As a singer/songwriter and Hunger Action Advocate with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Rev. Bryan Field McFarland sought a way to merge the two facets of his life. In the process, he stumbled into something that can best be described as an advocacy-oriented musical potluck.
Calling it Jacob’s Join, after a British phrase for a potluck, McFarland has woven a recipe that is part music, part food and part advocacy, all for the benefit of hunger relief.
McFarland had released “Until All Are Fed,” a CD about hunger-related issues, in December 2010.
“Rather than take a band on the road with me, I had this idea that I’d create a pick-up band wherever I’d go, and call the band Jacob’s Join,” he said. “It makes it easier to travel, less costly, and as well the music stays behind,” said McFarland, who is seeking to give the church something he calls ‘mission music.’
“Mission music is music that intentionally is done in worship, but turns us around and back into the world to make a difference,” he said.
He’s sees Jacob’s Join events as alternative worship events, helping to build community while engaging congregations or other groups in advocacy.
At the core of a Jacob’s Join is a simple meal, accompanied by music from McFarland and his local pick-up band, along with something that is often referred to as an offering of letters. During the event, people write letters to their elected officials and add the sealed envelopes to an offering plate, where they’re prayed over and then mailed.
Often this offering of letters is done during a hymn within a worship service. Two challenges to that context, as McFarland noted, have been the lack of a writing surface while typically sitting in pews, as well as the lengthening of a worship service when folks are antsy to get to brunch or golf or football games.
“So, we are intentionally holding these Jacob’s Joins in a fellowship hall area, around tables, so that while people are hearing the music, possibly seeing a presentation by Bread for the World, sharing a meal, they have an opportunity to write letters, not just as an individual act, but as a corporate act of worship,” said McFarland.
“When I met with my congressman, Howard Coble — who is Presbyterian, he said to me that some of the most powerful letters he had ever gotten, and only through these letter offerings, have been written in crayon,” McFarland said.
Letter writing, as McFarland noted, does not require the writer to be of voting age.
“The thing with Jacob’s Join is, it’s not about performing, but about transforming,” said McFarland. “I come in a day or two ahead of time and rehearse the songs with other artists, and learn new songs myself that are world music or folk tunes or songs of the church and that becomes, in a sense, this jambalaya.”
McFarland doesn’t just work with the local church congregation but also with local feeding agencies, giving a third of the events’ proceeds to those local groups.
“It’s really a way of showcasing art, music, spoken word — all of it that is already there,” he said. “It is not about me coming and doing a concert, but about the energy that we all can bring to move us into the world to make a change and a difference.
“On a planet where we have more than four times the amount of food to feed everybody, it is criminal that 30,000 people die every day because they don’t have access to nutritious food and potable water,” McFarland said. “I think we are alive in a time where people of faith are really beginning to realize that we can either curse the darkness or we can light a candle — I’d rather help light candles.”
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.