I decided to try my hand at video-blogging. I hope that for those of you who weren’t able to attend, you’re able to see and hear more clearly the sights and sounds of what made this conference special.
The Best Thing About the Conference: Love Challenges Hipsterdom
I’ll be honest. Bifrost Arts is just hip. Sufjan is VERY in right now, and Bifrost Arts–a railcar on his musical train–has a musical style that makes one feel quite “cool” when listening to it. One would have expected that this conference would attract hipsters. And it did. Fitted jeans, black-rimmed glasses, and beards were plentiful. Anticipating all of this, my expectation was that the conference leaders were going to give off a “We’re cool, aren’t we?” vibe (which shows how little I often think of people, by the way…Lord, have mercy). I expected pot shots at non-liturgical worship or subtle jabs that Bifrostian pop-orchestral styles were the ideal form for worship. Isaac Wardell, the figurehead of the event, dispelled all such nonsense quite immediately. I was impressed and even admonished by the humility and love-focus of leaders like Wardell. The message was loud and clear: when the church is truly being the church under Christ, the gospel shapes local communities to be marked by love, self-sacrifice, and deference. Perhaps my greatest takeaway from the conference, then, is a vision for church-wide worship discussions which can be formative rather than adversarial. Worship is not about being cool, and I think everyone benefitted, in one way or another, from that meta-message.
In the Presence of Greatness
My video only gave a snapshot of the rich connection I had at this conference. Over the last few years, as my blog has grown in reach, I’ve come into contact with some amazing people who I would consider “greats” in my field of pastoring in worship, music, and arts. Some have been more professional-style online acquaintances. Some have developed into full-blown friendships of resource-sharing and mutual prayer and support. Many have been in between. One of the blessings of the Bifrost Conference is that it attracted many of those people to one city for a few days, and I got to meet many of them, all at once. Relationships beat out sleep this time. I was blessed to finally put names with faces, and “online personas” with true hearts. I was encouraged that there are a lot of great worship leaders out in Evangelcaland, thinking critically, prayerfully, theologically, biblically, liturgically, and culturally about local church worship. I was blessed to rub shoulders with some truly gifted songwriters, like Bruce Benedict, Matt Stevens, Alex Mejias, Michael Van Patter, David M. Bailey, Rick Jensen, and Nathan Partain. These are folks doing the painstaking but heart-driven work of setting old hymns to new music, and in some cases writing new texts and tunes for the church. I don’t know that any one of us will have breakout exposure, but meeting this iron-clad batallion gives me great hope that the collective work will continue to have an increasing influence on mainstream evangelicalism. There’s just too much excitement, too much vision, too much passion, for it to not take effect.
The Shape Note Surprise
I was shocked by how much I personally enjoyed Matt Hinton’s breakout session on shape-note singing. Perhaps the earliest uniquely American musical tradition, shape-note singing developed as a style of music education in the South and solidified into a movement. The sound is atypical of Western music in that it breaks standard conventions for part-writing (e.g. parallel fifths). I was taken aback by the joy and vigor of this communal enterprise. My mother grew up in rural Alabama under the influence of this tradition, and though I am far from a southerner (I grew up in Hawaii), something in my soul stirred. I think my roots were tickled.
Notes from the Conference
Some of my notes are more piecemeal than others, but if they’re helpful, I offer them here. I obviously missed some (great) sessions, either to decompress or to spend time with other attenders.
Greg Thompson – The Order of Worship and the Order of Love
Isaac Wardell – Formative Practices for Worship
Mike Farley – The Formative Role of the Body in Worship
Nicholas Wolterstorff – Does Your Church Building Say What it Should Say?
Isaac Wardell – Teaching Liturgy, Music, & Space in Your Congregation
Matt Hinton – Shape Note Singing
Kevin Twit – Hymns