By Harold Burgmayer
At the time of the lockdown across the US, the Music and Creative Arts Ministries team was enthusiastically working toward a series of high-profile events. The year 2020 looked to be an amazing season: sharing a concert with the visiting International Staff Songsters, supporting the National Advisory Organizations Conference in Chicago, hosting Territorial Music Congress celebrating the success of our decade-long Live Music in Every Corps in Worship by 2020 campaign, anticipating record numbers for CMI, and the Chicago Staff Band journeying for a long weekend at Old Orchard Beach Camp Meetings and then to Nigeria for their Centennial Congress.
The momentum was strong, especially with the CSB coming off banner performances in the fall of 2019, including a shared concert with the ISB and a trip to Eastern Michigan. Then, the annual Sounds of the Seasons Thanksgiving Concert showed the band performing at its highest level and engaging audiences young and old. To top it off, the newly inaugurated Central Territorial Staff Songsters exceeded expectations with rehearsal weekends in January and March of 2020.
With the lockdown grinding our frenetic pace to a screeching halt, as well as imposing severe fiscal constraints, maybe you, like me, began to question the impact of our large-scale events. Do our big events, with depreciating attendance, yet costing more and more, make an appreciable impact on my local Salvation Army congregation? Over these past months of isolation, as we entered a pandemic-imposed “year of jubilee,” with one territorial event after another removed from our calendars, I have asked myself over and over, “Was I lost in the big?”
Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.” Months later, as we move out from under the shadows of the big events, what is most troubling is that you and I, as soldiers, and even as leaders, may not feel valued as individuals with our own unique giftings and personalities.
Back in the fall for just a few weeks, the Chicago Staff Band was able to meet primarily
in sectionals. There was little resistance to any of the extra measures we had to take for us to be together. I could see that we were valuing a player’s presence over one’s performance. Work on “big” pieces was exchanged for repertoire more accessible to viewers through our streaming efforts. It seems ironic to me now, but we did have “safely distanced” prayer partners one rehearsal, providing longed for moments of personal interaction. I hope when we eventually do get to share our music with live audiences that this ministry of presence can be extended to our listeners--the larger-than-life image of ourselves as a staff band being supplanted by personable exchanges that touch individual hearts.
The question I am putting forth today is how many of us as Salvationist church members will abandon big gatherings and music festivals? Or how many of us will choose not to attend Sunday worship services in-person? The writer of Hebrews reminds us to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” In the days, hopefully not too far off, when we will happily return to the routine of weekly rehearsals and Sunday services, will we again get “lost in the big,” or will we, first of all, be reaching out for meaningful heart-to-heart interactions. Just as staff band members came to enjoy working in the sectional groupings, others may choose the intimacy of gathering into smaller communities in our homes. And maybe we’ll find that we don’t necessarily need a big toolbox but rather a big heart to do our small part. What do you think?