The Gift of Music
September 8, 2021
Dale Patterson, one of the United Methodist Church’s most renowned archivists, once suggested that the greatest gift Methodism offered Christendom was the gift of Charles Wesley’s hymns. These songs, rich with theology and rousing rhythms, compel us to sing with joy and sway to the refrains we all seem to know, Methodist or otherwise. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” are just a few of his hymns that have inspired the world to worship for over two hundred years.
Wesley’s leadership has also stirred others to continue offering up the gift of music. “We wanted to follow in Charles Wesley’s footsteps by developing a core group of young adult musicians who could work with local churches,” Pastor of the United Campus Ministry at Texas State University, Todd Salmi shared. “We believed music opportunities in the church are a great way to allow young adults to offer their leadership gifts.”
To do this work well, the leaders of the campus ministry applied for a TMF grant that would allow them to create a full-time position dedicated to building a music collective for young adults and cultivating relationships with local churches that could use the students’ musical talents.
TMF accepted their grant proposal, and the college ministry launched their bold idea. Considering how quickly United Campus Ministry had grown in San Marcos, TX in just a few years, it seemed like the perfect time to launch the worship music collective.
Then the pandemic hit. There was so much uncertainty about COVID-19. Churches began to move worship online; schools and universities were closing and asking students to move online as well. Change was happening at a pace so swift it made most of us dizzy. The students were no different. They were scattered and isolated like everyone else.
That’s when United Campus Ministry ramped up its media ministry. It focused on Instagram engagement (@UCMtxstate) as it welcomed students, fostered connections, cultivated a sense of belonging, and offered one-on-one online engagement by direct messaging students.
When ministry leaders asked them what they needed during these challenging times, the students requested opportunities for in-person community. In response, UCM Texas State launched an outdoor worship service in their parking lot with students leading the worship music. These innovative efforts grew the ministry more than they could have imagined.
Still, Todd wanted to explore the idea of connecting students to local churches to help them discern their ministry callings, so the leadership team got creative. “We didn’t expect churches to be closed for such a long time, so we needed to pivot,” Todd said with excitement. “We started helping a small local church, El Buen Pastor UMC, film their worship and put it online. El Buen Pastor worships around 30 people in-person, but started connecting with more than a thousand people through their weekly online Spanish devotionals. We were helping form Methodist community digitally with students who had the skills necessary to do that important work.”
UCM Texas State expanded its scope of the grant, providing music and digital services to help other churches, camps, and ministries transition well to online worship and more. They trained volunteers to undertake this work and shared their technical knowledge.
The college students of UCM Texas State also produced a complete online worship pastors could use the Sunday after Christmas. It featured a mix of traditional and contemporary Christmas hymns, including several horn arrangements. It allowed the church to continue in worship, while providing a welcomed respite for many pastors who had been dealing with uncertainty for nine months straight. And it was an incredible display of the students’ commitment to the church, their callings, and their leadership capacity. Their worship was professional and engaging. It was exactly what the churches and the students needed during this crisis.
“Overall, I want to help create passionate lay leaders,” Todd noted. “The church knows how to build loving communities and to nurture callings. The church knows how to be a witness that makes a difference in the world. I want to nurture a vocation of apostleship in these young adult college students, connect them to places where they can serve, and encourage them in their leadership development. Music is one of those places where the church can invite young adults to lead us into the future.”
With that energy and excitement, United Campus Ministry at Texas State follows in the ministry footsteps of Charles Wesley using music to fuel the Methodist movement, to build harmony and community, and to move people to worship in the best and worst of times.