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Drew’s Summer Music Institute: Songs and Personal Stories

‘I’m inspired, challenged and encouraged.’—Heather Valosin C’06, T’14

August 2019 – Through songs and personal stories, presenters at the Summer Music Institute at Drew Theological School demonstrated the connective power of music in the public square.

Keynote speaker Ana Hernández, a composer and the song and music worship leader for the New York State Poor People’s Campaign, performed call and response songs, demonstrating how the same song can be used on different occasions simply by changing the tempo or a verse. Also, through group exercises, she showed how a song can feel powerful and increase engagement through personal interactions.

“If you hear someone singing something that’s beautiful, mirror it back to them because they’ll feel heard,” Hernández said.

Creating relevant and impactful worship through words and music has long been the focus of the institute, now in its 14th year. This year’s two-day gathering, Worship in the Borderlands: Welcoming the Stranger in Liturgy and Song, attracted nearly 100 pastors, worship leaders, congregation members, musicians, students and alumni.

The institute “seeks to shift and shape the way worship and music are integrated and the ways they might influence those who experience them to become justice-makers and reformers,” explained Associate Dean Tanya Linn Bennett, who organized and led the event. “We explore pertinent social justice issues each year, demonstrating worship resources and techniques while also offering attendees space to consider what might work in their own context.”

Lydia Muñoz, a doctor of ministry student and lead pastor at the Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square, Pa., talked about practicing faith in public. “The public square is different for everyone,” Muñoz said. “Claim your power, your influence, your voice. There are a broad range of spaces that are public squares.”

Theological School alumni Sooha Na T’18 and YoungKwang Jun T’18 sang and reflected on living in a divided land. Each is a native of South Korea.

“When you think of peace, it’s necessary to have a mutual agreement,” Na noted. “For the past 69 years, we have longed for a union with our families.”

Attendee Elizabeth Quick T’03 was moved by their presentation. “They spoke powerfully about their experiences of home and being a stranger, about the generations-long impact of war and about a faithful witness in the midst of cultures hostile to outsiders,” Quick said.

Master of divinity student Peter Karanja recounted his childhood in Kenya, and, in particular, having to flee several times to seek refuge and safety because of tribal wars. “Home was no longer home,” he said.

As part of this year’s institute, representatives from First Friends of New York and New Jersey, an immigrants rights organization, provided training on how to visit immigrants who are detained.

Another attendee, the Rev. Heather Valosin C’06, T’14, described the two days as “consistently thought-provoking, relationship-building and action-producing. She added that “as a pastor, I’m inspired, challenged and encouraged by witnessing how the Summer Music Institute approaches relevant, controversial themes through worship, music and experiential learning. I recommend it for clergy and church leaders.”

Here’s a closer look at the event.