Everyone may march to their own beat, but one ELCA congregation is fostering an exquisite togetherness through the ancient, spiritual and meditative practice of the drum circle.

Music can create bridges between people no matter what background or baggage is being carried, and the unifying pulse of a drum circle builds trust and connection,” said Chris Gustafson, director of music ministry at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, La Crescent, Minn. “We need to be able to turn towards one another at a time when our culture tends to put wedges between us.”

A drum circle is just what the name implies: a collection of drummers in a round configuration. Prince of Peace made drumming part of its ministry a little more than a year ago and hosts at least three one-hour circles per month. Sometimes eight or 10 drummers participate, and recently about 40 came together for a “cross-generational” circle that emphasized the needs of children.

Gustafson, a public-school music educator for 25 years before starting at Prince of Peace five years ago, cites research showing that group drumming boosts immunity, calms anxiety and possibly even slows the progression of such diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“It has been my best way to connect with God and others.”

“It makes a person feel better, and that feeling lasts,” Gustafson said. “I realized that this simple, primal thing could have a huge impact, so I spent a lot of time thinking, reading and learning about drum circles. Then I purchased a few more drums and other unpitched percussion instruments to add to what we already had, and invited folks to join me. And they came!”

Prince of Peace member Kendra Wieser said she leaves a drum circle “feeling centered, energized and ready to live in oneness with God and creation with all its ups and downs.

“It has been my best way to connect with God and others. For our busy minds that have trouble focusing in quiet prayer, this gives our hands and hearts something to do while our brains reconnect with ourselves, others and God. It’s a chance to express emotions without language.”

Worshipers from nearby churches also take part, Wieser said, as well as people who are currently unchurched.

“As humans, we have a longing and a desire to be connected—to God and to one another,” Gustafson said. “Being immersed in one solid beat lets us feel on a very deep level—physically, mentally and emotionally—that we are all one.”

Steve Lundeberg
Lundeberg is a writer for Oregon State University News and Research Communications in Corvallis.

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