Matthew Wensel

I began my ministry at Union Lutheran Church in York, PA, in August of 2016.  I came to Union because I wanted to explore how I could use music as a tool for mission and outreach.  My good friend Rev. Joel  Folkemer is the pastor and I knew from many deep and thoughtful conversations that my eclectic musical interests and spiritual gifts would be a good fit for the outward-focused ministry of Union.

Right away we were intentional about preparing the congregation for change.  We recognized that we needed to be intentional about making worship more accessible and utilizing worship music that resonated with our community.  From the first Sunday, I began incorporating the piano more in worship, both in congregational singing and in special music.  Some light jazz and modern settings of hymns – not too much too soon.  We also realized that we did not need to stick with one setting of the liturgy for the entire service.  We mixed and matched liturgy pieces pulled from a variety of resources – ELW, This Far By Faith, multicultural song books, etc.

Our biggest leap forward in multicultural worship came during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.  We celebrated God at work in the church around the world by celebrating music and worship practices from five different regions around the world (North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin/South America).  Each Sunday our congregational songs were representative of those areas and our liturgy included an African processional as our hymn of praise, a Celtic alleluia, a folk offertory, a Puerto Rican sanctus, a gospel Lamb of God, and a Cambodian call-and-response benediction.

This period was a turning point for us in planning worship.  Since then, we’ve continued to plan a blend of music in worship.  It’s amazing to play a Bach Prelude and Fugue as the prelude and then follow it up with a gospel chorus as our call to worship.  We include everything in between – jazz, gospel, praise and worship, world music, spirituals ….  I’m blessed to serve a congregation willing to try these things.  Not everyone loves everything we do, but we realize that’s not the point.  One of our members recently said “I didn’t really like that song but I loved seeing others in worship with their hands raised in praise because they were so moved by it.”  That is the point, friends.

We’re a community together.  We pray together, we serve together, we grow together, and we worship together.  We need to be more than invitational.  We need to make space for others to join in our worship.  We want our community to see and hear themselves (musically) in worship.

I feel strongly that I’m doing the ministry God called me to do at Union, using the unique gifts God equipped me with to play all of these styles.  But, if you’re not able to sit down and improvise a rousing gospel accompaniment to a spiritual, that’s ok.  Start small.  Make some space and include/invite musicians who can.  Pull printed music from a variety of ELCA resources.  Let kids shake percussion instruments to add some flare.

Find joy along the way.  Praise God!
Matthew Wensel

Matthew Wensel is the Director of Music Ministries at Union Evangelical Lutheran Church in York.  His ministry focus is using music as a a tool for mission and outreach.

Views expressed reflect the diversity of voices and experiences across our synod and belong solely to the author, not necessarily to the Lower Susquehanna Synod or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.