National Lutheran News

When good music meets good theology

Jay Beech brings years of experience as a church musician to the Twin Cities area

A new local resource to aid congregations in ensuring that church music follows sound Lutheran beliefs is on the horizon.

Jay Beech, who is, perhaps, best known for leading music at youth gatherings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is the director of the newly-formed Center for Worship & Music Studies. In its incubation stage, the center is currently housed within the ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod (MAS) offices at the Minnesota Church Center in south Minneapolis.

Beech considers himself to be an “itinerant church musician” though he most recently spent 16 years at Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Moorhead, Minnesota. A gifted songwriter and performer, Beech — alone or with musical colleagues — has led worship all over the country. His work is published by Augsburg Fortress Publishers and his songs have been included in educational materials of the ELCA.

Jay Beech

Jay Beech

The theological integrity of Beech’s work has made him a favorite at youth gatherings. 

The theological integrity of Beech’s work has made him a favorite at youth gatherings. But, his appeal spans multiple generations. His music considers issues such as peace and justice, personal relationships, and the human condition, all within the framework of the life of faith. Doubt and faith seem to wrestle within the text of his songs; yet, hope always emerges. The depth of content in his music makes Beech a frequent presenter at workshops addressing trends in church music.

The timing of the launch of the center is important. Many churches have gravitated to different styles of worship and music as a means of outreach. Sometimes the music may be appealing in itself but deviates from sound Lutheran theology. Beech says many congregations struggle with music issues; in some small congregations, there is no one available who even plays the piano.

Beech remarks, “I get weekly contacts with pastors seeking help with worship and music.” These conversations convinced Beech of the need to form a worship and music center.

A resource for worshipping communities

As a new resource, the center seeks to create partnerships with ELCA synods — currently including the Minneapolis Area Synod, the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, and the South Dakota Synod. In addition to providing office space, the MAS is currently offering accounting services to the center. Beech’s ultimate goal is to become an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Beech is interested in creating synergies between theology and music through the center, possibly initially with certification earned through distance-learning technology. A longer-range goal is to partner with colleges and, he hopes, a seminary through campus-based degree programs.

“Many of us in the worship music world have talked about and recognized the need for additional training for song leaders in the church,” Mary Preus, minister of worship and music at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis, told Metro Lutheran. The bounty of Christian music for congregational use continues to grow, and the styles represented are more and more diverse. When you add new technology that is also available for congregations and musicians, there is much to learn!”

Preus is excited to have Beech in the Twin Cities. “Jay brings so much experience and wisdom to this endeavor. As composer, musician, and worship leader, Jay is faithful to the tradition — the centrality of word and sacrament, and the enthusiastic participation of the congregation. He is also engaged in current applications for worship today and in the future.”

As he begins this new venture, Beech says, “We want to value our traditions but welcome other traditions.” At this time, a task force is beginning to meet for visioning and design of the center’s program. Task force members include church musicians, pastors, educators — people with “wisdom and passion for the church,” as Beech put it.

Dr. Rollie Martinson, retired academic dean at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, said, “Leaders of worship and music need a community of scholars and practitioners to do the research, design and practice required to respond to the challenges of present dramatic shifts in consciousness and culture. Jay Beech has demonstrated the capacities to gather such a community that can become a critical asset to the church’s faithful and effective engagement of more pluralistic and secular generations. I’m eager to support him in this venture.”

‘The work of the people’

MAS Bishop Ann Svennungsen has worked with Beech before. “Our synod is delighted to host Jay Beech and this exciting project. Music is vital — in worship, in our articulation of the good news of Jesus,” she offered. “Yet, as musical styles expand, it’s wonderful to have Jay among us as a wise guide — supporting us as we seek high quality music with theological integrity that invites the participation of all.”

“I already knew Jay was a gifted musician when he joined our staff at Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead,” said the Rev. John Hulden, assistant to the bishop for the MAS. “What I quickly found out was that he is also a gifted worship planner, leader and teacher. The worship service he helped design and lead is a wonderful mix of contemporary musicianship, attentiveness to the scriptural themes of the day, room for the mystery of God, and the active participation of the worshippers — a liturgy that was truly ‘the work of the people.’ Jay has a deep understanding of Lutheran theology and how it intersects with our prayers and praise in communal worship.

“One day I received an email from one of our Trinity Lutheran youth who had gone away to college and was frustrated when attending a couple of different ‘contemporary’ worship services in her new town. She had trouble worshipping when musicians seemed to be performing instead of leading the music and the songs were shallow and not necessarily connected to the spoken words of the worship service. Worship is central to followers of Jesus.”

“There is an ongoing need for musicians in the church to continue learning song-leading methods, accompaniment strategies, use of online resources, and to discover the multitude of worship styles that are going on around the world today,” Preus explained. “The Center for Worship and Music Studies can offer vital training to church musicians of today and tomorrow.”

Beech sees the center helping congregations navigate the sticky issues facing congregations today. “We need thoughtful leaders, historically and biblically literate,” he said. “We want to retain the best of our traditions.” Looking further ahead, Beech sees ecumenical potential for the center; he feels what it has to offer will be “very interesting to mainline Protestants.”

For more information about The Center for Worship & Music Studies, visit the website at worshipandmusic.org. Jay Beech can be reached at 612/252-8614 or by email at jay@worshipandmusic.org.

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