How do you prepare yourself for worship?
A Message about Music from Bob Nickel
Music in Worship: Entering the Thin Place

In his May 2019 newsletter article, “Place and Memory, Time and Celebration,” Ben Menghini wrote regarding physical worship spaces, “...beautiful church buildings can stand out as a thin place where the everyday disappears and we feel a closer connection to the divine... The transcendence of worship spaces becomes even more potent when we recognize that they move with a different sense of time than the rest of the world.” As a church musician, my belief is that music is used to enhance a worship service. Ben’s comments describe perfectly the ways in which I use music to help worshipers reach the thin place.

When worshipers enter the sanctuary, I want them to momentarily leave their busy lives behind, settle into a pew, and realize they are sitting in a special place – not an elevator, an airport, a waiting room, or a hotel lobby. The intent of Gathering Music is to help worshipers approach the thin place and prepare for the worship experience.
Among various reasons, hymns are selected to highlight a theme, a season, or a special event. The text of a hymn is important as it offers the worshiper an opportunity to use poetic language – an experience typical to worship as opposed to conversation in secular spaces. Occasionally the tune for a hymn may be difficult and will cause worshipers frustration while trying to sing. For this reason, the tune may be substituted so that the text may flow more freely from the singers.

Other musical components play important roles in the overall worship experience. The Prelude helps worshipers “prepare their hearts for worship.” The Special Music and Offertory are similar as each component involves sharing. Special Music (a choir anthem, a vocal solo, or an instrumental piece) allows the musician an opportunity to share musical gifts with the congregation in praise to God. The Offertory music covers the action of worshipers sharing their monetary gifts and helps the keep the focus on worship as opposed to the physical act of passing the plates. The Postlude is a musical expression of joy intended to send worshipers – hearts and souls uplifted – back into the business and busyness of life.

At First Presbyterian, we are fortunate not only to have our own musicians but also others who are willing to share musical gifts with the congregation. While these musicians perform the Prelude, Special Music, and Offertory, please use the time to quietly reflect on the ways in which the music encourages the approach to the thin place. Over time, I have noticed that some worshipers have instead used this time to engage in conversation. These times in the worship service call for active and prayerful listening as opposed to conversation. Talking is not only insulting to the musicians but also prevents others from worshiping “through” the music and entering the thin place. (You are also encouraged to greet guest musicians after the worship service. Making a personal connection with our guest musicians helps them feel welcomed and appreciated.) 
Like a beautiful sanctuary, music can help worshipers transcend their physical space and enter into a closer relationship with the divine. As David Mathis (executive editor for and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul) reminds us, “Often we come into corporate worship feeling a sense of spiritual fog. During the rough and tumble of the week, the hard knocks of real life in the fallen world can disorient us to ultimate reality and what’s truly important. We need to clear our head, recalibrate our spirit, and jump-start our slow heart.” Join your fellow worshipers in the thin place! 
First Presbyterian Church of Green Bay | (920) 437-8121 | |