Music in worship

Yes. I know. Not what you usually get from this blog. But I am on holiday and have been surfing the net. I found a link to Peter Enns’ Rethinking Biblical Christianity Blog and this post piqued my interest. Peter currently attends an Episcopalian service that doesn’t use any music and he enjoys it, even though he likes church music.

I also like music in church. I like to sing and I like to hear harmonies and be part of harmonies. I like a wide range of styles of music that I come across in various forms of worship. It occurred to me as I read Peter’s post, though, that the part of worship that is most likely to alienate me is the hymns. There are hymns that I can only sing if I switch my brain out of ‘find meaning’ mode and just sing each word as it comes up and there are some bits of some hymns that I can’t bring myself to sing at all. In one particularly memorable service, the music person had selected ‘contemporary’ (aka written in the last 40 or so years) music without consulting the worship leader (I knew this because the worship leader had expressed her frustration at the refusal to consult) and I found the clash between the carefully crafted prayers, readings and reflections and the theology of the songs so painful that the only thing that kept me in the building was the fact that I didn’t want the worship leader to think that I was leaving because of something she had done.

Apparently other people don’t do this. They just enjoy the melody and it doesn’t matter what the words say.  Is this the curse of the biblical scholar – the need to examine all text closely?

I wonder how I would find a music-free worship? I know that, unlike Peter, I would not be arriving at church at 7.45 am to find out. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Music in worship

  1. Voices lifted in harmony are an important part of worship for me. But one reason I don’t attend the contemporary services at the church nearby is that it feels too much like a family camping experience and not a reflection of the heritage to which the church belongs. I actually _want_ something that takes some learning to do well. And if someone performs well in the choirloft or at the keyboard, I want the praise channeled silently, not through a burst of applause.

    Words and lyrics matter a great deal to me [thus recent struggles putting together a wedding service], and I wish all people who worked with language for a living felt the same way, but that is not always the case [or the curse, I guess]…. I remember being stunned at a wedding reception when the first dance for bride and groom was “I keep forgettin’ we’re not in love anymore” — and the bride was an English professor! She explained that she just loved the sound of the song, and I am still aghast 20 years later. But there seem to be lots of people for whom music sets a mood, or is invigorating, without the words mattering especially much.

    I’m not sure I’d want to regularly attend a service that didn’t have music, but my clinging to a particular form of Presybterian worship may be partly an attempt to keep the whole practice from unraveling for me…..

    • Yes. I had to suggest to one couple that they really didn’t want the last verse of a popular song (which detailed the breakdown of the relationship) sung during the signing of the register in a wedding ceremony. And I also sometimes find contemporary worship services either like church camps or concerts. And I am not a fan of applause during worship, particularly when it tends to be reserved exclusively for the choir or soloist. No-one ever claps the sermon!!!

  2. Do you think singing in Latin or Hebrew would help? I’ve been to some really moving Jewish services with a brilliant cantor – couldn’t understand what he was saying at all, beyond “baruch atoh Adonai…”. Eastern Orthodox services have a similar effect on me.

    It seems to me (raised as a post-Vatican II Catholic) that there’s something lost in worship that’s all done in common, comprehensible language – something “meaningful” about having a slightly opaque liturgical language.

  3. Grant, unfortunately not for me – I’d just go and find a translation. 🙂 I like to be able to engage at an intellectual level with the service (my Presybterian heritage, I suspect). I am happier to listen to things I don’t agree with, but I really don’t like singing them.

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