Practicum student helps shape Anabaptist worship

Amelia Pahl, a fourth-year CMU student doing an interdisciplinary degree in Religion and Narrative, did a three-month practicum placement with Together in Worship, a website of free Anabaptist worship resources that was launched this fall. Amelia Pahl, a fourth-year CMU student doing an interdisciplinary degree in Religion and Narrative, did a three-month practicum placement with Together in Worship, a website of free Anabaptist worship resources that was launched this fall.

When Amelia Pahl envisioned how her practicum would go, she didn't expect she would be dissecting an 18th century prayer book and seeing how it could be used for worship today. Yet this was one of the many tasks she took on this summer.

Pahl, a fourth-year CMU student doing an interdisciplinary degree in Religion and Narrative, did a three-month practicum placement with Together in Worship, a website of free Anabaptist worship resources that was launched this fall.

The project is operating in collaboration with CommonWord Bookstore and Resource Centre, in conversation with Voices Together, the new Mennonite worship and song collection, and Anabaptist Worship Network. Volunteers across Canada and the United States have curated and developed words, music, and visuals for worship from an Anabaptist-Mennonite approach.

Pahl was one of these curators, working alongside graduate students from Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, ON. Every day brought new discoveries and assignments. She catalogued poetry from a diversity of Anabaptist writers; she worked through a centuries-old prayer book, taking prayers translated from the original text and adapting them to fit a contemporary context; she indexed summer worship series from Leader, an Anabaptist ministry magazine.

Her main project was organizing French language worship resources from Mennonite World Conference (MWC). She would take full worship services that MWC had created for days like Peace Sunday and Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday, and break them down into their individual components. Then she would make those prayers, songs, and other pieces available on the online database.

Pahl brought extensive ecumenical worship leadership experience to her practicum role. She grew up involved in the Mennonite church, singing, dancing, reading scripture, and leading worship. She became connected with French Methodists when she worked as an Au Pair in France in 2018. Later that year she volunteered for four months at Taizé, an ecumenical Christian community in central France, where she helped lead singing. She now participates regularly in the Winnipeg Quaker meeting.

But she hadn't always been planning on applying these diverse experiences to curating. Her original plan had been to do her practicum at an Anglican parish in Quebec City, but the COVID-19 pandemic soon made that impossible.

When the opportunity arose to instead engage her curiosity about curation, Pahl was hesitant at first. She was apprehensive about doing a completely virtual practicum when so many aspects of life had already moved online. But she quickly learned something she didn't expect.

"I thought that it would be kind of isolated, individual work," she says. "But there's so much about curating that is so relational. You really have to get to know the author, their intent, the original audience, and really understand that. And you also need to be able to understand the other possible audiences that may look to connect with this resource... The intimacy of the curating process was a big thing that I really found myself thinking about a lot and that really surprised me."

Pahl says her practicum experience fits well into her degree, which draws on theology, philosophy, English, and more to explore the question of narrative. "In the particular context of Together in Worship, there is very much the question of how do we narrate the Anabaptist experience today, while at the same time recognizing that our vision of worship today is shaping our vision of worship tomorrow."

She explains there was a lot of discernment involved in the process, because the words and tools we use in worship are deeply intertwined with how we understand our identities as Christians and as humans. These are questions "that are much bigger than just an individual person working at a computer," she says.

Pahl has continued to explore these big questions in her job with the Canadian Council of Churches, which she began this fall. She is program assistant for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an annual international event, for which a different Christian community around the globe creates worship resources each year.

Her role, along with various other individuals and committees, is to work with these contributions to help them fit a Canadian context, and to reach out to communities across Canada to hear their stories about celebrating the Week of Prayer. She is excited to continue her summer learning into the year ahead.

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