Where songwriting meets sermon-writing for musician and minister Lynn Harrison
Toronto singer-songwriter Lynn Harrison has a unique perspective on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns over the past three years. Not only is she a touring musician who just released her seventh album, Treasure, she’s also a Unitarian Universalist minister serving the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto. So not only could she not tour and promote her music, she also had to figure out a way to still minister to her parishioners. All of these challenges and more are dealt with on Treasure.
“With one exception, these were all written in the last three years,” she said. “They started in March of 2020 and went into 2022. They’re all quite recent and all kind of written as a group.”
The one song that could encapsulate what we’ve all tried to do since 2020 is “Holding It Together As The World Falls Apart.”
“I’ve always written from the immediacy of my life experience so for me it wasn’t possible to write about anything else really,” she explained. “I find that writing songs can help me cope with that experience and find some growth and meaning in it. So even if it’s not an easy experience, it can still be a meaningful one and identify what’s going to get me through all of that.”
The challenge of maintaining church attendance when in-person gatherings weren’t possible was overcome fairly quickly for Lynn’s flock.
“We made the transition to Zoom immediately,” she said. “March 15, 2020 was our very first worship service on Zoom. Like so many other people we had to learn the new technology and provide the same sort of church service but in an online form. So that was a pretty big adjustment to say the least.”
Once gathering restrictions were lifted, Lynn’s church switched to a hybrid in-person/online format, which she also used recently for the release concert for Treasure.
“It’s almost like we’re living in a two-dimensional world now with a couple of ways of connecting.”
Throughout Lynn’s career she’s shone a light on the world around her, from her neighbourhood to life as a parent of young kids to life in a big city. These are the same issues faced by her parishioners so it’s not much of a surprise that themes found in her songs are also found in her sermons.
“Sometimes I write sermons based on songs so I’ll present them together,” she said. “I do that a lot. Usually the song came first and the sermon comes later. It’s almost like an elaboration on those themes. I was asked once to do a sermon on ‘fear’ for a congregation. So I did that and then afterwards I wanted to write a song about it.”
Lynn’s ability to combine a sermon and a song along similar subjects has had an interesting benefit.
“One of the greatest compliments that I receive now is people say, ‘Your songs are sermons in themselves.’ I really appreciate that. To me there’s something so elegant about the form of a song. There’s so much power and meaning in music that I think transcends language even. Sometimes the song is exactly the way to say something. Maybe the better way to say something.”
Treasure in billed as “a collection of uplifting songs for complicated times”. An example of this is “Me And My Swinging Mood.”
“Like many people during the pandemic, I’ve had my dark moments: anxiety, fear and despair – hopefully not for very long,” said Lynn. “But there were times when I found there was that combination of knowing we were going through a very important time and witnessing the courage of people and the value of human connection in that time. So there would be intense emotions on both sides of the spectrum.”
In spite of the seriousness of the subject, Lynn is able to see the lightheartedness in the darkness.
“I think sometimes I write songs to cheer myself up to get me through it,” she said laughing. “So it’s a lighthearted song about coping with difficult emotions. It helps me a lot. I hope it helps other people too.”
Looking towards the months ahead Lynn will be changing how she combines her music and church work.
“I’m going to be doing less ministry work starting in the fall and doing more freelance. The leading of worship, but not being in a staff ministry position anymore. It will be a big transition, since I’ve been on staff at my congregation for seven years. So I’m looking forward to performing more.”
For more on Lynn Harrison and Treasure, go to lynoleum.com.