The Stranger’s Guise was the theme of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians Music and Worship Conference in Montreat, NC this summer (2022). Let’s dissect the meaning of the word “guise”. A guise is an external form, appearance, or manner of presentation, typically concealing the true nature of something. Therefore, the theme of the conference resonates around the diversity of people we surround ourselves with every day. The next time you go to a restaurant, look to your left, then look to your right. Who do you see? What does their appearance say to you?
Opening worship was Sunday evening, and it opened with a Celtic Rune of Hospitality:
We saw a stranger yesterday,
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place.
And in the sacred name of the triune God
He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ
In the stranger’s guise.
The words date back to before Christianity but has parallels to many modern-day cultures. Jeanne Craine states it best:
“The message is that we need to honor the heart of the stranger; we need to recognize how like us the person is; we need to remember the humanity of each and every person. Welcoming the stranger blesses ourselves as well as it aids the recipient of our hospitality.”
Now, I have some questions for you. How many times have you hit the lock button on your car door when you see a homeless person in the city? How many times have you been intimated by a person of color wearing a hoodie? How many times have you seen a person with tattoos and piercings and thought they are never going to be a corporate professional? On the flip side, how many times have you been intimidated by joining a ministry because you have not felt good enough to be in that ministry?
What if we thought of these strangers differently? What if we loved our neighbor as ourselves and threw judgments aside? It’s time to embrace others because they ARE Christ in disguise. As Jeanne says, welcoming the stranger blesses us as well as aids the recipient of our hospitality.
In Thursday’s worship service, Aisha Brooks-Johnson opened her sermon with a song. Insert the tune of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” here. While I sat there, I thought “Where is she going with this?” As she closed her sermon, she changed the words to “Don’t worry, be community”. Embrace the Stranger’s Guise and bring them into your community. Aisha gave a total of 6 sermons throughout the conference and each one was beautifully wrapped around the conference’s Celtic theme and nature’s beauty.
Now, I’d like to share some of my music experiences. The worship and music conference always consists of an adult auditioned Chamber Choir, 200-300 person adult choir, high school choir, high school auditioned chamber choir, middle school choir, children’s choir, an orchestra, and many lectures for continued education. This year we had Dr. Andre Thomas for Adult Chamber and Adult Choir; Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe for High School; Dr. Brandon Boyd for Middle School; Dr. Mary Biddlecombe for Children’s Choir.
As some of you may already know, this year was sentimental for me. Dr. Andre Thomas was the professor for my choral professor during my undergrad. Later, in 2010, I sang in a collegiate honor choir and did a conducting masterclass with him. Lastly, in 2018, one of my students sang in an honor choir with him. My association with Dr. Thomas has been extremely rewarding.
Day 1 started with a bang! We received our music in Chamber and found out we are presenting an 18 minute CANTATA (I Will Lift Mine Eyes by Adolphus Hailstork) on the Thursday night concert, along with 4 other songs. Day 2 we found out the tenor soloist came down with COVID and Dr. Thomas asked the tenor section who has sung or prepared these solos before. BY THE GRACE OF GOD, two of the tenors had prepared these solos and were able to cover and were fantastic! Towards the end of day 2, Philip Morgan, a person on this year’s planning team, approached me and asked me to sing in David Gambrell’s hymn festival. For those who are not familiar with David Gambrell, here is his bio:
David Gambrell, is associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Theology and Worship. He has served as an advisory member of the Glory to God hymnal committee, coordinator for the 2017 revision to the PC(USA) Directory for Worship, and co-editor of the 2018 Book of Common Worship. David is editor of the Westminster John Knox Press Connections Worship Companion series and author of Presbyterian Worship: Questions and Answers (WJKP, 2019) and Breathing Spirit into Dust: Fifty Hymn Texts (GIA, 2015).
I was honored to be given this opportunity and jumped right to it! Day 3 was filled with rehearsals and the hymn festival. As we entered day 4, I learned about a solo in the piece If I Could Help Somebody by Alma Bazel Androzzo arranged by Andre Thomas. I rushed to the audition and let go of all my inhibitions and SANG. I ended up being selected to be one of 5 soloists for the Friday night concert. You can watch a recording here.
As day 4 continued, we had a sound check and then a performance for Chamber Choir. We not only performed that 18-minute cantata, but it was incredible! As Dr. Thomas says “intimidation works”. Through 2 rehearsals a day for 4 days, he grilled and worked with us. It was so worth it. If you are interested in hearing a recording of it, please contact me and I’ll share!
Day 5 brought many sleepy eyes but also many tears. It was our last day and closing worship and concert. It was the last day for Aisha to wear her cute red heart-shaped glasses and preach. It was the last day of fellowship. It was the last day to feel the holy spirit in the Anderson auditorium. We all came to cherish it. As the evening rolled around, it was time for our closing concert. The handbells played some amazing Latin American music and the children’s choir sang a piece from Called the musical. The middler choir was outstanding, as was the high school choir. Our closing song was a combined choir with adults and high school and children. It was called Hope for Resolution and it incorporated the tunes Of the Father’s Love Begotten and Thula Sizwe (Nation, Do Not Cry). The Holy Spirit, Mother of us all, was present that night and left us leaving hopeful.
In closing, what did I take away from this year’s Worship and Music conference? I learned to continue to love my neighbor, even though they may not look like me or think like me. Don’t worry, be community! Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
Tim Blair says
It sounds fantastic! Thank you for sharing
Susie Machemehl says
Awesome, Jennifer…would love for TPC to do Hope for Resolution. Thanks for sharing.
What a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing it with us.
Eric Mize says
I am so happy for your experience. We are so lucky to have you as our Music Director!