More on Music

Requiem for Advent?

posted Dec 5, 2018, 9:22 AM by Penny Skildum

When I was a child, the arrival of the Sears Toy Catalog at our house each year in late September was greeted with much excitement. My three sisters, by brother and I examined the catalog in great detail. There was much discussion among us about the chances of getting any particular item for Christmas based upon past experience and relative cost. We developed detailed lists with page references for my mom (somehow we knew she was the real local Santa agent). We were certain that Christmas was all about the presents. Sure, there was a baby and a manger and shepherds and wise men (definitely men). We even did our own Christmas pageants at home some years (in bathrobes, of course). But that stuff was all window dressing for the real event – Christmas morning and unwrapping presents. We knew that was what Christmas was really all about. I don’t recall anyone ever teaching this to us. We absorbed it. We were immersed in it. It became part of us as easily as the air we breathed.
Theological reflection began creeping into my life in my teen years. I was introduced to the season of Advent as I journeyed through various college level experiences. Much to my surprise, I discovered that the four weeks before Christmas (which was not even supposed to start until December 25th) were designed largely for introspection. They were to be weeks where Christians were given an opportunity to ponder the realities of their own individual lives and of the rings of communities that rippled out from them. These realities could be brought into God’s presence so that we could discover how God might be able to break into them anew – how God might be able to partner with us in new ways to re-energize us both as individuals and as communities. There were readings from our sacred story to help us – even songs for us to sing, but most important was time – time for focused attention – time for pondering and preparation. The assumption through it all was that we really don’t know what Christmas is to be about this year, but if we are honest, if we take time, we can learn and thus we can celebrate truly when it comes.
Sadly, while the following years have not diminished my belief in the importance of the observance of Advent, they have significantly eroded my ability to take time for that observance. The cultural pressure to make the entire time period from Thanksgiving through Christmas Day one long Christmas party centered largely around the Christmas priorities of my childhood has taken its toll even on the way that the church celebrates Christmas, and often chooses not to observe Advent. In my more despairing moments, I feel that Advent has died – hence the title of this short article.

Yet, I am nothing if not stubborn! I squirrel away tiny moments for Advent contemplation on my bike rides to and from work, as I push a vacuum across manifold square yards of carpet and wash the dishes each evening. And I try to protect my fifteen minutes each morning for the wonderful study material that has been saving my life since I discovered it many years ago (see for further information if this interests you). In these moments, sometimes startling Christmas images come to my mind – the staff of an immigrant detention center subverting the terrorizing intent of family separation by creating spaces of true welcome for frightened children and actively trying to help distraught parents to reunite with their children – small groups of people in ISIS controlled territories who, at significant peril to their lives, find ways to hide and protect from destruction the books that carry centuries of their religious tradition – the patient workers in the Gaza strip who strive to help Jews and Palestinians to see each other truly, as vulnerable human beings in need both of dignity and protection. In my mind, these fresh images become commentators on the well-worn nativity stories of Luke and Matthew in order that I might learn how to celebrate Christmas anew this year.

And as often as I can, I pause to reflect on words that came to me years ago. I wrote them down in the form of a poem at the time to share as an Advent gift for a good friend. Later, I framed them so that we could put them up in our house along with our Christmas decorations. I’m honestly still not sure I know all of what they mean. But they remain for me another of my subversive tools – to keep Advent alive – to delay the time for an Advent Requiem.
Advent Coming/Waiting
Attend not the dull, methodical ticking
of seconds, minutes, hours and days.
The passage of time, on human clocks
has only to do with idolatry
arrogance and pride.
To pile hours on days, weeks on months
that they might add up to Life
is to use a calculus foreign to the Spirit,
ever-present at all points
as the hands sweep ever on
round and round.
Foolish, then, are we to await any particular point,
believing it a larger significance;
a more satisfying event.
For God floods all of existence with Spirit-presence,
yearning only for proper attention:
the unconsumed burning bush;
the still, small voice;
the birth of a child.
And only the faith to live
by the light of that presence
is needed
for the wholeness of God
to pour once again
into any human spirit,
smashing the life built of blocks of time
in the drenching flood of Life; time-less in time.

Great Music Opportunities in November and December

posted Nov 5, 2018, 9:01 AM by Penny Skildum

There’s a great deal going on musically here at Peace over the next two months. There are many ways to be involved. Read on – mark your calendars – participate – enjoy!
Rehearsals for Christmas at Peace choir start October 31st.
Every year, the Celebration Chorale welcomes seasonal singers to help with the special music for Christmas at Peace. Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings, 7:15-8:30 pm, October 31st, November 7th, 14th and 28th, December 5th and 12th. See below for details about Christmas at Peace Sunday. Let me know if you have any questions . It’s nice if you tell me in advance that you are coming, but it’s also Ok just to show up at rehearsal. You don’t have to be able to attend all of the rehearsals to participate.
All of Us, Northern Lights Chorale Fall Concert, Sunday, November 11th, 3 pm
We’re going to put all of our sanctuary chairs back in the sanctuary for the large crowd we anticipate will come to hear this fine singing group. The Northern Lights Chorale, which celebrated its 10th season last year, has been using our sanctuary as their regular weekly rehearsal space since the fall of 2017. These 70+ singers have a beautiful sound. You’ll enjoy hearing them in our very own sanctuary. Admission is free. An offering will be taken during the concert. More information at
Twin Cities Bronze Christmas Concert, Sunday, December 2nd, 4 pm
One of the finest community handbell ensembles in the country, Twin Cities Bronze uses our Fellowship Hall as their rehearsal space each Sunday afternoon. Instead of paying rent to use our facilities, this group shares their equipment with our Ringers of Peace, allowing our group to ring a full 5-octave set of handbells. Their ringing is always superb. Their innovative programming will help put you in a fine holiday mood. And they follow the concert with a decadent dessert reception! More information and tickets at         
Advent Dinner, Sunday, December 9th, 6-8:30 pm
After a fabulously successful inaugural event in 2017, this event is back this year with a few new twists. We’ll still gather at 6 pm for a half-hour social time with appetizers and punch, but this year, we’ll follow this with a short time of community Christmas carol singing while the buffet is being prepared for the main course. After a hearty meal (ham, au-gratin potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans almondine and a dessert bar) the Ringers of Peace will play several selections for us and the Praise Singers will present Joy! a collection of six gospel-style arrangements of familiar Christmas songs. If everything goes our way, there will be full stage lights for this part of the program. You’ll have a chance to sing along (Silent Night) on the final number of the program.
$20 tickets will go on sale beginning Sunday, November 4th. This is a family-friendly event. No family will be asked to pay more than $80 total for their tickets. The last date to purchase tickets will be Sunday, December 2nd, so that we will have an accurate count in time to purchase food for the meal. Invite your friends to join you! We’ll make room for as many as want to come!
There will be opportunities for many of you to contribute food (appetizers and desserts) and/or to gather in the church kitchen the Saturday before the event to prepare the rest of the food. Watch for a SignUpGenius event coming to your email inbox! We are especially excited to announce that all proceeds beyond expenses this year will go to the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf. The food shelf is providing volunteers to work throughout the evening so that none of our community will have to work during the event. And a special thank you goes to Valerie Roy who is serving as food coordinator for the whole event.
Christmas at Peace, Sunday, December 16th, 10 am
A long-standing tradition here at Peace, worship on this Sunday will be mostly music. Were You There on that Christmas Night? is a cantata that in music and spoken word will help us to ponder the meanings this season might have for us this year. As we did last year, we will also celebrate communion around the same tables that were used for the Advent Dinner the previous Sunday evening. Then, on Wednesday, December 19th, 6:30 pm, the Celebration Chorale will be at Johanna Shores (County Road D and Fairview) to present this same program for the residents there.

I look forward to seeing and working with many of you on these events. I hope you and your family will take full advantage of these musical opportunities to celebrate this holiday season with your faith community.

Of Smiles and Small Successes

posted Sep 28, 2018, 4:44 PM by Penny Skildum

Charles is the leader of the Weight Watchers’ meetings in our building. Charles is my favorite thing about Tuesdays. His booming bass voice and rolling laugh which seems to fill the whole building are things I look forward to each week.  I’m writing this on Tuesday, inspired by the two questions Charles asks each person who comes to his meetings: “What made you smile this week?” and “What was your small success this week?”
Antonio Trelles made me smile this week with his irrepressible smile and boundless energy – running up and down the handicap access ramp to the stage in our sanctuary. The creative miracle that is every Spirit Singer event – coming together for one rehearsal before lending our musical leadership to worship – was one of the small successes this past week as was my grandson Eddie’s first rehearsal with the Ringers of Peace this past Thursday.
I am grateful to Charles each week for reminding me it is important to name and treasure these significant small things in my life because remembering them helps me to cope with the larger ongoing challenges which I face. For instance, the Ringers of Peace said farewell to long-time ringer Barb Mons in September. We were already shorthanded. I invited my grandson Eddie to come experiment with us for awhile, to see if he wants to ring with us on a regular basis, but we could sure use another one or two people to join the group. Training is provided! We practically guarantee “make you smile” and “small success” events for people who are willing to give ringing a try. Please send me an email –– if you are interested or want more information.
And some of us are in the midst of planning for our second Advent Dinner (Sunday, December 9th, 6:00-8:30 pm – mark your calendars NOW!) There are a large number of moving parts to a project of this size. Many things are in the conceptual phase right now. It can be hard to see how, even if, they can all come together to make a memorable experience like last year’s event. But the potential is there. It’s exciting, and unnerving, at the same time!
I trust I’m not the only one with a life like this – big plans – major challenges – and in need of every small success and incidence for a smile I can muster to stay sane and positive. Perhaps if we are each in tune enough to the challenges and plans of those around us, and able to share our own plans and challenges with others, we will also be able to lend a helping hand where we can, and graciously receive a helping hand when it is offered. Possibly this cooperative approach to working with all of our challenges and plans will be the source of many small successes and events which make us smile.

Let It Rain

posted Sep 5, 2018, 7:27 PM by Penny Skildum

It’s literally pouring rain outside my window today as I write these words. It’s been weeks with no rain. I bet all the green, growing things are overjoyed. Sometimes my spirit feels as if it’s been weeks since it’s been refreshed and renewed. Summer in the church can feel like that. Though I have been fed by many who are present for most summer Sunday worship experiences, I confess I miss the felt presence of many others whose lives take them to other places for much, or all, of the summer months.

And I admit I still pay too much attention to the “news” (much too heavily weighted towards reporting of the strange, alarming, unusual and bizarre) for my spiritual health. Its continuous breathing of hot air all too often parches my soul.

So – as we begin another program year, and I look forward to the collaboration I enjoy with the wonderful volunteer musicians who participate in the music groups of our congregation (for details click here if you aren’t already involved and want to join in the fun), I am reminded of the words of a song written by my good friend, Lyndy Zabel. They are my prayers for me – for you – that our lives may be flooded with God presence; renewed, refreshed and restored.

(Verse one)
Send your Word, Lord, send your spirit, like the wind blowing through the trees.
Send Your Power, Send Your Wisdom from above.
Send Your Comfort, send Your Courage, send Your Strength when we’re on our knees.
Send Your Spirit, send Your Blessing, send Your Love.
Lord, let it rain, let it thunder in the night. Lord, let it blow through our lives.
Lord, let it shine in the dark as a guiding Light.
Send Your Spirit, send Your Blessing, send Your Love.
(Verse two)
Send Your Power, send Your Glory like the rain falling on the earth.
Send Your Mercy, send Forgiveness when we fall.
For we need You and we seek You, with souls that hunger and thirst.
Send Your Spirit, send Your Blessing, hear our call.
(Repeat Refrain)

Moving On Down the Technology Highway

posted Aug 4, 2018, 4:04 PM by Penny Skildum

We received word recently that Minnesota Builders East (formerly Metro East Builders) had approved Peace Church to receive a $4,000 grant for the purpose of adding video projection technology to the sanctuary. The balance of the funds needed for this equipment will be matched with donations from the congregation. I have interviewed two vendors who are in the process of submitting bids for the purchase and installation of this equipment. So the ball is rolling and, if things go according to plan, we should have this equipment installed and operational by sometime this fall.
Of course, this technology will only be useful to us if it is provided with appropriate content and has competent people to run it. These two tasks may provide opportunities for some of you to lend a hand.

Providing appropriate content
No doubt it will seem odd to many of you that I do not have a working knowledge of PowerPoint. However, having no prior need to use this software, I have never seen the need to learn how to use it. Once this new video projection equipment is installed, I will have all sorts of opportunity to use this kind of software. I am a reasonably adept student, and have done this kind of learning from books and video tutorials, but I have found in the past the most efficient way for me to learn is to have a real live teacher. If you have the requisite knowledge, time and interest, maybe you can help me. Send me a message –  – give me a call – 651-484-2226 or 651-633-6697 – or talk to me on a Sunday morning if you would like to be my tutor.

Running the equipment on Sunday mornings
In our grant application, we stated we would particularly provide an opportunity for our youth to assume the responsibility for operating this video projection technology on Sunday mornings. This doesn’t mean we intend to exclude people in other age groups, but it does mean we see this as an opportunity which might be of particular interest to our youth, and we would give their involvement priority. So, again, if you have the requisite knowledge, time and interest, and particularly if you are one of our youth, let me know you want to help, using the same contact information noted above. Once we have the equipment installed, we will set up training and develop a work schedule for those who would like to be involved.
Finally, remember our music groups start up again the first week in September. I sincerely hope many previous participants will be back this fall, but there is always room for new people as well. If you have an interest in singing or ringing, no matter what your age, but aren’t sure how to get involved, follow this link -   - or use the contact information above to get in touch with me personally.

Summer Musical Musings

posted Jul 2, 2018, 6:48 AM by Penny Skildum

Preparations for the handbell festival in Rochester last weekend (June 22-24) took much of my time in the month of June. July and August are going to be my planning time – getting ready for the regular programming which runs from September through May. As my thoughts turn to this process, and as I searched for what might be important to put into this newsletter article, I stumbled upon the newsletter article I wrote for June 2016. That message seemed worth repeating here, so you will find that article below.
Your Musical Sound Track
What music do you listen to when you want to be comforted?; to express great joy?; to get through a task you’d rather not have to do?; to be motivated to do something courageous? What music do you return to time after time? Why do you think this is so?
I’m asking because I think I should be using your playlists for some of the music we share together on Sunday mornings – and I really don’t know what is on them. I know what’s on mine. I have books which match songs from our songbooks with the sacred stories we use to focus our weekly worship experiences. But I don’t know what’s on your playlists, and I think I could do a better job of serving your musical needs each week if I knew.
Summer is a good time to share this kind of information with me. I spend lots of my time over the summer looking ahead, trying to plan for the September-May program year. Music publishers send me CD’s and catalogs of their latest songs. Sometimes I attend workshops and listen to new music there. However, after over forty years of doing this work, I’ve begun to suspect that I’m missing the most important piece of information if I don’t know something about what you are listening to and what your listening is doing for you.
If you want to help me out with this, send me a message at and let me know what you’re listening to and what your listening is doing for you. Or have a conversation with me, as long as you don’t mind me reaching for pen and paper. Thanks!

As I recall, there was no response to the article in 2016. But hope springs eternal. Just this morning I have enjoyed listening to four songs that Summer Armstrong asked me to listen to (she will be singing two of them during worship on August 5th). It was enjoyable for me to discover some of the music which is meaningful to her. Perhaps with the renewed invitation some more of you will be willing to share your thoughts/ideas with me.

To Create Beauty – A Joyful Collaboration

posted Jun 5, 2018, 7:03 PM by Penny Skildum

The Ringers of Peace will attend the Handbell Musicians of America Area VII Handbell Festival in Rochester, MN from June 22-24. These events are held every two years. The group has been attending since 1996. Besides the massed choir ringing (usually 3-400 ringers) there are workshops on various topics, displays by music vendors and much time for networking and hanging out.
This year, for the first time, I signed up to lead one of the workshops. I decided to call my presentation The Joys of Collaborative Ringing. Since my idea was accepted, back last fall, I have sporadically (usually while pushing a vacuum) spent time thinking about what to include in my presentation and how to structure it.

This morning’s vacuum pushing had me thinking about beauty, how it is created and the joy that is experienced both in the creating and in the sharing. It occurred to me the creation of beauty, at least in its musical forms, and specifically helping others to share in that creation, could describe most of what I have tried to do as a church musician over a span of 40+ years.
Like anything truly worth doing, creating musical beauty involves effort – intensive plain hard work – the labor in collaboration. Singers refine their ability to create lovely sounds (in tune, understandable words, proper volume, sensitive phrasing, good breathing, etc.). Ringers learn how their notes fit with the other notes, what techniques are required for different types of sounds, both how to fit in unobtrusively and how to stand out when needed. There is always more to learn – always some greater refinement, something new to notice – and always the effort to make it all seem effortless so the result looks as beautiful as it sounds. Sometimes it all seems overwhelming. Indeed, a ringer was heard once to mutter under her breath, “picky, picky, picky!” during a rehearsal, as we went for an even more delicate rendering of a section of a piece. Yet, for any who have experienced it, the collaboration that creates beauty is one of life’s truly fulfilling experiences – the swing of the bat that connects truly, the swing of the club that drives a ball far down the fairway, the persistent effort that coaxes a giggle out of a distressed child, the symphony of chopping, sautéing, baking and cooking that leads to a delicious meal – to say nothing of the sound of music done well.

We’re going to talk about what it takes to create beauty in handbell ringing in my workshop at the festival in June. I would enjoy working with some of you over the summer to bring musical beauty to our summer worship experiences (see link to sign up web page below). I look forward to seeing many familiar faces (maybe even some new ones) next fall as singing and ringing musicians gather in their groups and take up the task once again of making beautiful music. But mostly, I hope that each of you, right where you are, in what you have to do, in what you feel called to do, take your work seriously enough to find the beauty in it and to collaborate with that beauty to make it manifest in your world – putting it into sharable form for anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Summer Opportunities

posted Apr 30, 2018, 7:19 PM by Penny Skildum   [ updated Apr 30, 2018, 7:20 PM ]

Summer Music Volunteers Needed
Our regular music groups take the summer off. This leaves the Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day open for anybody who would like to make a musical contribution to our worship experiences. In past years, volunteers have included children who have recently begun learning to play instruments, singers whose schedules don’t normally allow them to contribute to our regular music groups, people with hidden musical talents, as well as many of our regular musicians who like to contribute in unique ways.
To coordinate the scheduling, I have created a SignUpGenius webpage for 2018 Summer Musicians. That link is immediately below this invitation. Check your calendar, maybe talk to a few friends you want to help you out, pick a date and put your name down. The program lets me know when people sign up. I’ll be in touch to coordinate with you and be of any assistance that you need. I really enjoy these summer opportunities to do a wide variety of things with music. I hope you will accept this invitation to join in!

Church Summer Lawn Care Volunteers Needed
Switching hats here for a minute (putting on my custodian hat), summer is also a great time to pitch in and help with the task of keeping the church lawn looking nice. It takes about 3-4 hours each week to mow the yard and trim around trees and the building. The church has all of the necessary equipment. The church trustees keep the equipment in good working order and provide training for anyone without previous experience using the equipment. Once again, SignUpGenius has proved to be the best way for us to coordinate ourselves to see this task is accomplished each week. The link is below. Pick one week, or several, to help out. The program even automatically reminds you when your work time is near.

All of this reminds me we are a volunteer organization – we volunteer to become participants in the Peace Community of Faith and much of what we do depends on our voluntary efforts as participants. I like working with volunteers. I hope you like volunteering and that you will continue to do so.

April 22

posted Apr 2, 2018, 8:04 AM by Penny Skildum

I hope to see many of you on Sunday morning, April 22nd, as the Praise Singers with several guest instrumentalists present musical reflections, along with my spoken reflections, on the closing verses of the 40th chapter of the writings from the Jewish tradition of the prophetic school of Isaiah. 

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
            They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
            They walk and don’t lag behind.
(The Message interpretation)  

The experience of exile and homecoming, according to contemporary scholar Marcus Borg, is one of the three main themes of all of Biblical literature. While its historical point of reference in the Bible is the Babylonian exile of the Hebrew people in the 6th century BCE, the reason that the theme itself is timeless is because exile and homecoming seem to be a part of the spiritual experience of most people. So, two dear friends from my days in the ARC Retreat Community can speak of themselves as gay Catholics in exile from an institutional church that refuses to recognize the possibility of their existence. Women with gifts for pastoral and prophetic ministry have fought through the entire time period of my adult existence to come home to their calling in a church that still sometimes only grudgingly accepts their gifts. And we all experience moments of deep personal grief and loss that place us in exile from a God who we thought both cared for us deeply and was powerful to protect and sustain us. 

On April 22nd, through musical expression and spoken interpretation, we hope to provide some edification, some food for thought, some encouragement both for our community and your individual journey within the spiritual world of exile and homecoming. I hope you will be able to be present to celebrate with us!

Celebrations and Challenges

posted Jan 15, 2018, 8:35 PM by Penny Skildum

December 10th and 17th were both exhausting and exhilarating! Attendance at the Advent Dinner, on December 10th exceeded our wildest expectations. 125 guests enjoyed a good meal and musical performance. Serious challenges in the food delivery and meal clean-up aside (challenges that WILL be addressed effectively if we decide to do something like this again next year), the beautifully decorated sanctuary and wonderful community spirit-of-the-season linger still in my mind’s eye and warm my heart.

Worship with communion the following Sunday morning around the same tables in the sanctuary, with Joseph Martin’s lovely music about the importance of the light of Christ coming in this season of darkness, was uplifting to many (our largest worship attendance since Easter last spring) – one person commenting that we should make it our regular practice to do worship around tables.

The next couple of weeks were consumed with family holiday events, with very little time for reflection. But the necessity of writing a regular monthly article for this newsletter has provided a pondering opportunity. When I come down from the high points of experiences like these just mentioned, the shock is similar, I imagine, to that of the brave (or foolish) folks who participate in polar plunges. That is to say that my perception of the contrast between the energy and participation levels of these high points and the regular, weekly Sunday gatherings of our faith community is striking and, to me, unsettling.

It is completely beyond the scope of an article of this length to summarize the complex web of cultural forces that have battered the Christian Church (and many other institutions) during the course of my lifetime. And it is definitely not my intent to lay blame in any particular place or with any of the individuals, families and communities that find themselves living in an era where much has unraveled and there is little consensus on how to build into the future. But, with the multitude of spiritual challenges facing us these days (again, whole books have been used to put large topics like climate change, genetic manipulation, militarism and nuclear power into terms that are spiritually relevant for individuals and local communities), it seems to me like we, as a faith community, should have more to offer to our members than occasional spiritual high points.

If we are a community that believes that spiritual health and wholeness is as essential as nourishing food, clean air and water, things that are essential to us on a daily, routine basis, however much we might enjoy an occasional special meal or the freshness of a mountain campsite, then it seems to me that we must find new ways to make the daily – the weekly – the routine spiritual care and feeding of our community every bit as relevant, as accessible and as compelling as the sporadic high points, like those mentioned above, that we rightly enjoy so much. Perhaps the person who spoke to me about routinely having worship around tables was onto something. Could this be a format for engaging people more regularly in vital smaller group experiences? Could we use technology to make our community experiences available at different times for people whose engagement with communities beyond our faith community makes it impossible for them to regularly attend? Do we need to find ways to offer experiences at different times or in different spaces? Do we still need the same skills in those who lead this process (preaching, training of volunteer musicians) or are other talents called for (training and nurture of small group leaders, music performance).

I am of an age in this culture where one thinks about retiring. It’s relatively easy to be interested in retiring when the work seems relatively unimportant and is not going much of any place. In fact, people often resign from such work to try to find something more meaningful (I did that once). But I would rather be engaged in something of great importance that is practically bursting with new ideas and possibilities and the energy to persevere even through failures. I might never retire from that. Perhaps you are another person who would like to take on a challenge – to find practical new strategies and methods that will provide fresh energy for new approaches to regular spiritual nourishment for our community and maybe even push us to offer these to others. Perhaps you’ll do me the honor of sharing your ideas, your passion, with me. Maybe we’ll find ourselves working together on a committee or work team. That, I would look forward to.

1-10 of 11