I've never met a board member who didn't appreciate worship with the seminary community.
Theological schools are blessed with more musical gifts and training than the average congregation. Listen in at seminaries and you'll hear how hymns were meant to be sung, orders of worship and liturgies paced, and even preludes played. And enjoy the choirs, where members read music and blend their voices with skill.
Boards and the music of their schools have taught me a great deal. I recall the solemn harmonies at evening prayer at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, before a board development session. And weekly Eucharist with the finest German chorale hymnody at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia — the board left their meeting to attend the service. And at a community prayer service at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, the pianist led plaintive love songs to Jesus that moved even busy trustees to tears.
At each I heard voices unleashed and saw faces aglow. When trustees turned their attention to board work later in the day, I understood one of the wellsprings of their loyalty. They had glimpsed the heavenly feast.
And so when I first viewed the pictures of new chapels featured in this issue on art and architecture, I couldn't help but imagine the aural arts that accompany the visual. These places were made for singing. We can only begin to fathom how formative worship will be in these settings. Or will it?
Such treasures can be taken for granted. In their episodic visits, boards may be inspired by the good voices and a few good hymns or praise songs, but good sound is not the same as solid programs in music for ministry. Board members should be assured that seminarians, musicians or not, are being exposed to the full range and purposes of the music that shapes their religious tradition. Faculty can teach seminarians to develop standards to determine what makes some songs and settings better (theologically and musically) than others, leaving some room of course for the old formative "ringers" in our lives that fail on most other criteria. Thus equipped, seminary graduates will help to ensure that the congregations they serve benefit from the power of the sung Word.
But is music for ministry a governance topic for boards? I believe it is. Educational standards belong in the policy arena of shared governance with the faculty. You can read how a Fuller Seminary trustee helped bring about a new center for the teaching of worship at his school. Faculties should value the commitment of the board to excellence in music for ministry, especially since, as churchgoers themselves, board members bring experience to the partnership.
We know how much board members care about the preached Word. The quality of a homiletics program is a matter of pride. But the sung Word marks us for life. Do you recall the hymns or the homilies from your grandparents' funerals? The sung Word reinforces the preached Word. When musical choices are poor, they undermine the integrity of worship and even the theology of the Word preached. (The obverse is also true, but that's another topic.)
The musical talent in seminaries — and one wonders about the correlation between musical aptitude and hearing the call to ministry — can be mined for the sake of the churches. Boards are in a position to push the question. After all, music and all the arts help to call us into the presence of the Word made flesh among us so that we can behold his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.