Brian Larson on Planning a Psalms for All Seasons Psalmfest

Brian Larson is cantor at Trinity Lutheran Church in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. His was one of 40 organizations that recently hosted a public congregational singing event based on the new Psalms for All Seasons: a Complete Psalter for Worship. In this edited conversation, he discusses the Psalmfest that Trinity Lutheran hosted on January 27, 2013.

Brian Larson
Brian Larson

Brian Larson is cantor at Trinity Lutheran Church in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. His was one of 40 churches that recently hosted a public congregational singing event based on the new Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship. In this edited conversation, he discusses the Psalmfest that Trinity Lutheran hosted in January 2013.

Why did you choose Walter Brueggemann's orientation-disorientation-reorientation idea to structure your event?

A community Bible study group which I and several other church members attend began studying the Psalms almost two years ago. We were using Brueggemann’s book Spirituality of the Psalms as a guide in our study. Partway through the study I purchased a copy of the newly published Psalms for All Seasons book. I learned through the Hymn Society of the Psalmfest project. Having done hymn festivals at our church in the past, we jumped at the chance to focus on the Psalms in a hymnfest format.

Within Brueggemann’s structure, why did you choose to focus on psalms related to Pastor Chuck Weinrich's hospital chaplaincy experiences?

Pastor Chuck Weinrich has been the narrator at previous events, and he was excited to do it again. He was familiar with Brueggemann’s book, so that became our format. We began with the psalter’s first song, “Trees,” which is based on several psalms. For orientation, we used Psalm 1 and song selections 8B* and 46E. For disorientation, we did a scripted reading of 22C and sang 88B, 88A, and 130A. We expressed reorientation by singing 23H, 118F, and 100A, and we alternated singing the 118I refrain with a responsive reading of Psalm 118. We also included two choir anthems, a handbell piece, and organ prelude and postlude based on Psalms.

*The number refers to the psalm and the letter refers to the musical setting: 8B is the second musical setting based on Psalm 8; 46E is the fifth musical setting based on Psalm 46. 

Can you share a story or two of how Pastor Weinrich used a psalm in his ministry?

He spoke of how he used the Psalms with residents at the geriatric long-term care facility where he worked for many years. He told about using psalms of lament with a person who was angry with God. Another time he spent the night with a woman who was dying. Around 6 a.m., he recited Psalm 130—“My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning”—and she died hearing those words. Stories like these made the Psalms relevant to each of us. It was quite emotional and moving to be reminded how precious the Psalms are.

What is your congregation's comfort level with hearing and singing new music from diverse sources? Does your congregation learn new songs by rehearsing before the service, listening to the choir, simply reading music, or by another way?

My congregation is willing to try most anything if it’s appropriate, well introduced, explained, and carefully led by me or the choir or pastor. We learn songs in all the ways you describe. I sometimes lead gathering songs as people arrive for worship. Weekly the choir leads the psalm appointed in the lectionary, sometimes with a refrain, sometimes not. For psalms with congregational refrains, the choir sings it first and the congregation repeats and sings it when indicated during the singing of the Psalm.

Why did you combine your Psalmfest with Souper Bowl of Caring gifts?

The national Souper Bowl of Caring was a happy coincidence, because the NFL Super Bowl football game was a week after our Psalmfest. It allowed us to collect food and money for local food pantries,and a lot was received! Playing on the words Souper Bowl also helped us decide on a menu. Our fellowship committee served a homemade bread and soup supper after the Psalmfest.

You sold more than 30 copies of Psalms for All Seasons. How will or might these psalm settings be used in Sunday worship, parishioners' homes, or congregational life? 

I use the book weekly as a resource for how we will sing the Psalms in worship. Many of us find it a great devotional tool. Several people bought two copies—one for themselves and one to give to the pastor, choir director, or worship planners at their home church. We have lots of “snow birds” in Florida during the winter months, so they were thinking of their churches “up north.” And there were several people from other area congregations who did the same thing.

See the program for Trinity Lutheran Church’s Psalmfest. Listen to how they combined a sung lament with a recitation of Psalm 88. Read a feature story about other Psalmfests in the U.S. and Canada.

 

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