Since October 2020, congregants have gathered weekly on Zoom to celebrate God using an instrument not usually seen as ecclesiastical: the ukulele.
Ukulele Church is run by Linnea Good, a United Church composer and musician based in British Columbia, and Rev. Catherine Stuart, the regional minister for children, youth and young adults for the three Atlantic Regions. Each week, they lead a group of folks from ages two to 82 through 75 minutes of worship and creativity using music and art.
The idea sprang out of conversations between Stuart and Good, who have collaborated musically for years. “One day, we decided to put the ukulele, the most accessible and happiest of instruments, together with online worship that’s creative and story-based,” said Good. “And the more we talked about it, the more we knew it was something we wanted in our lives, and the more we hoped others did too.”
Others help too: Good’s son, Isaac Jonsson-Good, runs the Zoom meetings, and Nancy Callbeck from Prince Edward Island is the art leader.
“[Good] and I weren’t leading the same youth worship in the Zoom services, and missing it, and wanting it for ourselves,” said Stuart. “It was initially going to be something for kids, but it’s grown into all-ages, and all relationships with church—including some people who don’t have any other experience of church, which has been cool.”
Ukulele church services are split into two parts — group worship and smaller group art- and music-making sessions. The event begins with a prayer of thanksgiving, an update on the ongoing Bible story (which always spreads over three weeks) and then breakout rooms for ukulele practice and work on the ongoing art project. All service content is crafted to be accessible to young people – lots of body movements to go with prayers and simple language for storytelling – but the adults also get engaged, swinging their arms and cutting out construction paper with great focus. Congregants’ contributions in the Zoom chat make up the prayers, which Stuart voices, with occasional help. “Once when I was off in a breakout room helping with tuning, a 10-year-old participant offered to lead a prayer, and was able to do it successfully using everyone’s words,” she recalls.
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Adults reported joining this kid-friendly congregation for a few reasons: to stay in touch with grandchildren they haven’t been able to see as much during the pandemic, to learn a fun instrument (or keep up their skills), or to get to be goofy while worshipping God. Breakout rooms for ukulele practice range from complete novice through three levels of skill, and Good notes that while you wouldn’t think one could progress that far with 20 minutes of practice a week, they’re going to have to add new difficulty levels soon.
And even complete novices can make music with a ukulele, she says: “You can play melody, you can play harmony, can strum the chords, and you can also play percussion by tapping on the sides or back. You can be the whole band.”
If you want to join Ukulele Church, the next service is on Sunday, Jan. 9 at 12:30 p.m. AST.
Kate Spencer is a writer in Halifax.
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