Social Justice and Good Music: It’s Who We Are

Social justice and good music. Those are the two pursuits, the two ministries that folks keep mentioning in connection with First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo. In a number of discussions lately, both more and less formal, if you ask people to answer a question something along the lines of, “What is it that we do well, that most people identify with us, and that we should keep on doing?” they will say, “Social justice and good music.”

That doesn’t mean that’s all we do, or that’s all we are. We have an exciting ministry to children, youth and families (much of it revolves around social justice) and we care deeply for each other, both in times of need and in the ordinary process of building community. We worship together, we play together, we work together. But we’re best known for social justice and good music.

This congregation has a long history of social justice activism. In 1965, our pastor boarded a bus with students and faculty from the seminary next door, and went to Selma to march with Dr. King. We continue this commitment to justice through our ministries to the homeless of Marin County, rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, fighting hunger globally and locally, a commitment to the environment, welcoming our LGBT brothers and sisters and insisting that “Black Lives Matter.”

A couple of years ago, Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en) formed the centerpiece of our leadership retreat. Sinek explains that people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it, and that is why we “start with the ‘why.’” When asked to define the “why” of our congregation – why do we exist? – what is our purpose? – our leaders came up with this: “We believe that we are all children of God. We express that belief by sharing God’s love for creation through worship, service and community. We believe God calls us to do justice in the world and to offer the peace and joy of God’s love to all.”

This social justice “why” is rooted in our reading of Scripture. Both the Old and New Testaments emphasize that God loves all of God’s creation, and in response, wants us to love each other. Shortly after beginning his ministry, Jesus announced his mission statement by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:16-19)  And so we agree with Cornel West, who said, “justice is what love looks like in public.”

Our love of great music has a long tradition as well. Music speaks to us in ways words cannot, and is an important way we connect to the holy. Our sanctuary houses two of the best pipe organs on the West Coast and we’re proud of the legacy of excellent musicians who have served and continue to serve as music directors, organists, soloists, and choir members. While we have a definite bent toward the classical, we also love gospel. A couple of times a year we enjoy a New Orleans jazz band; every World Communion Sunday we welcome West African drums; we remember our Scottish heritage on Reformation Sunday with the Highland bagpipes and snare. Our congregation is blessed with fine musicians (flute, clarinet, violin, guitar, keyboard) who offer their talents even on ordinary Sundays.

“Social justice and good music” doesn’t sum up all of who we are. But it’s a pretty good start.

 

 

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