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This page last updated 26 May 2008
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Letters to AO

EVERY WEEK WE PUBLISH a selection of letters we receive in response to something you've read at Anglicans Online. Stop by and have a look at what other AO readers are thinking.

Alas, we cannot publish every letter we receive. And we won't publish letters that are anonymous, hateful, illiterate, or otherwise in our judgment do not benefit the readers of Anglicans Online. We usually do not publish letters written in response to other letters. We edit letters to conform with standard AO house style for punctuation, but we do not change, for example, American spelling to conform to Canadian orthography. On occasion we'll gently edit letters that are too verbose in their original form. Email addresses are included when the authors give permission to do so.

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Letters from 19 to 25 May 2008

Like all letters to the editor everywhere, these letters are the opinions of the writers and not Anglicans Online. We publish letters that we think will be of interest to our readers, whether we agree with them or not. If you'd like to write a letter of your own, click here.

In this edition of Letters to the Editor, many wrote in response to last Sunday's front-page letter on church music.


I liked your article on the type of music to be used in Anglican services. In my church in Eastern Nigeria, the Vicar has introduced rhythmic Afrfican songs in the local languages in to the program and encourages parishioners to dance along when his band steps up to perform, occasioning much headshaking and muttering amongst older members (amongst whom is this antediluvian 30-something year old). I think that the A&M hymns are good enough for an Anglican service and that entertainment has no place in church, where people are suposed to have come to commune seriously with their Maker.

Obi Udeariry
St. Andrew's Church
19 May 2008

Verse 1: con mobile

I agree that a central purpose of church music is to "draw in" those hearing it, as you so aptly put it. I sing and have sung in choirs for a long time; also serve currently on the vestry where music is often discussed and supported with assigned funds that are rarely disputed.

We are blessed with a fine music director who keeps us choristers in line and continually attempts to draw good music out of us. I consider it a privilege and a pleasure to be part of this Sunday routine. We sing classical anthems and some contemporary pieces including some spirituals; quite an eclectic mix, you might say. However, the nine o'clock service, like many other churches, I suspect, often uses a different kind of music altogether. There is some controversy about that, but it is justified as an instrument to "draw in" young people who might not otherwise attend. Well, that's debatable. As a young chorister, singing soprano until my voice broke, like many others I was "drawn in" by Palestrina, Schubert, and Orlando Gibbons, et al, and was not turned away by such music.

I think the youngsters today might be missing something important, being confined as they are to so-called contemporary Christian music. "Doobie, doobie do," indeed.

Pierre Kenyon
Ascension Episcopal Church
Pueblo, Colorado, USA
19 May 2008

Verse 2: tutti

I read with interest your editorial on what music is suitable for Anglican worship. One of the things that occurred to me is that one of the great innovations of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was that it was in "the language of the people" and thus enabled people to address (and be addressed by) God in their own language in the course of worship. How, then, do we literally translate that concept to our own worship in the twenty-first century?

I would submit that the genius of the Anglican liturgy is that it is infinitely customizable without losing its essential structure and purpose. I've attended worship (Penitential Holy Eucharist, Rite II) in an Episcopal church with a more Pentecostal flavor (never seen anyone slain in the Spirit in an Episcopal church before. . . ), in a low-church Virginia setting (same Rite) and in a high-church Pennsylvania setting (same Rite). All were liturgical, all were according to the same portion of the Prayer Book, but all had different feelings and flavors to them.

I would submit that the reason for a variety of churches, and even a variety of church services in the same building, is that different worship songs and styles are meaningful to different people. Common prayer should not be equated with common musical tastes.

Tom Sramek, Jr.
St. Alban's, Albany
Albany, Oregon, USA
19 May 2008

Verse 3: soave

As it happened this last Sunday, I had five absentees from our choir (of the first sort you describe.. deeply commited), so the William Byrd motet we had planned was canned until next time. And instead we sang a plainsong introit for Trinity, and another plainsong work post communion — all without explanation that this was medieval stuff. Comments afterwards: That was "So-ooo . . . peaceful and relaxing" and "Wonderful!" And our Trinity service was indeed remarkable for its cohesiveness of mood and message.

I am convinced that any music which makes the blood boil with excitement (i.e., pumps up our hormones) is probably not conducive to true worship. Good for ramming home a message perhaps. "Bonding" a group. This includes Handel as much as modern rock. Music which is NOT "driven" to resolve to a tonality (as is Gregorian chant) does though induce the contemplative state. Has a different chemical effect in our bodies.

We cannot expect music for worship to parallel that of the big wide world. Worship is a unique place and space all of its own.

Gillian Lander
St John the Baptist, Anglican, Northcote
20 May 2008

Verse 4: con espressione

Your editorial about music in Anglican worship struck a chord with me, because I am serving as missioner to a small Episcopal fellowship in which half our typical congregation is children under the age of 8. I love the great music of the liturgy, but when congregants are four years old, it doesn't bring them together in worship.

I am learning to ask what is the musical "language understanded of the people?" And how can we always be growing and learning, so next year our musical worship repertoire is just a bit broader, just a bit more sophisticated?

Jaime Sanders
Holy Family Episcopal Fellowship
Lake Oswego, Oregon, USA
20 May 2008

Verse 5: moderato

I read your opening letter this past week with great interest. I once heard James Dobson say that in the many on-air discussions he has involving matters of politics, child abuse, substance abuse, various sexual practices, none will generate as much mail as church music.

In Anglican worship services I have attended there has been a wide variety of musical expression. While I personally preferred those places that used older hymns and what might be called a classical style, those parishes that used modern music and a contemporary style seemed to do well integrating that style into the liturgy. It seems to me that it is more important to do the music that you do well rather than which type of music you do.

Chaplain (CPT) Steven Rindahl
Episcopal (Anglican) Community of Ft Hood
Ft Hood, Texas, USA
21 May 2008

Verse 6: con forza et brio

You're dead on target in your editorial: music and liturgy are worth fighting about; sexuality isn't.

It makes no difference to my church experience whether the guy next to me in the pew is gay or straight, but the character of the music and liturgy makes a vast difference to my church experience. How people conduct themselves outside of church is no skin off of my nose and isn't my business or anyone else's. As for the church's official doctrines about moral matters, I really don't care. I don't look to the church for moral guidance — like most adults, I can figure out these matters for myself. More importantly, I don't think we should expect the church to be an instrument of social control, to promote the kinds of social arrangements we prefer and discourage what we regard as bad behavior.

But music and liturgy are everything. They're what the church does for us that we can't do for ourselves. I don't really understand the worry that "certain kinds of music are unsuitable for Anglican worship" and should be excluded. Of course nothing should be excluded — the more people get what they want the better. What bugs me is that what I want has been de facto excluded. Yes, I could take a pilgrimage to some remote Anglo-Catholic music shrine and yes I could go to the early Rite I said service, but no, neither of those options is satisfactory and the second is insulting, because it's usually phrased as "there's a quiet Rite I service at 8 am for the old people."

I like candy. I went to a Sunday high mass in St. Mark's in Venice with the mass sung in Latin by a choir split between those two famous balconies, under 42,000 square feet of mosaics: I wished I were tripping on acid! That was candy. So why are we getting broccoli and whole grain cereals? Why can't we have that dark chocolate, spumoni ice cream and tiramisu? Why can't we have that Elizabethan language and fancy music — and the fancier the better? Are they fattening? Will they rot our teeth or make us break-out? Will overloading on them cause susceptible individuals to develop behavior problems?

Liturgy and music are absolutely worth fighting about!

H. E. Baber
University of San Diego
San Diego, California, USA
24 May 2008


Your comments about music for Anglican worship were good — they might be used as a springboard for discussion in parishes pondering musical directions.

My personal experience has been that contemporary music can certainly be a part of liturgical worship. You said, "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?" The answer is definitely yes, contemporary Christian music can be the core of the musical portion of the service. In a past parish, we used a blend, some wonderful old hymns as well as quite new praise music, all done with piano, guitars and an organ.

One of my children responded in amazement to your article. She stated, "As long as the music is chosen thoughtfully and prayerfully, it definitely suits the liturgy!" Her younger brother is her priest, and yes, it is a liturgical Anglican church where they celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. The music is definitely contemporary, the congregation mostly young families.

Every congregation has its own personality. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to use music to worship God as long as the music is truly used as worship and not as a vehicle to build up a particular musician (and this can happen in either traditional or contemporary music).

Personally I love a good choir, I love the hymns I grew up with, and I love to sing out "Praise my soul, the King of heaven" and know His Presence in this kind of worship. But perhaps I am unusual, for I also love contemporary praise, wonderful music led well by capable guitars, keyboards and drums, and my spirit soars in such a service. I believe there is room for both, and that we shouldn't have to choose one as the better way to praise God - I think He's bigger than that. We obviously have to choose which we will use at a particular time, but that doesn't make the other insignificant or unworthy, just not the choice at that moment.

I don't know if you expected or have received comments from others on this topic. Obviously I have strong feelings (as do my 4 kids) or I wouldn't have responded, since I've never written a letter to an editor before in my life. I'd be interested in knowing how others feel, but wonder how welcoming of different styles of worship they would be.

Mary Lou Hoskins
St Thomas Anglican Church
Thunder Bay, Ontario, CANADA

24 May 2008

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