Worship & Music in a Time of Pandemic
What’s been going on?
How has this ministry adapted and continued during the pandemic?
What challenges did you face?
Did any unexpected joys arise during these past few discombobulated months?
Those were among the loaded questions posed to OSL’s Worship & Music ministry team: Gene LeVasseur, Director of Music and Worship; Denny Gale, Celebrate Band Coordinator; Matthew Tylutki, Principal Organist; and Deanna Wehrspann, Music and Worship Professional.
Loaded or not, the questions are legitimate—and important: Worship is the centerpiece of congregational life, and first on the list of OSL’s core values, and music, in turn, is vital to the worship experience. How, then, to continue to do justice to that aspect of ministry when group gatherings are problematic if not impossible?
Fortunately, the Worship & Music team joined the rest of Our Savior’s professional staff in rising to the challenge.
“We never ‘took a break,’” says Gene LeVasseur. “We continued to produce worship services for TV and streaming when in-person worship was suspended. Deanna continued to coordinate readers, develop worship planning resources, and serve as a musician. Denny coordinated the Celebrate musicians and led worship as a singer and guitarist. Matthew continued to serve as principal organist, leading Festive worship services, and also has produced “Freddy’s Faithful Friends” and Music Devotions videos. I continued to plan and direct Festive and Celebrate worship services musically and administratively.”
“Because of COVID, we had to limit the number of people in the band,” says Denny Gale. “We have a seven-person limit, for spacing. That works, but it’s forced Gene and me to ramp up our planning to make sure all parts are covered—vocal and instrumental. We’ve had to do more personnel planning.
“And we had to put the kibosh on midweek rehearsals,” Denny adds, “except for some special songs. We’d love to get back to them.”
“I miss the rehearsals too,” Matthew Tylutki echoes, “choir rehearsals, leading congregational singing—that’s probably the biggest loss for me, leading from the organ. The congregation probably feels that way, too.
“But on the positive side, I’ve gotten to focus on conducting smaller groups from the console, adding more outside musicians—safely—creating Freddy videos to add to worship life here. It’s been a good outlet for creativity. Sometimes limitations can bring out the Spirit in new ways, especially in worship.”
Deanna Wehrspann agrees: “Personally, I’ve enjoyed doing a lot more quartet singing in Festive,” she says. “And I’ve felt very safe in the balcony,” where singers and musicians strictly observe social distancing guidelines.
Sometimes, assembling the crews that help make worship services happen has been a challenge. “Maybe 55% of readers are not comfortable coming in yet,” Deanna estimates. “But we’ve always had somebody. The ones who do come in are doing double- or even triple-duty, and are stepping out of their comfort zone a little—they’re more likely to say ‘wherever you need me’ instead of requesting a particular service. That’s really appreciated.”
Naturally, Deanna hopes the COVID-19 situation will improve greatly in the near future. “We have readers who really want to read again—they see it as a calling—and the same for choir members. They’re being safe, but they feel sad.”
“That’s true of all volunteers,” Gene adds. “Greeters, ushers, cantors, sound, TV crew, communion servers. Now that we are doing in-person worship again, we’ve had to do it as safely as possible with about 25% of the volunteers. Everyone has had to adapt, and all have done this with amazing grace and love.
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is serving communion safely. Several top health professionals, the pastors, and communion team leaders developed a method that has worked beautifully for in-person worship services. Another huge challenge is that worshipers at in-person services are encouraged to not sing or speak. Humming music, clapping, raising hands, etc. are not ‘normal’ for us, but both the congregation and leaders continue to find ways to actively worship safely.”
What about pleasant surprises that may have emerged during the pandemic? “Without a doubt, the Freddy video series in Kidtalk has been our number-one unexpected joy in worship ministry,” Gene says. “Matthew has a passion and talent for producing videos and we have found that our adults love these as much as the children. Another huge joy for both leaders and the congregation has been the adaptations and creative writings for worship. The pastors and musicians are creating texts and music that are Connecting Faith with Everyday Life. What a blessing it is to have such faithful servants here working together and being led by the Holy Spirit!”
And to circle back to the top question: What’s been going on? The answer is a lot, with lots more to come as ministry continues full speed at Our Savior’s, meeting and overcoming challenges. Just as it’s always done.