Laurelville retreat celebrates 25 years
Tradition gathers music and worship leaders on 'experimental ground.'by Brian Paff of Laurelville
Some 200 individuals from nine different states and one Canadian province gathered at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mount Pleasant, Pa., for the Music & Worship Leaders Retreat Jan. 6-8, marking the 25th consecutive year the program has taken place at the camp.
Marilyn Houser Hamm leads a hymn at the Music & Worship Leaders Retreat at Laurelville Mennonite Camp Center, Mt. Pleasant, Pa. Photo by Brian Paff.
Allan Rudy-Froese, professor at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind., served as keynote speaker, addressing the role of confession in worship. Actor and playwright Ted Swartz also led an in-depth workshop on adapting biblical texts for dramatic readings and sketches.
The program has evolved throughout its 25-year history, but its celebration of various musical traditions and hands-on style have become signature elements that bring many individuals back to Laurelville year after year.
In January 1988, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., professor Kenneth Nafziger assembled a small collection of musically minded pastors and worship leaders at Laurelville. Initially billed as a song leaders’ workshop, the gathering allowed Nafziger and his colleagues to experiment with familiar as well as newer hymns and arrangements for the forthcoming Mennonite hymnal they had been commissioned to edit.
Hymnal: A Worship Book—the product of countless hours of editing, revision and narrowing of selections, some of which took place at Laurelville—was published five years later, but the need to come together to examine, explore and celebrate music and the strong Mennonite tradition of worship never subsided.
Now known as the Music & Worship Leaders Retreat, the Laurelville gathering happens on the first full weekend of January each year. Registration typically reaches its 200-participant capacity several weeks in advance of the program, a testimony to its popularity and vital role within the context of Mennonite worship.
“The new moon cradled in the arms of the old,” Nafziger said, referencing a timeless Native American saying used to describe a waning crescent moon. “To me, that’s what we’re doing every time we gather for this weekend in January. There is a past. And we don’t know what that new moon is going to be, but we’re enjoying it in the meantime. It’s a thing of beauty.”
Joining Nafziger in leadership roles during the weekend were Marlene Kropf, Marilyn Houser Hamm and Swartz. Les Horning, pastor at Christiansburg (Va.) Mennonite Fellowship, has attended the Laurelville event numerous times.
“I am eternally grateful,” he says, “for the [resource team members] who have given their gifts to help open our eyes to new ways of thinking about worship, to new ways of thinking about praying, to new ways of thinking about singing and enriching our experience.”
The program signifies more than just musical excellence, though. For many, it represents an opportunity to connect outside congregational walls and theological variances, to fellowship, worship and break bread with the broader church.
“[The Music & Worship Leaders Retreat] is a place where politics are set aside and we focus on the things we have in common, things like our faith and beliefs and our worship,” says Amy Yoder McGloughlin, pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church, Philadelphia. “It’s kind of this experimental ground where people are willing to try some risky things with musical arrangements and worship rituals,” she says.
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