Redefining Worship: Navigating Spirituality with Music at Rooke Chapel

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Around the world and throughout history, the tolling of bells and gongs signal a call to worship, an open invitation for a community to come together and pray. These sounds have become commonplace in modern times, though, as phone alarms try but fail to simulate the might of real morning bells. Since having come to Bucknell from NYC, I have become desensitized to hearing the powerful bell at Rooke Chapel ring out across campus every quarter hour. Often times I dread the arrival of the bell’s longer song, played every hour on the hour, that tells me I am no longer on time to class. Yet, the bell’s song takes on a joyous tone every Sunday morning at 11 AM, as the sun approaches its peak in the sky, because it signifies the beginning of the Protestant service at Rooke Chapel. Although I have attended church my entire life, I have never before felt so empowered and connected to my faith than since I began worshipping at Rooke Chapel. I attended service sporadically the first month of the year, but once I caught wind that the Rooke Chapel Vocal Ensemble was being permanently reintroduced to services (and that vocalists would be paid for their time), I jumped onboard with the group, believing that the least I would stand to gain was improvement in my singing and sight reading abilities, and a weekly paycheck. Yet, now reflecting on my involvement with the group after what has been almost an entire school year, I see just how narrow my previous expectations of the rewards of the ensemble were; in addition to reaping the minor benefits enumerated above, I’ve completely transformed my own relationship with my faith, and in the process, I have learned to examine and interpret both music and religion with increased awareness of just how intimately each informs the interpretation of the other, both in worship and in daily life. The worship services at Rooke Chapel often take on similar shape to one another, all containing the elements of worship necessary for service in a Protestant church like readings from the Old and New Testaments, and a homily delivered by Dr. Colatch; yet, little is the same week to week, and this fact is reliant upon the ever-changing repertoire of music provided as part of service by the Rooke Chapel Ensemble, directed by Danielle Molan, and instrumental performance and accompaniment provided by organist David Cover. Services begin with a prelude performed by Mr. Cover on the piano or organ, and these pieces set the tone for the remainder of the service. Aside from providing tardy churchgoers a few more precious minutes to arrive and get seated before readings and hymns begin, the prelude allows for congregation members to clear their minds and find some peace before service; more importantly, this time prepares the congregation to open their minds and hearts to the word of the Lord so that they might be moved by the service, and not just merely present. As I’ve come to learn, the music of the prelude is really the first lesson of the service. The Rooke Chapel Ensemble often performs vocal pieces as introits, anthems - usually between the separate readings of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel (New Testament) - or during the offering. The pieces we perform span all musical periods and genres, yet they are all carefully selected to complement the theme of the week’s service. We performed this past Sunday at the Easter Service, and the motif of rebirth was present in every piece we performed; Awake Thou Wintry Earth by Bach was a soft, warm piece that embodied the warmth of the coming spring. Easter Chorale by Samuel Barber was a grand, sweeping piece with lots of variance in key, tonality, mood, and dynamics that culminated in a joyous proclamation of the glory of the Lord. Both of these pieces encapsulated the different ways in which one may look at Easter, and left room for the congregation to internalize these themes so that they might form their own beliefs, opinions, and feelings about this portion of the Bible’s tale. Yet, most of the music of the service comes not from performers, but from the congregation itself as a whole. Hymns are sung by all, and they are the key to unity of services because they afford the opportunity for all members of the congregation to let out their feelings alongside their friends and peers without fear of judgement. It doesn’t matter whether you have the voice of an angel or that of a hog; all able people are invited and encouraged to participate in singing the hymns, and this outward proclamation of faith is one of the more powerful aspects of service.

The paragraphs above might lead you to believe that my growing involvement in, and identification with the Rooke Chapel Congregation and the Christian faith as a whole stems from my new appreciation for the music performed at church and its inherent message. However, this analysis is incomplete, as it ignores what about my relationship with Christianity, and attending church, has changed. To put it bluntly, in attending services at Rooke Chapel, I’ve come to see and value the ways that Christian worship itself is musical, organic, and beautiful. Take the element of service known as the Affirmation of Faith; for this portion of the service, the entire congregation reads aloud in unison an uplifting text that reinforces the message of the service - in the case of Easter, the message was to be thankful for the mystery of the resurrection, and to trust that the love of God might show itself to us daily in our own interactions with our thoughts and others. When reading together, the congregation fills Rooke Chapel with an ocean of sound, in which the voice of one is melded with those of the others - yet, no one voice is lost. Or, when we examine the typical Benediction that closes the service, we clearly see that this mimics another powerful musical tool: call and response. The congregation is not simply beckoned to believe in god and be good people; instead, they respond to the calls of the pastor with declarations of their own power to live a life true to their faith, in which they can bring change and love to the world, with responses like “May the faithfulness of God, the love of Christ, and the hope which God’s Spirit quickens within us, be with each one of us as we live out our faith this week.”

I don’t know if I would have otherwise found this new take on the religion I was born into and raised with if I didn’t choose to randomly attend service at Rooke Chapel one day earlier this year. I have just begun to connect with some parts of my religion that strongly resonate with me, and these have been only been revealed to me during my time with and at Rooke Chapel.

Although I will not evangelize or ask anyone to do something they don’t want to do, I urge you all to open your minds to the beauty and glory of the life you live and of the world around you; it is this music, the “universe’s orchestra”, that Rooke Chapel has really brought me closer to, and so I encourage you all to find the music that uniquely resonates with your soul.