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Hallo again to all.

The first time we heard a clergyman say that 'the choir is the war department of the church' we chuckled in understanding. We've seen (and lived through) so many parish battles that center on music. But in his 1978 book Ministry and Music, author Robert H Mitchell asks 'War department or center of unity?':

On the one hand, in many churches the choir is the visible center of strength and unity. It will include the most active, faithful, concerned members of the congregation. During times of stress or change ... its influence will be remarkably stabilizing and energizing. On the other hand is the situation in which the choir is known as the 'war department'.... Within it is found a self-serving climate characterized by jealousy, peevishness, bickering, and loveless criticism.

In the last few months, we've listened to numerous music-related grumbles from Anglican friends. For example, we've heard someone complain that the hymnals in their pews were older than their parents, that a certain congregation was so unsophisticated that it thought that Kumbaya was service music, or that (insert name of a musical instrument here) was not suitable for use in church. Last year we heard a contralto say during coffee hour that she thought descants were 'slutty'. Ah, music does arouse passion, doesn't it?

Stryper, the Christian Rock BandWhat really got us to thinking again about the role of music in worship was a conversation that we overheard last summer in an airport (while waiting for an endlessly delayed flight) about Christian music (as opposed to Christian service music, or worship music). In the commercial music business, Christian music is classified into different genres. The precise taxonomy probably depends on the taxonomizer, but it is not unusual to find categories such as Gospel Music, Praise and Worship, Christian Contemporary, Christian Rock, and (of late) even Christian Rap. The conversation that we overheard was on the topic of whether or not Christian Rock was suitable for use in church.

We think that the answer to the overheard question about whether certain music is suitable for use in church depends on the intended meaning of 'suitable' and 'use', and also perhaps on the meaning of 'in church', but (as we said) it got us to thinking. We have a hard time imagining an Anglican worship service featuring 'Never Far Behind' by Aly and AJ, but we suspect it possibly could be done. And were it done, we'd bet that the congregation at such a service would be left cold and perplexed by a U2charist. Part of what makes music be suitable worship music is that it ought to draw us in, not push us to the edges. And different people will be drawn in or pushed to the edges by U2 and by Aly and AJ. But does there exist music that will push everyone to the edges, or music that will draw everyone in?

Corporate worship, which is to say attending church to worship with other people, seems to be based on Matthew 18:20, and the key concept here is just what 'together' means. Corporate worship is not supposed to be merely having everyone present in the same place. There needs to be not just a sense of worship, but a sense of community. And that community won't feel cohesive enough to be One Body if its members have strongly differing senses of how best to worship.

Now we get to the core of the question, at least for us. Is there some universal property of Anglican worship that makes certain kinds of music unsuitable for Anglican worship? It's not whether or not music described as 'Jesus Rock', used in a worship service, fits within the liturgy. It's whether music described as 'Jesus Rock', used in an Anglican worship service, fits within the liturgy. Music that was written centuries ago as worship music is now routinely performed in secular settings: Palestrina's Missa Papæ Marcelli was written not to entertain, but to worship God. We suspect that it has been performed for entertainment hundreds of times more often than it has been performed in a worship service, but at its essential core, it is a Missa, a mass.

We're sure there are churches in which Contemporary Christian Music is used as the core of the worship service. Are they Anglican? Could they be? We Anglicans have spent so much effort in the last decade fighting about the role of sex and gender in our doctrine. Maybe we could lighten up a little by fighting instead about the role of Amy Grant or Michael English in our liturgy?

See you next week. Doobie doobie doo.

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Last updated: 18 May 2008


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