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Music in Worship is Selah's occasional newsletter for church musicians, with interviews and helpful articles for choir directors, organists, and leaders of congregational song.

Pastoral Viewpoint
Music As a Form of Pastoral Care
Thomas H. Troeger

The other day on National Public Radio I heard a program about a group of Ethiopian women using music to heal a pregnant friend who was ill. There was a strong rhythmic pulse and a haunting rising and falling of sound, repeated again and again. The commentator noted that the use of music in healing is common in nearly all cultures except our own. With the exception of some wise souls who work in musical therapy, we do not generally consider music a means of healing. Yet as Martin Luther knew, evidence of such care is found in the Bible.

From a thesis by the Rev. Richard Gudgeon I recall a story about a woman who was in a state of depression. Luther suggested that members of the church sing with the woman particular psalm tones and chorales. They did this, and the woman's depression lifted.

The music of our worship services often provides pastoral care. A hymn that was sung at a funeral or a wedding or a confirmation will often, when it is repeated during a regular service, aid the work of grief or of renewing vows or reclaiming the zeal of one's first commitment to God. Music also may empower people to stand for justice and to show compassion.

Because music, especially in the context of worship, has such great power, it is vital that we think carefully about its pastoral function in the liturgy. Do we provide an adequate range of sonic variety as well as poetic expression to reach the wide range of need in the human soul? Just as pastors vary their preaching they also need to do the same in collaboration with their musical leaders as they consider the music for worship.

Part of the importance of new hymnody is that it represents opportunities for providing pastoral care of the peculiar needs of our own age. New hymns alone are not sufficient because one function of worship is to connect the present to the great cloud of witnesses from the past. But new hymns belong in any healing understanding of liturgy.

When we sing we perceive our intended wholeness with all that God has made. As I have written in a hymn for the dedication of a new pipe organ:

Articulate with measured sound
the song that fills all things
for even atoms dance around
and solid matter sings

Let healing harmonies release
the hurts the heart complies
that God through music may increase
the grace that reconciles.

(from Thomas H. Troeger, Borrowed Light: Hymn Texts, Prayers and Poems, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.) ©1993, Oxford University Press

­Thomas H. Troeger

Thomas H. Troeger is the Ralph E. and Norma E. Peck Professor of Preaching and Communications at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Col. His hymn texts are sung all over North America. Some of them appear in Together Met, Together Bound and in New Songs of Rejoicing.


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