Category Archives: worship
One reason for light blogging in recent weeks has been pressure of work. But we have also had a fortnight’s holiday in East Looe, Cornwall. One night near the end of the two weeks I jotted down some of the highlights. Here goes:
Food – a supermarket that sells Dark – yes, dark! – Chocolate Hobnobs again.
The Smugglers’ Cott must be the best carvery we have ever visited. A choice of four meats. Not just beef, pork and turkey, but lamb, too. And the beef was offered in rare or well done joints. The kids asking for ‘a piece of crackling for my mum, please’.
Being introduced to the Baobab fruit at the Eden Project, especially when its powder is added to a Pineapple and Coconut Smoothie. The most refreshing drink of the summer, and apparently an energy booster. Will it help us keep up with Mark?
Kelly’s award-winning fish and chips. Beware the Trip Advisor reviews, many of which are based on the over-priced eat-in restaurant: the takeaway is excellent.
Moomaid ice cream: when a dairy farm made losses on milk sales, it decided to use it’s milk production differently. They tried cheese, and then struck gold with ice cream. Cornish ice cream is great anyway, but this beat anything else we tasted. No additives, so the choc mint crisp flavour is white, not green. Shame the Eden Project stopped selling it, because Moomaid wouldn’t drop their prices to uneconomic levels (they must have learned their milk-selling lesson, but how ethical and Fairtrade was the EP on this issue?).
Worship – Steve Wild trying everything to involve our children in worship at Riverside Church. Bringing Horace the Frog with him. Asking them to pick a favourite hymn (a lost cause when the church only used 1982’s Hymns and Psalms and still the 1936 Methodist Hymn Book). Purloining Jaffa Cakes for them from the refreshments area before the service ended. Mark hearing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic‘ as an actual hymn for the first time, but nevertheless singing, ‘Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur‘.
Place – I’ll mention it again: the Eden Project. Stunning is an inadequate adjective. We want to return. Twice.
Looe itself: even with all the tourist shops, it retains an old charm. Fishing trawlers share harbour space with pleasure boats.
Family – aside from the four of us and Rebekah’s sand sculpture of the word ‘family’, the good was to see cousins. My cousin, his wife and son. Debbie’s cousin , his wife and children. The bad – my mum falling and fracturing her hip on our second day here, the burden falling on my sister and her family, and us powerless at two hundred miles’ distance.
I’m thinking of writing some guidelines for those who lead prayers of intercession in church. I have a few ideas of my own – range of themes to cover, overall length, how to signpost the prayers since most people will have their eyes closed, seeing them as representative of the congregation’s prayer life rather than exhaustive, etc. But before I get to this task I thought I would ask you, O noble blog reader, what you would include in any such document.
Suggestions are welcome below.
Depending on the appropriateness of the final content, I may post the document here on the blog.
Singing The Faith is the first new official British Methodist hymn book for nearly thirty years, superseding the (in my opinion) deadly dull Hymns and Psalms. My copy arrived in the post on Friday, and I’ve been skimming through it for some first impressions.
Hymns and Psalms just had to go, and many churches were voting with their wallets. It had the misfortune to come out just before the explosion in contemporary worship music (twelve months too early even for Kendrick‘s ‘The Servant King’,
I seem to recall). But you got the feeling that even if it hadn’t, that stuff would probably not have been included. It was published around the high water tide of liberal antipathy to evangelical and charismatic Christianity in Methodism. Furthermore, the musical arrangements were, as one friend put it kindly, ‘for musicians by musicians, to interest musicians’. I can’t judge the truth of that as a non-musician, but it may explain why they were largely deadly dull to me.
It had its bright spots – and I think particularly of the additional verse it includes in ‘When I Survey The Wondrous Cross‘ (retained here) that I’ve never seen elsewhere, the scholarship applied to restoring original texts and the Scripture Index in the music edition.
Methodist Conference and the panel that put together Singing The Faith faced the implications of several cultural revolutions that have deeply affected how Christians, Methodists included, approach faith and sung worship. Revolutions in communications (especially the Internet), transport (you can more easily get to a church whose style you prefer) and ecumenism (people are exposed to other traditions more easily and frequently) mean that fewer Methodists will be easily satisfied with ‘what we already know’. Some would argue (myself included) that technological changes and the fact that churches had already bought all sorts of supplementary books, such as Songs Of Fellowship, Mission Praise and The Source, meant that a new hymn book probably wasn’t the answer, and another approach was needed. The moment of publication is the beginning of fossilisation today. However, Methodism is almost umbilically attached to hymn books, and so a new book it was.
Given that fact, the new book, then, would need to embrace a diversity of musical and theological styles. Centralised or hierarchical control of doctrine may technically be still present in our system, but for many people it is long gone. There is therefore a huge question here of how Methodism maintains her doctrine in this central aspect of our piety, our singing. It may be that the forthcoming additional resource Singing The Faith Plus will act as some kind of clearing house to reflect on which of the newer material that is published from now on is consonant with Methodist doctrine, but we’ll see.
When it gets to the handling of theological diversity, there certainly is a spread in Singing The Faith. It embraces both the neo-Calvinist emphasis on the wrath of God at the Cross in Stuart Townend‘s ‘In Christ Alone’
and at the other end we have Marty Haugen‘s ‘Let Us Build A House (All Are Welcome)’
which some have criticised for allegedly extended the universal offer of salvation into universalism. So the issue of acceptable diversity is alive and well within the book!
It is also worth noting the considerable reduction in Charles Wesley hymns – very significant for Methodists, this. Hymns And Psalms was originally to be edited by an ecumenical committee, but when Methodist Conference insisted on at least two hundred Wesley hymns, the United Reformed Church pulled out. And for the URC to withdraw takes quite something! In the new book, at a quick count Wesley is down to seventy-nine contributions. Much as I love Wesleyan theology, I think this is the right move. Indeed, if many in our churches who have been most vocal about singing Wesley hymns had been as fervently aligned to his doctrine as to the music, Methodism might be more vibrant! Here is a prime example of the argument that allegiance to hymns, however central they are to Methodist spirituality, has not always maintained and fed our faith in the ways to which we might aspire.
Two more traditional-style contemporary Methodist hymn writers, Andrew Pratt and Marjorie Dobson, both participated in the STF committee, and both are represented in the final collection. Both have nine entries. With those numbers, I don’t think anyone can accuse the compilers of favouritism. I imagine the STF panel did what the HAP committee did, and required authors who were members of the group to vacate when their potential contributions were being discussed.
On, then, to think about those writers who have come more out of the explosion in contemporary worship styles. Matt Redman (also) features nine times, and the observation that interests me here is how it isn’t always his ‘hits’ that have been chosen. It looks to me like the committee has taken a real interest in what he writes about struggle and suffering. So as well as the popular ‘Blessèd Be Your Name’ we get ‘When We Were In The Darkest Night’ (‘God Of Our Yesterdays’)
and ‘We Have Nothing To Give’. No sign of ‘The Father’s Song': one hopes that isn’t about avoiding male language for God, in the way that Fred Pratt Green‘s ‘For The Fruits Of His Creation’ has been altered to ‘For The Fruits Of All Creation’.
Having said that, the compilers are less confident that middle of the road Methodist congregations are ready for much by the late Delirious? Martin Smith and Stuart Garrard get in a couple each, but that’s it. This might be about some of the slightly unusual ways the band expressed itself lyrically, or it is about the more performance-oriented style, or possibly some other reason.
There is also evidence of taking into account the effect of contemporary worship trends on older hymns. It has become popular, particularly under so-called ‘Celtic’ influences, to sing the afore-mentioned ‘When I Survey The Wondrous Cross’ to the tune ‘O Waly Waly’ as well as ‘Rockingham’. This is recognised in Singing The Faith.
But beyond the contemporary worship movement, one area where I am particularly pleased to see innovation is in children’s worship songs. Mark and Helen Johnson of Out Of The Ark Music have been producing worship songs for primary schools for many years. Indeed, that is how I was introduced to them – by a primary head teacher. It’s a delight to see songs such as ‘Everywhere Around Me’
included, along with songs about the Incarnation and the Crucifixion (which actually doesn’t feature that often in their lyrics). Sadly, the wonderful ‘Harvest Samba’
isn’t in. Did it lose out because it has a middle eight, and that would confuse some older congregations? I wonder.
However, overall, as you will gather, for someone who stays on the fringes of the Methodist establishment, and who is usually quite uncomfortable about it, I greatly welcome Singing The Faith. I still think a new book wasn’t the right approach in a fast-moving creative and digital world, but given that the decision was made, I think what has been produced is far better than many of us might have hoped.
And all I’d worried about was how the river could flow over the mountains and the seas.
Via David Keen.
My friend Rob Ryan is an Anglican pioneer minister on the staff of Rochester Cathedral. What pioneering stuff does he do? Well, in among the outreach to the Wetherspoon’s community, he does such groundbreaking stuff as, er, the Book of Common Prayer. On Sunday morning, he tweeted:
8am BCP … ugh! when are people gonna realise even God is still asleep at such a time on a Sunday morning
Which took my mind to the question of why people continue to prefer these forms of worship. In one respect’, continued devotion to the Book of Common Prayer is surely contrary to the spirit of Cranmer, who wanted worship to be ‘in a tongue understanded of the people’. It isn’t a phenomenon limited to traditional Anglicans: there are equivalents in other streams of Christianity. In Methodism, it might be those who insist on a certain proportion of Charles Wesley hymns in an act of worship.
So what are the reasons, good and bad, for people clinging to forms of worship from bygone eras?
A good reason might be theology. Sometimes the older forms express a depth of theology, or they include important aspects that are neglected in contemporary music and liturgy. Another Anglican friend of mine, Brian Kelly, once said to me that BCP was good for emphasis on the Cross, whereas the modern liturgies were better on the Resurrection. Methodists might identify with this. Scour the eucharistic prayers in our 1999 Methodist Worship Book and you will find few references to the Cross as atonement. Not substitution, representation, Christus Victor, exemplarism or any other theory you care to mention. Most of the references to Christ’s death in those prayers seem to be necessary staging post on the way to celebrating his conquest of death. (Which I’m not against! But something vital is routinely omitted.)
Similarly, you will find a richness of theological expression in Wesley’s hymns that you rarely encounter in contemporary hymns and worship songs. Simplicity is good, too, but not as the sole diet.
A poor reason would be aesthetics. Yes, the language of ancient rites is beautiful to many people, but who or what is then being worshipped? Is this a vehicle for worship, or is idolatry going on here? Take this to its logical conclusion and you will employ a pair of scissors on the Scriptures. You will retain the Shakespearean Hebrew of Job, but cut out the tabloid Greek of Mark’s Gospel.
Another poor reason would be escapism. I find this approach used as a way to baptise a strong disconnect from everyday life. This is the holy stuff, not those modern songs and liturgies. The same people who endorse older worship forms at criticise modern ones have, in my experience, also been the people who had discos for their silver wedding celebrations. There is a serious lack of integration.
None of this is to say that all things modern are automatically correct, nor that we can completely comprehend God in worship. Both such propositions are ridiculous. But it is to ask, would you add anything to my list of good and bad reasons? Do you have a constructive critique of my thoughts?
By the way, after BCP this morning, Rob tweeted again:
now experiencing the good side of 8am BCP … a big ‘spoons breakfast and a large black coffee mmmmm :-)
Mike Bossingham thinks so. (PDF of article here; equivalent Facebook discussion here.) For my money, I think they are different, too, and I agree with Mike that the culture established in the Methodist Church where the worship leader is just Santa’s little helper to the preacher is all wrong. So too is the notion that if you can preach you can lead worship, but if you can lead worship you can’t necessarily preach. I have always thought my primary gifting was in preaching, but in Methodism that means I normally have to lead worship as well. At that point I break down for ongoing creative ideas.
The Facebook thread goes on to debate Mike’s idea of balancing contemporary and traditional elements in worship, but to me that’s a separate argument.
What are your thoughts?
You can always rely on Matthew Paul Turner to highlight the stranger areas of Christianity. He’s seen it from the inside in his upbringing. Today, he has two videos that are pushing for places in the Champions League of crazy Christianity. Firstly, the Holy Ghost Holy Pokey:
Secondly – can you adapt the lyrics of a song about oral sex into a worship song? These folks clearly think you can.
Laugh? Cry? Both?
The Bible Society have today published their resources for this year’s Bible Sunday. The suggested date is 25th October, but churches can decide another day if preferred.
There is a huge amount available: an introduction, a talk outline, Bible foundations, post-talk material, resources for Junior Church and youth groups, prayers, a sketch, a five-minute video, a song and a newsletter. Still to come is a film for youth groups. Excellent stuff, as usual. The material for churches in England and Wales can be downloaded here, and links for Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Australia can be found here. General information is here.