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March/April response: Feeling the Spirit Through Music at Assembly

Makeda McCreary talks about music and mentorship as she codirects the music for Assembly 2022 this May in Orlando

by Mary Beth Coudal

Preparing for Assembly takes a team. response chatted with Makeda McCreary, a member of the Assembly music team who serves as codirector of music with Grace Pugh Hubbard, whom we profiled in the January/February 2022 issue. McCreary and I played telephone tag, as she’s busy studying for a degree in music, leading a gospel choir and working as worship and arts director at Spring Creek Baptist in Mosely, Virginia. We even had to postpone our interview because McCreary was returning from skydiving. You can meet her at Assembly 2022 from May 20-22 in Orlando.

Tell us about the gospel choir you lead.

It’s awesome. Choir music is one of my favorite things. I lead a choir at East End Fellowship, a church in the heart of Richmond, Virginia, that’s pressing into intentional community and racial reconciliation. I see the choir as honoring an authentically Black expression of worship in a multicultural setting. It’s creating a space where we’re honoring our worship and cultural expression. I used to lead a gospel choir at the juvenile center in town, but that has been stopped temporarily due to COVID-19.

Will there be gospel at Assembly?

Yes, absolutely. We tucked a few into the mix.

How did you become involved with United Methodist Women?

Through a Leadership Development Days event in 2017 in Tempe, Arizona. The music director for the event needed a keyboard player and reached out to me through a friend.

What goes into putting together music for Assembly?

We first connected with the Assembly writing team for the themes and content structure of Assembly. Now we’re creating setlists and gathering the band. Grace Pugh Hubbard and I have had many conversations about words, themes, styles and arrangements. It’s been really wonderful to work with Grace. She’s an incredible musician and such a cool lady.

What advice do you have for women who want to become a mentor like Grace?

Grace never leaves me behind, even when it’s something she could do easily, quickly or on her own. She explains her thinking process. Grace is great with explaining the why behind something and helping me to connect with the organization. She is transparent with me, and she’s very affirming of my thoughts and styles and what I bring to the role.

Often when we’re being mentored, we’re also mentoring our mentor. What might you be teaching Grace?

Hmmmm. I’m not sure. I think maybe the spaces where I lead are more contemporary. So we’re both expanding each other’s libraries.

How similar or different is creating music for Sunday worship to creating music for Assembly?

The similarities are in organizing themes. In both, I’m helping to either take the sermon or subject of the day, engage with the Holy Spirit and add to this understanding of the preached word or just provide space through worship, song and space to connect with the Holy Spirit.

For Assembly, we’re really flowing with the content to gather and to give space. If there’s heavy content, we’re giving people space to receive, to breathe. An example of heavy content is when we’ll talk about engaging in justice, or about engaging with sisters who are different ages or races. Yet Jesus is justice—so we have to talk about it. The music can sometimes make the hard work more palatable, energize us, remind us.

Another example, if the topic is peace and we sing the refrain, “Peace be with you,” it’s like a second amen.

Do you get nervous when performing?

Performing is always a little bit scary. But I’m also used to performing as a choir director. It’s really cool to be with so many people. I’m an extrovert, so I like the experience.

How do you create the set list?

Of course, I listen to what the Holy Spirit puts on my heart or in our hearts together. We aim to create a balance of familiar and new.

How did the pandemic impact your music making?

At first, it was awful. I didn’t realize just how communal music was for me until COVID-19.As the pandemic progressed, there was an innovative shift. People started exploring the bounds of music. And that was also hard at first. As a classical pianist, I joke that I’m a snob. I don’t really like keyboards, but they came in handy, right? We found ways to make music together even when we’re not together.

What is your hope for Assembly?

My hope is that women are energized and refreshed, that they have fun and that they engage with God and one another. One of my favorite things about leading worship is when you experience the spirit of God in community. It’s a wonderful thing when you see the spirit of God moving through people.

What does that look like?

It looks different at different times in different places. It may be in dancing, lifting hands, or in stillness, and sometimes you can just feel the energy change.My prayer is always, as a worship leader, that we hear from God as we’re worshiping, that I may focus less on performing and doing and more on worshiping and leading and hearing from God.

Mary Beth Coudal is a teacher and writer in New York City.

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