An Adult Education Model for Churches, with a Twist

An Adult Education Model for Churches, with a Twist

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Some of you know that my undergraduate degree is in music. From the time I was 4-years-old, and I first heard my grandmother play the piano, I knew that I wanted to play like her and make music a part of my life. Music still holds a significant place in my heart today, even though God had plans for me other than teaching music.

So I was delighted when I was introduced to Delvyn Case and his organization, Deus Ex Musica. Del is a musician, writer, and speaker who teaches at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. He is also deeply Christian, and his love for God is infused throughout his numerous projects.

Yet it is his musical Bible study event that caught my attention, as I’m always looking for creative ways to engage people as they grow in their faith. “In the Shadow of Your Wings — A Musical Exploration of the Psalms” uses music as a means of encouraging laypeople to experience Scripture in unique and personally meaningful ways. Participants listen to brand-new musical settings of three beloved psalms, written by a diverse and ecumenical group of Christian composers, and then gather for small-group discussions in which they explore how their experiences of Scripture have been affected by the musical settings. Since participants hear multiple musical settings of each psalm, they are immediately drawn into fascinating conversations about the variety of interpretations and understandings that co-exist in each text.

Listening to music is a way for people to approach the Divine. Yet the experience this event offers is different from listening to music as a part of worship. It also is not quite the same as studying the words of scripture. This experience allows the participants to engage in a deeper type of listening — listening with the heart in a way that offers insights about scripture which goes beyond a study of the text.

In July I was able to participate in one of these events through a session hosted by the famous church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square. Despite its online format, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to be able to form an almost immediate bond with the other participants in my breakout room through the observations we shared together about the Psalm settings. The host and moderators made it clear from the beginning that the event required no musical experience, and they encouraged us to feel confident to respond in any way we wanted to the pieces of music we heard. As a result, I found the session to be not just a unique way for me to re-experience these psalms in new ways, but also a great opportunity for me to hear the perspectives of Christians representing a number of traditions.

The ecumenical power of this event was central to Del’s reason for creating this learning model. As a musician who has played at dozens of different kinds of churches, and as an educator who has taught at both Christian and secular institutions, he has seen time and again the power of the arts to bring together people from diverse backgrounds, people whose journeys with God are diverse.

He observes that because we love the Bible so much, we tend to feel that we need to protect our personal interpretations of it, which often results in divisions between Christians caused by disparate theological beliefs. However, when people listen to Scripture through the “lens” of music, these divisions fall away. Instead of asking the questions that divide us from each other, music instead creates a space that encourages us each to share our thoughts about Scripture in highly personal and meaningful ways. Follow this with dialogue in Christian community, and new spiritual understandings - even wisdom - can be gleaned. As Del shares on his website, “In a time when Christians are deeply divided by our own beliefs…the Deus Ex Musica project…creates an environment that promotes open, honest, and humble questioning and discussion –- the kind of environment that allows true ecumenical conversation to happen.”

I encourage you to join Del, me, and our Bridge Conference Ministers on September 10th at 1:30 p.m. for a webinar to share in this adult education experience. (Save the date. Registration is coming soon!) Del wishes to introduce this model to local church faith formation leaders, youth ministry leaders, clergy, and anyone who has the desire to offer opportunities for open dialogue about their Christian faith. No musical training is required as the focus is on listening, experiencing the what the Holy Spirit offers, and engaging in dialogue. It is Del’s hope that “if we learn how to listen to music, we can also learn how to listen to each other.”

In this time of polarized opinions, ideologies, and beliefs, this type of focus, with an attitude of humility toward our approach to the Bible and to each other, is surely what God is desiring of us.

Author

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Debbie Gline Allen

Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Associate for Faith Formation & Youth Ministries for the Conference.

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