Music City is more than just a descriptive nickname for Nashville — it’s part of the city itself. Country music plays from speakers on downtown sidewalks, and there are several music museums and auditoriums within a few blocks.

The Association of Presbyterian Church Educators is taking the idea of music to heart. At its annual event here, Jan. 27-30, participants have been treated to a series of musical worship services.

Opening worship for the group’s annual conference here featured Celtic music, complete with a band of violin, bodhron, mandolin, guitar, pennywhistles, flute, accordion and Celtic harp.

The sermon, “The Great Gift of Music,” discussed music’s ability to say more than can be done through words or poetry.

In many Christian circles, there is a strict line between religious and secular music, said the Rev. Carla Pratt Keyes, the conference worship leader and pastor of Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Va.

But throughout history, people have used music to strike chords of human emotion — need, sadness, fear — “by speaking what was true in a way that was moving so that any of them might occasion a holy moment,” Keyes said.

“That God can call us back to life through music is one of the claims I want to make,” she said.

APCE is a professional organization for educators in the Reformed tradition in the United States and Canada. The group holds an annual event for its more than 1,500 members. This year’s event drew more than 1,100 of them.

In addition to the theme of music running through this year’s conference, storytelling is also a daily presence.

The Rev. Michael Lindvall, keynote speaker, is widely known as an engaging storyteller. The author of several books, he will be reading excerpts of his stories at each plenary. On Jan. 27, he read from his book “Leaving North Haven,” which tells stories of a small-town pastor in Minnesota.

“I am convinced that human beings are wired for stories,” he said, adding that stories are easy to remember and connect strongly with humans.
Churches and congregations “are made up of a stunning variety of imperfect human beings,” Lindvall said, adding that people run every end of the spectrum, from being loving to being hard to love, from being organized to being spontaneous.

“God can take this jaw-dropping variety of gifts and failures, of shortcomings and overcomings, and God can use it all for good,” he said.