St. Edward’s Episcopal Church Incorporates Praise Band Music into Liturgy | faith and values

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Traditional hymns have long been a mainstay of the Episcopal Church. But on the second Sunday of the month, the liturgical music of the 9:10 a.m. service at St. Edward’s Episcopal Church could turn “Rock of Ages” into rock ‘n’ roll. That’s when St. Edward’s 12-member praise band takes the stage.

The group has been around for about a quarter of a century and over time has featured performers on trumpet, cello, guitar and even viola.

“It kind of grew out of our youth group,” said Randy Westgate, the band’s spokesperson. “I started learning to play the guitar when my wife and I formed the youth group here and discovered there was a lot of good contemporary Christian music out there.”

When the youth group went on retreat, the adult leaders enlisted everyone to sing or play an instrument.

The praise band started with three guitarists playing at 4 p.m. on occasional Sundays.

“It wasn’t the perfect time,” Westgate admitted.

Eventually, the band’s music was incorporated into the regular church service.

“Our worship group service is a liturgical service,” Westgate said, “very similar to the service you would find in the Episcopal Church.”

The group is looking for music that matches the liturgy and the gospel lesson of the day.

Since the days of this guitar trio, they have added members. Mike Freshwater played guitar with a rock band in the 1960s, but he hadn’t picked up a guitar in years until Westgate approached him to play in the band.

good timing

Pianist Patrick Ishler is St. Edward’s Music Director and music teacher at Dover Area School District in York County. He and his wife, Dina, also a music teacher, were looking for a church when they stopped at St. Edward’s.

He described their first visit as “divine intervention”.

The church, he said, “was looking for a choir director at the time and everything fell into place,” he said.

“The Holy Spirit is always involved,” Dina added.

The Ishlers’ son, Thomas, plays guitar in a praise band and is a member of the Warwick High School Jazz Band.

Percussionist Harold Morrow has played in several bands over the years and is also a member of the Bainbridge Band. The other instrumentalists are Maeve Milligan, who has been playing flute since second grade, and violinist and marimba player Rosie Westgate.

Vocals include Dina Ishler, Ellen Milligan, Beth and Seth Hake and Amy Swiernik, who is also the band’s archivist.

While much of what they play is contemporary Christian music — “We’re doing a really neat fellowship song (‘Remembrance’) by Matt Redman,” Westgate said — they also add their own twist to the hymns. .

“We did a Jimmy Buffet arrangement of an Epiphany anthem,” he said.

“The Episcopal Church relies heavily on our hymn because of our long musical heritage,” said Dina Ishler. “What’s worked really well in this service is taking more traditional music…and putting our spin on it.”

But it’s not always rhythmic.

At last year’s Christmas Eve service, they performed what Westagte described as “contemplative” music.

“Randy does a lot of arranging and will score music for flute or fiddle,” Freshwater said.

Occasional mixed services

The church also holds occasional co-ed services in which the praise band and choir perform.

Ellen Milligan said one of the most enjoyable parts of worship band service happens during the recession.

“When we get to the last song, we hand out instruments – maracas – and anyone who wants can play along,” she said.

“They can make a happy noise,” Morrow said.






Members of the First Presbyterian Church of Strasburg Praise Team are, from left, Walter Kondratowski, Jane Geiger, Phil Geiger and Tess Miller.


Strasbourg’s First Presbyterian Church will hold a night of worship from 7-8 p.m. on March 2.

The service will feature an hour of contemporary worship music as a way to usher in the season of Lent, which begins March 6.

Tess Miller, director of contemporary music at the church, said that although Night of Praise is a first for the church, the worship band has long been a part of the church.

“Since October 2011, we have had a weekly contemporary service with a worship group,” she said. “But for years before that, we had a praise team that played with a former pastor, the Reverend Steve Clark.”

In addition to Miller, other members of the praise band include Walter Kondratowski, Jane Geiger and Phil Geiger.

“I believe the praise band offers a second style of worship,” Miller said. “Some enjoy traditional music with an organ and choir, but now they can also enjoy a more contemporary sound.”

The night of praise will take place in the sanctuary of the church. Babysitting service is available.

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