My journey toward sharing my music

Our “Create in Me” series offers space for conversation about the ways people are shaping worship through writing songs and liturgies, using poetry and visual arts, and simply creating experiences in worship that encourage deepening faith.

Through articles, hymns and their backstories, and ideas for using worship resources in new ways, we are exploring, celebrating and sharing that diversity and including a variety of perspectives on worship, meaning and what inspires.

This month, the Rev. Bruce Nelson, president of the Western District, Northern Province, shares how he came to share his musical gifts with the church.

I felt my call to ordained ministry during a very influential week of church camp at Chetek. I can’t remember the exact year but I believe it was sometime between 1980 and 1982. I did not immediately act on this call to ministry. I had not finished college yet, and I wanted to finish my undergraduate degree in Instrumental Music Education. I also felt I ought to teach for a bit first to make sure that that was not what the Lord was calling me to do forever. In the summer of 1987, after having been a music teacher for two and a half years, I was once again feeling a strong call to become an ordained pastor. I talked with my former astor, the Rev. R. Burke Johnson. I had changed my membership to a United Church of Christ because there was not a Moravian Church near where I was living at the time.

I talked with Burke about wanting to use my music in my ministry. He had said that that often happens, and that I should be able to use the musical gifts that I was given to bless the congregations that I would serve as an ordained pastor. I found varying degrees of opportunities to use those musical gifts. I started, or joined, pre-existing church bands in the churches that I served. I wrote “A Christmas Chorale” while I was still in college and church choirs in several Moravian Congregations have sung that piece. I have written some praise band music as well as a couple of anthems, which have been done in a few congregations. It felt good to be able to share those songs in some places.

But I also found that sometimes I just felt too busy to get around to doing much writing. In retrospect, I think I told myself I didn’t have enough time. Or, it could have been that when I had small children at home, my priorities were to spend time with my wife and children. When I showed up for an Easter band rehearsal at one of the churches I served, I was told, “You have no business being in this group. You need to be up front. We have enough people to cover the parts. We don’t need you.” I could have chosen to fight this, but I did not. The result was being disappointed at not being able to play, but also understanding that I was called as an ordained pastor not as a musician.

When I began seminary, I had a secret (not shared with others) goal to write a new hymn, song or anthem for every week of worship. I quickly realized that that was not going to happen. I then re-evaluated and thought about maybe shooting for one new song per month. I also realized that this was not going to happen! In many ways, I thought that maybe my days of using my musical gifts were gone.

About 10 years into my ordained ministry, while I was serving the John Heckewelder Memorial Moravian Church in Ohio, I was asked to play bass guitar for a praise band made up of Moravians from Tuscarawas County. Most of the members of the band were half my age, and I had sold my bass guitar when I was in seminary because I needed the money. A member of the band let me play his bass until I could get my own and an anonymous person paid for half of the cost of a new bass guitar and amplifier for me. I was overwhelmed by this generosity. I began to start writing music again. I wrote several songs for the band “Lost No More.” I was humbled that they were willing to sing the songs I had written. It was also during my time in Ohio that the local choir director and organist, Brother Mike Swaldo, took my sloppily written manuscript for “A Christmas Chorale” and put it into a much more readable format. I am grateful to this day for Mike’s willingness to do that.

When I left Ohio to take the call to serve as the pastoral leader at Ebenezer Moravian in Wisconsin, I also left behind Lost No More. It would be several years before I would have an opportunity to play again with a praise band. I no longer had an outlet for my songs to be shared, so my writing went mostly dormant.

I also have not ever wanted to get in the way of younger musicians sharing their talent. Whenever I have found myself at church camp where there are campers who play bass guitar, I have almost always deferred to them to encourage them to play; I had my chance when I was younger, and I want to encourage them to use their gifts.

About five and a half years ago, I had an opportunity to start playing with a praise band once again at Lake Mills Moravian. It also rekindled some of my writing. I have been blessed beyond measure that the Lake Mills Praise Band has been willing to sing the songs I have written.

When I write songs, the chorus usually comes to me first. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes the melody. Usually, the verses are one of the last things to come in terms of the words. Often, the harmony is the very last thing I add to the music.

The last two parishes that I served heard one of my songs on my last Sunday with them. I left Ebenezer in December of 2006, and wrote, “Keep Your Candle Glowing” to encourage them to continue to do ministry in the interim between the times that they would have an ordained pastoral leader. My last weekend at Lake Mills Moravian in May 2016, the praise band sang a song I wrote entitled, “Blessed to Be a Blessing.” I wrote this song to thank the congregation for being a blessing to me. I also wrote it in honor of my brother, Rick Nelson, who has been a blessing to many through his mission work in Honduras.

One of the challenges I have faced with the music I have written is that most of it is not in manuscript form. I usually just teach the music by rote and write down chords for the musicians. Recently Brother Tyler Pimm, the current organist, bell choir director, and praise band leader at Lake Mills Moravian, has turned a few of my songs into manuscript pieces. I am grateful to Tyler for his willingness to do this.

Now, as a district president, my travel severely hampers my ability to be in a group, choir or band full time. I deeply miss that outlet, but have recently started playing bass guitar once again for the Lake Mills Praise Band.

Through it all God has been worshiped and blessed and hopefully my music has been a blessing to others.


As part of our Create in Me series, we share a hymn from Sing to the Lord a New Song A New Moravian Songbook written by the Revs. Rick Sides and Jim Newsome, Jr. Rick and Jim share the story behind the song, while the Rev. Rebecca Craver of Edmonton Moravian Church offers ideas on how to use it in worship.

In the writers’ words: “This song was written as part of a course taken on the Psalms when we were students at Moravian Theological Seminary in 1974. The class was taught by Dr. Howard Cox, and he encouraged the students in the class to write contemporary psalms of their own. Growing out of our love for the outdoors, our experiences in inner-city ministry at the time and a sense that psalms often convey an author’s deep desire for God’s presence and assurance in the midst of life’s journey of faith, this song/psalm emerged over several weeks of playing guitars and sharing personal stories together. It was performed for the first time in the seminary class and has become a special part of campfire singing at Laurel Ridge and other camps throughout the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church.”

Using “I Search for You, Lord” in worship

There are songs that embody periods of time, particular relationships, particular hopes and dreams. It is through those songs that we are transported back to where we first came into contact with them. I first heard this song as a camper at Laurel Ridge.

I am sure I am not the only person who can still sing this hymn by heart. I am sure that I am not alone in finding comfort in the words and tune. I am sure that others are also reminded of who we were when, at campfire on the mountain top or at the lake, we sang this song, becoming followers of Christ in the darkness of a summer night.

As I reflect on the ways that summer camp served an integral role in my faith formation, I wonder what we can learn for our congregational practices of worship? Camping ministry is a collaboration of worship services, bible study, small group discussions and teachings. Camp is not the sum of all its parts; it is more than that. It is the connections between and among all the pieces that I believe encourage and enable commitment to the way of Jesus in the world.

I have two ideas for congregational worship inspired by how this hymn has been used to shape young Christians in camping ministries.

Let’s take a page from camp and consider a congregational collaboration: a congregation wide study of meaningful hymns and similarly focused worship series. Perhaps using the new adult curriculum, “Living Branches,” which explores Moravian History through our hymnody. Imagine what we might experience in worship as we sing the songs that we have just explored in group discussion and study.

Plan a hymn sing. Invite people to bring their favorite hymn and the story behind it to share with the congregation. And sing the hymns for one another!

Why is this hymn meaningful?

What is the story behind the hymn’s author and it’s composition?

What is the story behind the hymn in your own life?

There are many stories behind the songs we sing; they are the stories of God’s activity in our lives and in the world. How we practice sharing our stories with one another in worship and study will impact how we are able to share the story of God’s love for the world with others.
Worship is an act of discipleship.
–Rebecca Craver

Help us continue to create “Create in Me”

We are looking for submissions and ideas from you!
Have you written a hymn, prayer, liturgy, poem, etc. that you would like to share?

Is there a practice of worship in your congregational setting that you think others might enjoy learning about?
Do you have questions about worship, or ideas that you would like to explore?
What hymns or songs would you like to know that backstory of?

Email us at [email protected] with ideas, hymns, suggestions and thoughts on worship! Let’s continue the conversation and share with one another.

I Search for You, Lord

by Rick Sides and Jim Newsome, Jr.
Hymn 90 from Sing to the Lord a New Song, a new Moravian Songbook

I search for you, Lord, in the washing and churning of ocean’s tide.
I look for your presence in all of the brightness of morning’s sky.
I wander in fields of clover and flowers that smell so sweet.
I feel the brown earth and soft grass under my feet.
Lord, I know you’re not far away. God, I reach for you each day.
You are my life, you are my way.
I stand in the city and notice the people who live and die.
I look in their faces and see the nothing of years gone by.
I weep for the heartache and all of the dreams that are shattered here.
I feel the dark shadows, the loneliness and the fear.
Lord, I know you’re not far away. God, I reach for you each day.
You are my life, you are my way.
Lord, I wonder in all that is, and all of time,
will power of love and peace be known to humankind?
Will oceans and skies and fields and flowers ever know
that we are here because you love us so?
Lord, I know you’re not far away. God, I reach for you each day.
You are my life, you are my way.
You are my life, you are my way.
You are my life, you are my way.
You are my life, my way, my life, my way.

Text and tune: Rick Sides and Jim Newsome, Jr (1974)
©2013 Interprovincial Board of Communication and Moravian Music Foundation