A Musical Ministry | Forum for Theological Exploration

A Musical Ministry

By: Sabrina Falls
January 21, 2011

Whenever the evil spirit came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
1 Samuel 16:23

When I first came to awareness that I needed to go to seminary, I felt God’s calling to engage in some form of mission or ministry for God but had no idea what specific vocation God had in mind for me. Meanwhile, I was already engaged in a ministry that did not require seminary training: I played the harp.

Playing for a worship service here and a wedding there, though, I didn’t see this as my primary vocation to serve God. Perhaps this is because there was no ritual for the blessing and anointing—the “ordination”—of this ministry. In the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), of which I am a member, people with gifts in ministry are recognized as “recorded ministers”—the Friends’ equivalent of the ordained minister. Although there was frequent and enthusiastic affirmation—both verbal and written—of my gifts for ministry with the harp, never was there the suggestion that these gifts might be recorded in the minutes of Yearly Meeting and solemnized in a worship service.

For me, playing the harp was a ministry and not a “job”—although I was paid for it at times—but I did not consider it my profession. In those years I struggled with doing it as a paid job because I was concerned it might become secularized or businesslike. Also, I felt compelled to serve in something more clearly defined as mission or a church-related vocation, whatever that might be. And I knew that, to be equipped to follow that call, I would need a seminary education.

It was in no way an ideal time for me to leave employment as a paralegal and go to seminary, which would require uprooting my family and spending money we did not have. I promised my family that I would only follow this call—and confirm its validity in God’s will—if I was able to obtain enough scholarships to pay my way. Of course, the Fund for Theological Education played a major role in making this possible!

It seemed miraculous when my entire tuition was covered by scholarships. After graduating in 1995 from the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana with a Master of Divinity and a basic unit of Clinical Pastoral Education under my belt, I was recorded as a Minister of the Gospel. Then followed itinerant preaching, volunteer hospital chaplaincy, two years as an interim pastor for a Presbyterian church, and finally serving as a full-time pastor for a Friends Meeting in Indianapolis. But although I loved to preach as well as to provide one-on-one pastoral care, I struggled greatly with other aspects of pastoral ministry. As an introvert, it was very stressful to live up to the social expectations, and I lacked the gifts (or at least the confidence) for providing strong leadership to small congregations wanting to grow.

Meanwhile requests for harp music were persistent. I heard the words “it’s truly a gift” a lot. My Yearly Meeting superintendent told me I had “a heart for pastoral ministry” and encouraged me to continue in it, but I knew in my heart of hearts that my burning desire to serve the Lord—to share the love and mercy of God with others—took its most pure and honest form when I played the harp, and that if I had one gift of the Spirit, that was it. At the very time I was agonizing over the decision to resign from my pastoral position, I became aware of a program that trained musicians to play live therapeutic music at the bedside of sick and dying patients in hospitals, hospices, and homes and awarded certification as “music practitioners”. Listeners had often remarked to me how healing and soothing the harp music is. Often they would say how it relaxed them, relieved their stress, helped them feel better. It brought laughter and tears and sleep.

Was God calling me to be a “Certified Music Practitioner” (CMP)? It had been fifteen years since the Lord first planted the seed of the harp in my heart during a time of worship. Now once again I heard God call my name in tandem with this vocation. Fifteen years before, God had sent me the harp to lift me up out of darkness into marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9) Now God wanted to equip me to use the harp intentionally as a healing instrument—to minister the healing of Christ to the sick and hurting, or to those in transition to the other side of life.

Since becoming a CMP, I have played at patients’ bedsides on hospital units for oncology, med-surg, organ transplant, intensive care (including neonatal), coronary care, and palliative/hospice care, as well as psychiatric care. I have played for patients undergoing long hours of out-patient chemotherapy and dialysis, and for their loved ones anxiously awaiting their recovery or keeping vigil in their last days and hours.

With a pastor’s heart, a chaplain’s experience, and as a minister of the Gospel, I go into each room with a keen awareness of the presence of God. I go in with the understanding that I am but an instrument of the healing ministry of Christ. These sounds and vibrations are Jesus’ touch. This beauty brought into a sterile, often painful, place is God’s grace. And the patient who feels alone, vulnerable, lacking control, perhaps in pain or weary or discouraged, can be assured of God’s love, because what else could it possibly be when this instrument—once used to praise God in the Jerusalem Temple and to cast out the demons of an Israelite king—comes into, of all places, a hospital room and creates a sacred space?

When I play music, I’m praying with faith and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide my choices of music and my fingers. I know that it’s my love for Jesus Christ that compels me to serve and minister the good news in this way. And my greatest hope is that, during and after a session of therapeutic music, the patient—and family and friends and medical staff—have known something of the beauty and grace and love of the Lord.

Tags...: Inspired Leaders, Shaping the Future

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