Our current church assignment, the Shonandai Christ Church in Fujisawa, went for almost six years without a pastor. The church consisted of five women, all 50 years of age and older. During those years, while we were working on the start of another church, I (Gary) was asked to take turns with other pastors in preaching in afternoon services at Shonandai.
Besides the fact that there were so few in the church, I was surprised to find out what these women were doing for worship music. They used a machine called a Hymn Player. This basically consists of a box with a keypad, attached to two speakers. By inputting the number of the hymn in one of the two hymnals in use by Protestant churches in Japan, and then hitting “play”, the machine generates the correct number of verses for those present to sing along with. It’s great technology, but points out the lack of musical gifts in the church.
In April of 2005, Pastors Akio and Noriko Kawamura were called by the Japan Covenant to try a restart of this congregation. Pastor Akio, before meeting Jesus, was a concert violinist and studio musician. Soon after the Kawamuras began their ministry at Shonandai, Miss Nakao, a young Christian woman they had known for a few years, started attending services- and playing the piano!
Now the church had its own music. When we were called to work with the church, I added guitar, and Pauline added djembe (an African drum) to the mix.
Through a series of events, and God’s leading, we started to have a “praise music worship service” once every other month. This kind of service has more than the usual amount of singing, and more contemporary songs of praise. And in developing this worship service, we were able to add another man with a guitar, and even a woman who plays a shamisen (traditional Japanese three-stringed instrument). Sometimes I’ll even add my banjo, and it sounds okay!
These worship services are rich with music that praises God and blesses all each person present, whether he/she is playing an instrument or not. And our fledgling music team has been asked to play and lead worship singing at a number of events in the Japan Covenant.
One other benefit/blessing of this music is that our Shonandai Church people, and others in our denomination, have a sense that God is indeed blessing our congregation, and will do so as we seek to reach out to our community in the future.