Singing, Ministry and Me


Announcing a New Video “Music, Ministry and Spirit”

Recently I led a Sacred Song Circle at The Chaplaincy Institute. One thing led to another, and a video was born: Music, Ministry, and Spirit. Click on the image above to watch.

Singing and Ministry Go Well Together

At my ordination to interfaith ministry I made an out-loud commitment to be a “singing Reverend”, although I didn’t know what that meant at the time. Since then I’ve sung at weddings, memorials, a birth blessing, community singing gatherings, and bedsides.

For me, singing ministry is not so much a role as it is a ministerial capacity—a bandwidth that jumps into play in certain moments when it is exactly what is needed.

Roots of a Sacred Singing Practice

Although I didn’t sing in any choirs or at home growing up, I’ve always been animated by music: hymns, Girl Scout songs, singing rounds in the dorm stairwell in college. A knack for hearing harmonies surfaced early. The more I honored the impulse to sing, the stronger the magnetic pull toward it grew. I started to attend sacred singing circles and other community sings. I sang in a week-long Sufi choir, in the car, at livingroom karaoke, on a ferry. I sang with friends and I sang alone beside roaring streams.

Once I started learning sacred songs, these quickly became the center of gravity for my singing life. So many beautiful songs to learn, sing and share! This joy-filled process snowballed until one day I realized I had taken hundreds of songs on board. In essence I had created my own personal inner jukebox—a veritable treasure chest of meaningful songs. (It’s not necessary to memorize all the words; once you have the tune in your heart and web searchability, you are all set.)

Singing at the Threshold

I was struck by soul-stirring clarity of the moment one day, over ten years ago, when a call to the Threshold Choir bedside singing path came over me. I’ve been involved ever since. Founded by my friend Kate Munger whom I’ve been singing with for over 20 years, the Threshold Choir is a network of more than 100 choirs that prepare to sing in small groups at the bedside.

Currently I co-lead Northbay Threshold Choir. Some of our practice recordings are included in the video.

Tap Inner Wellsprings of Meaning Through Song

Singing as life nears its end is a way to make contact when other paths for connecting have eroded. We each have an emotionally evocative inner soundtrack of songs, from songs we sang as children to the ones we came of age singing. These songs function as taproots to the wellsprings of personal meaning. Sharing these songs at the bedside can be extraordinarily meaningful for all involved.

Preparing for Bedside Singing

Getting ready to sing at the bedside happens on two tracks. The musical part involves selecting from a repertoire of bedside-friendly songs, then practicing singing these well in small groups of two to three singers. The other part is about sorting out our own feelings and issues about death, so when we are at bedside we can be fully present without unresolved feelings that leave us reeling and uncentered.

Sacred Song As Prayer

Music has always been central to my spiritual life. Where is the line between soulful music and prayer? I can’t find it.


Much gratitude to videographer Bill Sewall, both for envisioning this project and for having the video-making chops to pull it off. Collaborating on the final product was delightful.


Resources for Soulful Singing

  1. – a growing network of bedside singing choirs.
  2. Rise Up Singing! – the classic songbook for community singing, with lyrics to over 1,200 songs by category.
  3. – dedicated to get personalized music selections on iPods to nursing home residents to raise their quality of life.
  4. Alive Inside! – watch the trailer—or better yet, watch this not-to-be-missed documentary about the power of music to awaken and engage after other communication pathways have eroded.
  5. – collections of some of my favorite sacred songs—browse and click to listen.