On Music: Our Community Pool
Mary Margaret Flannagan
Rev. Mary Margaret Flannagan serves as co-pastor at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina.
Our baptismal waters—however near or far from Luck—all came from the same source. They trickled through the early disciples’ fingers on the shores of the Jordan, flowed beyond the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean, streamed around each continent and into the bays and tidal pools of wildly diverse people whose ears were tuned to different sounds, bathing us in the unity of God’s love from every time and place.
Remembrances of baptism liturgies are becoming more common in Presbyterian congregations. Staff and members who experience them at conferences carry the liturgies home and put them into regular rotation each year. Inviting worshipers to hear the baptismal questions and reaffirm their own answers can be a profound moment in the life of faith, especially when so many members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were baptized at too young an age to remember the sacrament for themselves.
The remembrance of baptism liturgy also binds each local community together in that particular time and place. Because our mobile society prompts individuals to move away from their baptizing congregations, it is unlikely that any faith community was present for the baptism of each of their current members. A remembrance of baptism gives each congregation the opportunity to both witness sacramental moments for one another—hearing one another’s answers and watching the water roll down their neighbor’s face—and also being the body of Christ together. In this font, they are together bathed in God’s grace, raised into Christ’s resurrection, and reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit, no longer a collection of random strangers who happened to worship there that day. Simply put, they become church.
A worshiping community that is also church is a beautiful and profound thing to behold. Children wiggle and scream without congregational anxiety. Someone stumbles off the street and into the pew without judgment for being late or wearing the wrong outfit. There are both challenging and affirming moments. Everyone has a part in the service. Their individual notes amplify the group’s harmony, so that the church resonates with an energy unlike anything else in the world. The sound spills beyond the church doors and waves through the community, piquing the ears of those who hear, bringing curious neighbors in to see for themselves. The vibrations grow deeper and wider with each new individual who enters the pool, resounding again and again with the glory of God on earth.
This kind of church resonance cannot be crafted by any group of humans alone (however committed they may be); it is a miracle from God. Musicians are lucky enough to be able to recreate the magic of a community sound pool and point to God’s work among us; walking down any practice hall in a music school or a concert hall before the orchestra tunes leaves one swimming in a pool of tones and meters.
Handbell players are among those who float on sound waves together. As they lift and shake and swing, their dings and dongs create a rich pool of sound. Ears ring as bells pass nearby. Shoulders resonate as bells come to rest. Bodies feel the ripples of physical sound washing over them. Anyone within earshot finds themselves buoyed by the same waves and swimming in the pool filled with grace (and maybe a few clunks).
Bell towers shoulder much larger church bells and carillons. One famous bell hung in the steeple of a Lutheran church in Luck, Wisconsin, bearing the inscription:
To font and table,
To prayer and word,
I call every seeking soul.1
Its pool of sound was much wider than its own steeple or churchyard; the bell audibly called community members to worship as its tone sounded up and down the street and across Little Butternut Lake, as if to call, “Come home!” When neighboring, seeking souls heard the sound, not only were they reminded of the church building or the time, they were also bathing in rich tones that transcended institutional life. People were reminded of the light in that place, the sound of their pastor’s voice, and the feeling of being together as a community. Even today, years after the bell was destroyed in a church fire, the sound of that toll still washes through our spiritual imaginations.
That wee congregation in Luck, Wisconsin, is part of the larger body of Christ, with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). Though we may not have heard their bell with our own ears, we have heard the call to worship together. We trust in the one Lord who calls us to the same faith through rippling waters of baptism. Our baptismal waters—however near or far from Luck—all came from the same source. They trickled through the early disciples’ fingers on the shores of the Jordan, flowed beyond the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean, streamed around each continent and into the bays and tidal pools of wildly diverse people whose ears were tuned to different sounds, bathing us in the unity of God’s love from every time and place.
Today, we are all swimming in the pool together, whoever we are, wherever we are. The lapping of the Spirit’s waves calls us from our distant corners into an integrated community pool of saints and sinners alike. This is not an exclusive resort. We find ourselves in sections with melodic lines that we would never think to play or ring, swimming in pools that have room for everyone. Without a glorious and Almighty God (the Conductor, Composer, and Amplifier), we would be a dissonant mess of individual tones and meters. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our many clunks are unified. “For. . . all the members of the body, though many, are one” (1 Cor. 12:12, ESV). With chaotic dingalings and dongs and plucks and strums, God creates harmonies that are beautiful to behold.
Then we pray that our vibrations are irresistible—a siren song—wherein friends and neighbors would find themselves drawn into the same waters with space to add their own notes, too. Just as the bell in Luck called people “to font and table, prayer and word,” our lives should amplify the resonance of our baptismal living, rippling through the world, demanding attention and changing lives.
- West Denmark Lutheran Church website, https://www.westdenmark.org/.