A joyful noise for GC 2012 opening worship

For about 450 singers from around the state of Florida, 4 p.m. on April 24 will provide a once in a lifetime opportunity.  On that day, they will join voices to provide music for the opening worship for General Conference 2012, and Methodists across Florida are invited to attend service.

Opening worship at 2008 General Conference.

The prospect of such an amazing chance to use their gifts for good is not only thrilling, but also daunting, according to the local worship coordinator, the Rev. Lee Lallance, minister of music and the fine arts at First UMC of Lakeland.

While the volunteers, who come from 35 different churches all over the state, will have had lots of practices at home, on the big day, they will have just two rehearsals earlier in the day before they go “live” at the 4:00 service.   Lallance admits that this performance, which includes an orchestral accompaniment and a procession, will be hard to pull off, but he has faith that it will be a rousing success.

“This is a once in a lifetime event for musicians, and it will be exciting to participate in worship on this scale,” he said, adding that some churches are sending their entire choirs, whereas others are sending only two or three vocalists.  All the singers (the number had reached 451 about a week before the event) will be pulling together to perform two pieces of music commissioned especially for the event, as well as a song in Swahili.

“The opening piece is called ‘Follow Me’ by Mark Miller,” said Lallance, who said that some of the lyrics use text from the UM Hymnal and offer the message that “God Has Work for Us Today.”  Another commissioned work is by Chuck Bell with arrangement by Kathleen McGuire.  Another challenging work, called Baba Yetu, is a rendition of the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili.  In addition, the service will include choral responses, he said.  Preaching at the service will be Bishop Larry Goodpaster, from the Western North Carolina Annual Conference.

Bob Drick, director of sacred arts at Pasadena Community UMC in St. Petersburg, said the performance will be a challenge.  “Having two rehearsals on that day is kind of tricky, and also the pieces of music have some tricky rhythm, besides the Baba Yetu,” he said. He is taking about eight to 10 choir members, and said they have been practicing the music about 40 minutes a week.  “We’ve been working on the music and have extra rehearsals and we’ll get it. This is an opportunity we won’t see again in our lifetime,” he said. 

Opening worship at 2008 General Conference.

The Rev. Sarah Miller, associate pastor at New Horizon UMC in Haines City, said her church is sending 25 people for the event--one of the largest groups on board.

“My congregation is full of ‘veteran’ Methodists, and when they heard there would be an opportunity to sing at General Conference, they jumped at the chance.  They realized this will be the closest General Conference to them for the rest of their lives, and they are eager to share their gifts and talents,” she said.  “I’m so proud, as one of their pastors,” she said.

“It has been intimidating for them to learn the music by themselves and then know they have only two run-throughs, then it’s show time, but Lee Lallance and his team have been so good to send them audio tracks and they’ve already practiced for six weeks, with one more to go,” she said.  Miller said that as of Easter, the participants from her church felt they had mastered the Swahili piece.

In addition to the music at the opening worship, there will be all different kinds of music every day for attendees to enjoy at noon in the rotunda area, said Lallance.

As for the opening worship and the hard work and nerves which will accompany it, Drick said, “It would be good if it is bathed in the Holy Spirit--we’ll shoot for that.”

All worship services and plenary sessions will be webcast at www.gc2012.umc.org.

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