Critical reviews (by Lutheran pastors and church musicians) of books and other resources for Christian worship, preaching, and church music from a perspective rooted in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and good common sense. LHP Quarterly Book Review asks, "Is it worth the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach?"
"Amazing, edifying, encouraging, affirming, equipping, and worshipful" is how songwriter Mia Koehne of Phoenix began describing her thoughts and impressions of the first LCMS songwriters conference, April 21-23 at St. John Lutheran Church, Ellisville, Mo., in suburban St. Louis.
Several other songwriters registered similar enthusiastic feedback when asked about the conference sponsored by the LCMS Commission on Worship for this article.
And overall, a solid majority of the some-75 conference attendees gave it positive marks via an online survey.
Participating in the conference funded by a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans were 55 songwriters from across the Synod, members and staff of the Commission on Worship, and representatives of Concordia Publishing House and Concordia University System colleges and universities.
Conference planners also indicated that it accomplished its goals.
"The goals for this conference were simple," said Rev. David Johnson, executive director of the worship commission -- "to gather songwriters from a variety of Lutheran communities, to enrich each other with our confessional theology of Jesus in Word and Sacrament, and to hone their craft of creating songs for God's people to sing through education, conversation, and fellowship."
Johnson also said the commission "desired to partner with Concordia Publishing House to launch an inaugural effort to provide sacramental songs to the congregations in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. ... Through this event, vibrant faith-filled people were ignited into the joy of being Lutheran, and encouraged to shape the [Synod's] song repertoire."
He indicated that the commission plans to develop with CPH a multimedia CD -- available perhaps by late summer -- with "select sacramental songs" (including audio recordings and PDFs of lead sheets) from conference participants. The publishing house will send the CD to each LCMS congregation "for congregations to consider using," Johnson said.
A number of songwriters performed their original songs during the conference, and all of them submitted songs they had written as part of the application process for conference scholarships funded by the Thrivent grant.
"There was an unmistakable spirit of gratitude" expressed by participants in the songwriters conference, Johnson said -- "an eagerness to listen to the needs of the church, and a spirited willingness to respond."
Bobbie Schroeder, a member of the Commission on Worship who is director of music and worship at St. John Lutheran Church, Ellisville, sat on a five-member committee that reviewed the applications and songs of 175 songwriters who submitted material for conference scholarships.
Schroeder said an "amazing thing in the entire process" for him is that "our church body is incredibly blessed in musical gifts to share with our entire church. It was a challenge to decide which songs would not be chosen. We also realized this is just the beginning of networking and sharing music with fellow worship leaders and songwriters.
"I want to use many of these songs in our own worship setting here at St. John," said Schroeder. That congregation -- for which the 2010 Lutheran Annual lists an average weekly worship attendance of 2,076 -- has "multiple [worship] venues and several worship leaders," Schroeder added.
At the songwriters conference, Bob Lail, lead developer of Emerging Products for Concordia Publishing House, announced the launch of the Concordia Writers Cooperative, a social marketplace allowing freelance authors to publish their resources "with ease."
He said that the cooperative "will serve new authors by giving them exposure and compensation, CPH customers by giving them access to a wider array of materials, and the church by increasing partnership among congregations."
In addition, Lail said that CPH will be expanding the social marketplace in the fall with the launch of the Songwriters Cooperative. This expansion will allow songwriters to upload scores, lead sheets, and MP3 previews of their musical works.
"We're very excited about the exposure that the Writers Cooperative and the Songwriters Cooperative will give to authors," Lail said, "and all the possibilities these sites will create for partnership and collaboration among churches!"
He added that anyone will be able to post to either cooperative. "In fact," he said, "all an author needs is the ability to save PDFs of their books and other documents, or MP3s of their music. Before selling content on the Cooperative, each resource will be sent through doctrinal review to ensure that it is doctrinally sound. CPH is working to ensure that this process will be as quick and easy as possible."
The program for the songwriters conference also included worship, "breakout" workshops, and presentations by theologians and worship leaders, in addition to songwriters presenting their work and resource information from Concordia Publishing House representatives. Also on the agenda were three "Making Connections" sessions, when participants could share ideas with each other and with several of the presenters.
"I can't tell you what a good idea I think this conference is. It's long over-due," Dr. Jeffery Gibbs of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, faculty told those attending the breakout workshop he led on "singing the festival half of the church year." Gibbs also addressed "the songs in the sacraments" in a conference plenary presentation.
Mia Koehne, the songwriter from Phoenix whose glowing adjectives about the conference began this story, said the event also conveyed "the message ... that what we write matters. ... I learned that we can use this gift and inspiration the Lord gives us to write music, [and that] there is a craft and a learning process that goes into writing great worship music for the congregation. It is a great calling and a great responsibility."
Koehne is a member of the worship team at Christ Church -- Lutheran in Phoenix, for which she writes and leads worship songs. She describes herself as "a stay-at-home mom who loves to worship and serve the church through music."
Faith Martin, another songwriter, sang and accompanied on keyboard her original song, "You Carry Me," during the conference's "open mic" portion. She serves Somerset Hills Lutheran Church, Basking Ridge, N.J., as full-time contemporary worship leader and youth engager (with those who are confirmation- and high-school-age).
"I loved the songwriters conference," Martin wrote via e-mail. "It was a great opportunity to grow as a Christian songwriter. I have taken songwriting classes and read books, but this was the first learning experience for me specifically targeting on what [conference presenter] Mark Roach referred to as 'corporate' worship music. The practical songwriting tips [and] theological information on corporate worship music are things that I will be able to apply in songwriting for my congregation. ... I am excited to try some of the new techniques we learned about.
"It was also a great opportunity for us to network with other Christian songwriters who are writing corporate worship music -- so we can get feedback on our songs, both musically and lyrically," Martin said.
"I hope that the Synod continues to hold conferences like this," she said, "so that the worship leaders and songwriters in our Synod can continue to grow as Christian songwriters."
"I was blown away by the conference," Brian Drever of El Dorado Hills, Calif., said in an e-mail message. He is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in nearby Sacramento, where he has been in a nine-member praise band for 12 years, leading the band for the past eight years.
A senior technical consultant with a company that primarily contracts with the state on internet technology projects, Drever wrote that he did not know what to expect from the conference, since it was the first of its kind.
At its conclusion, he said he was "very encouraged" and "looking forward to future conferences" like it. "The musicians were all very talented, and it was great to meet other worship leaders doing the same thing that I am. ... I look forward to [our] being able to share music with one another and with other churches in the Synod."