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A Look Behind the Leader: Mark Loring

LoringMarkSecond Congregational Church on Grand Rapids’ northeast side still features the organ as its primary instrument for worship.

“There’s no better instrument to support and uplift congregational singing than the organ – you can use it for a variety of (musical) styles,” said director of music ministries Mark Loring.

Second Church, with roots going back to 1869, has a “traditional-dynamic” style of worship at its two Sunday morning services.

“It’s pretty upbeat – my philosophy is that wherever the scripture is leads our selection for music; and we shoot for a variety,” Loring said.

The Chancel Choir of 30 or so voices, which Loring directs and accompanies, sings regularly during the fall to spring seasons. He also directs two handbell ensembles (adult and youth). Occasionally there is a brass ensemble or solo instrumentalists who add to worship.

The church sanctuary does not have a large screen projection system for images or song lyrics. They prefer more traditional hymns to modern praise choruses. The congregation has two hymnals to draw from.

“Sometimes we supplement those by putting music right in the bulletin,” he added.


Loring points to a challenge other church music leaders have cited – recruiting and organizing volunteers.
“Volunteerism is a struggle for all organizations,” he offered about a trend throughout society.
“We’re not the “joiners” we were back in the 1950s.”

He said several of the church music ensembles previously had mid-week rehearsals. With schedules so busy, they now rehearse on Sunday mornings around the worship services.

As the choir director Loring has gone in the direction of more short-term commitments, “pick-up” choirs and smaller group efforts.

“We still want to have that connectional ministry but have made it more user friendly for today’s society.”
There is a children’s choir which has a volunteer director. Loring’s full-time position is the congregation’s lone paid music staff member.


Loring is a New England native and the son of a church pastor who also played piano and accordion. Mark began piano lessons at a young age, and started accompanying his church choir before he was in high school!

Even in his youth he noticed that churches are always in need of good musicians. And it’s in that fact that he found his calling.

“I saw it as a way to use my talents for God,” he said.

In college he majored in piano performance and studied organ part-time. He completed a Masters in church music at Northwestern University (near Chicago) which has since dropped its church music program.

“There used to be lots of traditional music (church) jobs, but those are becoming less and less,” he noted of reduced opportunities for organists.

After a stint at an Indiana church, Loring worked for 13 years at First United Methodist in downtown Grand Rapids before coming to Second Congregational in 2010.

Loring’s wife Mary is also in ministry – she is a part-time pastor at a church north of Muskegon while also taking seminary classes to complete her degree. The couples’ two teenagers are both involved in music.


Loring said both of his church’s pastors are musically inclined and supportive of music ministry. Both senior minister Peter St. Martin and family life minister Tracey Taylor-Kunst play guitar. St. Martin also sings in the chancel choir.

“Mark oversees the program that can be the glue that holds a congregation together, and he is just the right spirit that makes it so,” said St. Martin.

“I am honored to work alongside him.”

Second Congregational has a worship life committee which takes care of the “nuts and bolts” of worship such as scheduling ushers, liturgists (readers), preparing for communion services and related tasks.

Still, Loring estimates about half of his time each week is wrapped up in research, planning, rehearsing, meetings and other duties connected to worship.

And as the church’s principal organist, he is at the keyboard for all special services (such as Good Friday) and is normally there for weddings and funerals.

“There is still a lot of solid, traditional music programmed out there and we love the grand old hymns,” Loring said.

“But if I find a classical piece or a gospel or contemporary piece that goes with the scripture – we’ll go with it."

The Facts:

Who: Mark Loring 45, married, two children
What: Director of music ministries
Where: Second Congregational Church, 525 Cheshire NE Grand Rapids; www.2ndchurch.com, 616-361-2629

How: Directs various church ensembles including chancel choir and handbell groups, helps select music; also is the church’s principal organist

Philosophy on the role of music in worship: “Music is to enhance the Word, not to overshadow it or simply supplement it. When words fail, music speaks.”
Editor’s note: If you have a suggestion of an area church music leader for a profile in this column, please send the information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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