we are taking time out to worship,” said the Rev. Kenneth Spence, a pastoral voting delegate from the Michigan District. “I like to see us worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s been a welcome change.”

Organizing and executing the various prayer services — including a Divine Service, a Commemoration of the Faithful Departed service and a Service of Baptismal Remembrance — take careful planning, preparation and rehearsal.

“I’ve been rehearsing for this convention for about the past three months,” said the Rev. Benjamin Ball, senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, Ill., and frequent liturgist for the convention. “The actual rehearsal and warm-up and preparation for each individual service take a few hours. I’ve been up early [throughout the week] to make sure everything is right and we are all squared away to hear God’s Word and offer our prayers and supplications to Him.”

The Rev. Jon D. Vieker, senior assistant to the Synod’s president, assisted by Weedon, led two separate teams in planning the opening and daily worship services of the convention. Dr. Mark Bender, minister of music at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo., along with organist/pianist Melissa Niemeyer, helped plan and direct the music for Saturday evening’s convention-opening Divine Service. Phillip Magness, cantor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Broken Arrow, Okla., along with Matt Janssen, assistant director of bands at Lutheran High School South, St. Louis, assisted Vieker in planning and leading the music for the prayer services throughout the week.

“The musicians need to come prepared,” Magness said, “so I arrange a lot of stuff and send it off to them.”

Individual preparation aside, holding three worship services a day in a busy convention hall calls for a bit of rehearsal creativity in the musicians.

“Because of union rules, we can’t have the hall after we close up,” Magness said, “which is why you see me with headphones on during some of the sessions.”

At different times throughout the day, Magness could be seen at the organ console, redirecting the sound through his headphones in order to get some necessary practicing done while the convention was in session. The need for rehearsals and breaks requires two musicians to cover a convention.

“I am pleased to have Matt Jansen working with me,” Magness said. “Matt also plays the organ, so I let him cover the station while I go practice with somebody … Being from out of town, I’m definitely blessed to have all of Matt’s students, associates and friends from southern Illinois and the St. Louis area playing with us during the convention.”

Both Magness and Bender utilitzed local musicians to provide a variety of musical styles and textures throughout the convention’s worship. Latin American grooves, orchestral settings, folk and traditional instrumentations, wind ensemble interludes, organ preludes, choral Psalmodies, spirituals and a cappella chanting permeated the different worship services.

“I think it was a wonderful mix of old and new,” said the Rev. Jon Olson, a pastoral voting delegate from the Minnesota South District.

“I only had one complaint,” said Olson’s neighbor to the north, the Rev. Donald Wilke, a pastoral voting delegate from the Minnesota North District. “The trumpet [stop] of the organ was so loud [yesterday] that I had to plug my ears. Therefore, I couldn’t sing, and that really kind of hurt. I love singing.”

“It took awhile to get the sound adjusted,” Magness explained. “There were [sound] pockets in the hall … It’s just the nature of a hall like this. Three years from now, the plan is to walk around with a decibel meter the day before [convention starts] and test all of the little pockets and optimize the sound. Some delegates say they’d like us to move around and have the convention in different cities, but, from a musician’s standpoint, one really good thing about keeping it in the same room is that we learn so much. If we have the same space three years from now, we will do an even better job.”

“I’m not a voting delegate,” Magness joked, “but my vote is to keep [the convention] in St. Louis.”

When delegates opened their convention Daily Worship folders, they saw the Latin words Iesu, iuva (Jesus, help me) at the top of the first page. The Latin words Soli Deo Gloria! (only to God the glory) appeared at the bottom of the last page of the final service in the worship folder.

“That’s sort of a little Bach-ism that is running through the liturgy,” Weedon explained. “It was characteristic of J.S. Bach that, when he composed anything, he began and ended with these prayers.”

It is details such as these that helped delegates focus on the very reason they were gathered, the very reason they continue to have “Life Together” even after the convention has ended.

“The worship life here has been very centered on the Sacrament of Baptism,” said the Rev. Anthony Oliphant, a pastoral advisory delegate from the Northern Illinois District, “which, as we know, unites us to Christ, which then, in turn, unites us to our neighbor. It’s really done a lot to encourage our ‘Life Together’ as Christians, as Lutherans, as a Synod, so that we walk together not only with our Lord but with each other. We can seek the good of our neighbor, even as we are worshiping our Savior.”

The 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS met July 20-25 at the America’s Center Convention Complex under the theme “Baptized for This Moment.” Among convention participants were some 1,200 clergy and lay voting delegates.

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