". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What Is Essential?

Just preserving a thought I had a few days ago. It has to do with music and worship. As my friends and long-time readers know, I believe the historic liturgy of the church is a gift of which we are foolish to deny ourselves. It is, after all, nothing more than God's word for His people, and to jettison it in favor of something less grounded in Scripture is to impoverish our worship life. I think this is the primary problem with that modern worship phenomenon known as the praise band. Typically, to make room in the service for the band's songs, portions of liturgy are removed. The problem is not primarily one of instrumentation but of substance.

But there is another problem, one having to do not with substance but with logistics, that is more typical of praise band services than it is of traditional services. In my experience the service that utilizes a praise band relies so heavily on the band that were the band not there, there would be very little service left. There would be a few prayers and a sermon, but without the band there to lead (perform?) lengthy musical medleys and interludes, there would not be much else. I think this is a problem. No liturgy should stand or fall on the presence (or lack thereof) of any one musician or musical ensemble, and the congregation should not come expecting to hear a certain soundtrack. And I think in most traditional settings such is the case. The focus is not on who is sitting on the organ bench, or which cantor is leading the psalm, or which choir is assisting with the liturgy and hymns, but rather on Word and Sacrament. But in a service that takes its identity from the presence of a praise band, what happens when that group is not there? Does it all fall apart? Is the thing that remains, or that which is substituted, so foreign to those assembled that they don't know what to do or how to participate? Do they feel as though they have been deprived? If so, that is a problem.

To be fair, I think it is possible for the same pitfall to happen in traditional worship. If worship is no longer worship because it is not led by a pipe organ or because a certain preacher is not in the pulpit, that is a problem, too.  


Anonymous said...

I frequently turn to your blog because I love to hear the musical gifts that your family brings to worship. I must admit though, that I am often jealous. I'm also jealous, at times, when we attend synodical or district events wherein pipe organs and well developed music programs are featured. Our church, like hundreds and hundreds, I imagine, relies on a simple organ, a locally trained organist, and a membership too small to support a choir. We were gifted with a set of hand bells, however due to our geographic limitations, there are no qualified directors to be found. In a roundabout way, I'm going to turn my jealousy into a praise that the liturgy and sacraments are never second fiddle to a musical offering. We will continue to enjoy LPR and beseech those that have a full-bodied musical program to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the worship enhancement. Like many others we smugly imagined that this would be our "starter" church and that one day my husband would serve a church filled with a music program. Thanks be to God that He saw fit to call us to this same congregation for over 30 years. We, along with our beloved church family, will open our hymnals again in the morning, thankful for what we do have . . . the liturgy.

Gregory Michel said...

Excellent thoughts here! Thanks, Cheryl!

Cheryl said...

"Thanks be to God that He saw fit to call us to this same congregation for over 30 years. We, along with our beloved church family, will open our hymnals again in the morning, thankful for what we do have . . . the liturgy."

Amen, Anonymous.

Might I make a wee suggestion? Bells can be used in other ways than by a bell choir playing a group piece. If there is someone, maybe a young person, who is interested and willing a few bells can be pulled out before the service for the purpose of giving the pastor pitches for portions of the liturgy. Or providing pitches for the psalm tone. Or ringing randomly during a doxological stanza of a hymn or leading into the Sanctus. Just a few suggestions to consider.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful suggestions Cheryl.