What’s the first thing that comes to you mind when in mention the word, Shakespeare? I think the answer to this question will depend a great deal on how you were taught Shakespeare as a child. For many people just the very mention of the word Shakespeare conjures up feelings of boredom. For those he was a man who lived many years ago, wrote plays that were very complicated and that were written in a language which was very difficult to comprehend and that meant that his plays were largely inaccessible to them. This is what I felt when I first started to study his works in school. We were looking at Macbeth and the teacher would have us reading out loud the story with each of us reading different characters pausing frequently to analyse what Shakespeare meant when he wrote this specific part. I remember her asking things like “what was Shakespeare thinking when he wrote this line”, whilst inside my head I was thinking, “how can we possibly ever know what he was thinking!? He could just have easily been thinking, I’m hungry but I’ll jot down this little bit then have a break as he could be thinking about the very nature of humanity”. The very mechanical way of breaking down the text and looking at it in a slow and methodical manor absolutely killed Shakespeare for me and for many others as well. It was only when I had the opportunity to practically study Shakespeare and understand something of the reason he wrote the way he wrote, that I finally developed and understanding and love of the great bard.

Often people’s biggest stumbling block is the language. But the language Shakespeare uses is deliberately ornate because he was working in a world where there was no scenery, or special effects, you had to use your imagination. People didn’t actually speak like that in day to day society! But the reason I love Shakespeare and when Shakespeare is at his best is when he shows how wonderful an observer of the human condition he is. He knows what makes us tick; whether that is his brilliant understanding of love in Romeo and Juliet, of greed in Macbeth or of our lust of revenge and justice in Hamlet. It is this final part that I want to draw particular attention to. It can be argued that wanting revenge when we have been hurt and wronged is a very human thing, at the core of who we are. Shakespeare says it best in the Merchant of Venice when Shylock, a Jew who has suffered endless discrimination at the hands of his enemy, Antonio, asks why he should not be allowed to exact his revenge now that he has been given the chance when he says this,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGXUGhIYW-4

Shakespeare is making the case that it is human nature to want revenge. How many of us would feel like Shylock when placed in his shoes? Most would at least initially. So when Jesus talks to us in our reading this morning and tells us that we should never want revenge and that we should turn the other cheek he is asking us to do something that goes against our very human nature. And that is why he is doing it. Escalating violence caused by a feeling of injustice and hurt is not some new phenomenon but rather something that has been around since our very creation. But we are called to be examples of reason and peace and to overcome our initial gut reaction. We all know a story where someone has said something to somebody else, they’ve then told someone and then the whole thing snowballs. It’s how wars are often started. Look at what’s happening now in the Ukraine. It all started when the government decided to go with Russian Aid rather than forge closer relations with Europe. Protests started then tensions rose, then violence happened and with each day of violence that passed the process towards peace and reconciliation got harder. The best way of stopping this snowball effect is to, at the very first opportunity, turn the other cheek. That’s not to say that I don’t acknowledge that at times like this the hurt, pain and anger that are felt are very real and often hard not to justify but as Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

This difficulty was no more evident when we witnessed last summer the awful attack on drummer Lee Rigby by two people who call themselves Muslims. I word it that way very deliberately as they have a very warped view of Islam which is at its heart is a peaceful religion. But after that attack I was shocked but not surprised by many peoples response.  Mere moments after the news broke a hand full of my friends were saying that the attackers should be hacked to death, burnt at the stake, hung drawn and quartered etc etc. they were all engaging the same text, the same saying, that had been used to justify the attack in the first place. After the attack one of the attackers tried to justify it by saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. But we know that Jesus says instead “you’ve heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist and evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” He was taking that message and moving forward and reinterpreting it because it forgiveness and turning the other cheek is not something new as we heard in Leviticus the lord says, “Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbours as you love yourself.” But my interpretation of Jesus’ interpretation of the original Hebrew text means that I don’t believe that Jesus is saying that those guilty for the attacks should get away scot free. That’s why I’m happy that the decision to jail them for life has been upheld this week. But Jesus is speaking about the danger of revenge and how quickly that attitude leads to more death and more suffering.

I understand the anger that this attack caused and I share in that anger and frustration, but the way to defeat a war fought on ideals is not to lower our own ideals to the level of those who have such a warped view of God and humanity but rather to take the moral high ground and respond in peace.

But Jesus knows that this is something that we will find difficult. Anyone who thinks that life as a Christian, following the teachings of Jesus, will be an easy life, you’re in for a disappointing shock because this kind of counter cultural, counter intuitive thinking is at the heart of much of what Jesus says and does. Jesus says later in his sermon on the mount, “But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.” following Jesus and obeying his commands is difficult but when you can, it’s worth it. God didn’t send Jesus to us to say “keep up the good work! You’re all doing very well!” because we weren’t, and we aren’t. But as I’ve said before just because we are aware and God is aware of our imperfection, doesn’t mean we should not try to live as God would want because if we can achieve even a brief moment where we do the right thing, the feeling we get is wonderful.

There are many powerful stories of forgiveness out there that show the joy and release that you can get when you let the love and forgiveness offered to you by Christ transform your lives. One such story is about Connie Ten Boom. Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid Jews above their family watchmaker’s shop until eventually she and her sister Betsie were arrested by the Nazis and put in Ravensbruck concentration camp. There Betsie died. After the war Corrie was speaking in a church in Munich. Then, as she shook hands with people, she found herself confronted by a man she recognised as having been a guard in the camp. She heard him saying, “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there. But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips too. Fraulein, will you forgive me?

Corrie says that she could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could this man erase her slow and terrible death simply by asking forgiveness? Corrie says that it could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out. But to her it seemed hours as she wrestled with the most difficult decision in her life. She stood there with the coldness clutching her heart. But she knew that forgiveness is not an emotion, it is an act of will – she had to hand on the forgiveness she knew.

“Jesus help me,” she prayed silently, “I can lift my hand; I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

So, woodenly, unfeelingly, she thrust her hand into the guards hand and offered the forgiveness God had given her. As she did, an incredible thing took place. She says that a current started in her shoulder, raced down her arm and sprang into their joined hands. Then a healing warmth seemed to flood her whole being, bringing tears to her eyes.

“I forgive you brother,” she cried “with all my heart!”

For a long moment they grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. Corrie had never known God’s love as intensely as she did then. She was able to forgive as she had been forgiven.

As hard as it is, as much as it can go against our initial and very human instinct, we must learn to turn the other cheek and live a life of forgiveness and peace. Then we, like Connie and many others who have forgiven in impossible circumstances, will know of that the transforming power of God’s forgiveness in our own lives. Yes it is difficult, it wasn’t easy even for Christ, but it is so worthwhile. So let us all on this day, pray for the strength to live like Christ would have us live and cast off the shackles of hatred and move forward in the freedom of forgiveness.

Sermon Isaiah 58:1-9 & Matthew 5:13-20

09.02.14

 Out with the old and in with the new. What a terrible expression that is really when you stop to think about it! I believe that that expression or rather that attitude is a large part in why people fear new things, because people fear being left out. But just because something new comes along it doesn’t mean we have to get rid of the old. This leads me to a question. How do you view our Old Testament? I want you to think about that for a moment. For some people the Old Testament is redundant because of the teachings of Jesus. It is something that we can take a passing interest in if we like but don’t be too concerned about because Jesus came and changed everything and only what he said matters. This was similar to my view on the matter prior to my training. I knew very little about the Old Testament and I still admit it is my weaker of the two testaments but that is something I’m actively looking to rectify because I honestly believe that without even a basic understanding of the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures you cannot truly understand the New Testament. Because Jesus did not come to do away with the Old Testament, the prophets of old and the law but rather he came to refine it and adapt it.

Jesus was starting off a revolution. The passage we heard comes during his famous Sermon on the Mount and right after the beatitudes which we have already reminded ourselves of as part of our liturgy. It was his first chance to lay out his plans and say, “this is me, this is what I’m all about”. There had already been a buzz about this man, who was going around preaching to people. Some people had even dared to suggest he could be the new Messiah. A large part of the reason that Jesus has to deliver his opening messages on the top of a mountain in the first place was because there were so many people there waiting to hear what he had to say, waiting to hear something different.

That’s why it’s important that very early on in his ministry he sets out his position with regards to the old ways. He could have said, enough of the old stuff, I’ve got something new to teach you. But instead Jesus shows how important his heritage is and indeed how import God’s heritage is with his people. It is something laid down in the foundation of the whole bible. Jesus could have stood up and said, “right guys and girls, I’m the son of God. God has hit the reset button and what he’s now all about is different so it’s out with the old and in with the new.” Instead he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” There is so much great teaching in the Old Testament that to simply say, “we don’t need it anymore, we have Jesus” means you will be missing out on so much.

First and foremost you’d miss the Ten Commandments which are not some overly theological statement or anything that really needs further study because they are just the basis of having a happy and fulfilling life. Imagine a world where everyone actually lived by the rules set down by the Ten Commandments? There’d be no murders, no jealousy, no adultery, no crime, no lies, people would respect their parents, take a Sabbath day to rest and spend time with God, they’d be no bad language, and all people would worship God and only God. What a wonderful world that would be. But we don’t live in a perfect world and we are, by our very nature, not perfect. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the rules just because they are hard and just because God knows we are imperfect. That’s not an excuse to not even try. That’s why the prophet Isaiah is being so seemingly harsh on the people of Israel for not obeying the laws that they keep promising to God that they’ll keep. But which of the laws is he most bothered with?

The Ten Commandments are far from the only laws in the Old Testament. The first five books in the bible are known as the Torah or books of the Law and were historically known as the law of Moses out of the belief that Moses himself wrote those books, something which is largely not given a lot of credit today. They are made up of laws that detail every aspect of life from what you should eat and on what day, to how much it is right to pay someone back for their transgressions, “an eye for and eye” comes from Exodus and deals with this issue. But many of these laws were intended for specific circumstances and not really designed for everyone to follow every day. Think of them as more like case law, specific to that circumstance, being recorded for more for prosperity rather than a model for everyone to follow. But if you look at all the laws that were laid down, including of course the Ten Commandments, they can all be summed up with one simple expression, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” they are all about mutual love, respect and peace. Even the law “an eye for and eye” was intended to help bring about peace because at least it was setting limits as to the extent a person could expect revenge as you’ll notice that escalation is not permitted. You are only allowed to do back what was done to you. Equality, justice. This is what Isaiah is most interested in. throughout the whole book Isaiah shows that nothing angers God more than injustice and people not looking after the poor.

Isaiah talks to those who think they are righteous, who are observing all the little laws like fasting and thinking, “gee, aren’t we good, God’s going to love us.” But who are missing the main point. That is why God says to them, “The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.

“Then my favour will shine on you like the morning sun, and your wounds will be quickly healed. I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side. When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.”

That’s the law that God wants us all to follow, to respond to. Not to be worried about the little things but the big picture.

So how does Jesus then respond to these laws? By refining and reemphasising the central themes of the law. He stands up and delivers his beatitudes, his commandments, and they are all about love, peace and justice. But again, these are just refinements on the central themes of God’s law. The only new commandment Jesus actually gives is this, “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” And this new commandment he gives right before he knows he is going to die during the last supper with his friends. Jesus top and tails his ministry by saying, all that matters in the world and in the law is that you love one another and even that new commandment is not really new as it flows throughout the Old Testament as well. Yes there are parts of the Old Testament that make for uncomfortable and difficult reading, but just because they are difficult doesn’t mean we should ignore them as you need all parts to make a whole.

Something many people don’t like admitting is the simple fact, Jesus was Jewish. Last week we heard about Jesus being taken to the temple as a boy to observe the rituals that all Jewish children had to undertake. A large part of the reason that story was included in the Gospel has to be to make that point, Jesus was Jewish and we are descendants from the same people of God that started with Abraham and we have the same promises and responsibility as they had.

Jesus’ new commandment should always be at the heart of what we do and we should never think of ourselves as above this rule. That’s the mistake that the priest and the Pharisees made that so angered Jesus throughout his ministry. They focused so intently on the fine print that they missed the big picture. That’s why Jesus uses the strongest of insults towards them, Hypocrites! They preach the law but yet fail in their responsibilities to live up to the purpose and the spirit of the law.

So now that we know that we have this central command that is at the heart of all the bible’s laws, what do we do with it? Do we just keep it to ourselves and live a good and holy but largely pointless life? Or rather do with take this gift and put it into practice and let the light of God shine? How many of you received a gift at Christmas which you have now either given away, returned to the shop or just thrown away? And how many of you have ever had a gift you’ve given returned? It doesn’t feel nice does it? Because more often than not there’s been a lot of thought into getting that person a gift that you feel they would like or that they need. That’s one of the big differences between Christmas as a child and Christmas as an adult. When you’re a child it’s all about what you want but there comes a point in one’s life when presents are all about what you need or at least what that person thinks you need. Of course there are always those gifts you receive that make you question the amount of thought that went into them. My dad recently bought mum three DVD’s which were quite a random selection. He then admitted that he bought those 3 for £20 at Tesco. Well that went down well. But you don’t have that problem with God’s gift. God’s gift is a wonderful gift of love for all people. So why then do we waste it? Why do we hide our gift of light?

This gift is not something for us to keep to ourselves, but it is a gift for all people. The early people of God were told that they were a light to all the nations through the prophet Isaiah which is a title that comes with it a sense of honour and responsibility but the aspect of responsibility that went sadly missing. They were meant to be God’s messengers of hope and love and instead they preached messages that made them sound over confident in their covenant with God and used language that was exclusive and not inclusive. “Look at us,” the preachers would say, “we’re the chosen people of God. We’re righteous because we keep all the laws. You’re unclean and if we get touched by you we have to go to the temple to be made clean again”. How is that being a light to the nations? How is that reflecting God’s love?

It is because of their failure to live up to their covenant with God that God send Jesus down to live among us and forge and new covenant with God. So now, we are the light to nations but we should not rest in the honour that that bestows upon us but instead we need to let that light of God shine through us and through everything we do. This is what Jesus says to us as part of his great first sermon. Do not make the same mistakes with this new Covenant as you did with the last. The gift of God’s love, as displayed throughout the ministry of Christ, is a gift that you don’t want to return or waste, but it is a gift that we must share with all people. Its light warms our hearts and has given us great joy and comfort and so we all should want to share that joy and comfort to all people.

So remember that God’s law is not something that we should shy away from because at its heart and in its foundation is a message of love for all people. We are called to share that message, that gift of love with everyone by being mirrors, reflecting the light in even the darkest of places. So let the joy of the law of God flow through your heart and let your light shine.

Hello again dear reader.

Just a quick note about the use of my work on here. I’m conscious that there may be aspects of my work which you would like to use that i post on here specifically the monologues. my position is simple, i’m happy for them to be used for church work but would like to know beforehand. the reason i’m saying this is just so i know what’s being used and what’s not.

Hope this sounds reasonable.

James

Simeon Monologue (based on Luke 2:22-40)

A long time ago I had a dream, or rather a vision. The lord spoke to me and told me that I would not die until I saw the Messiah. Now, I know how that sounds. Many a madman has been condemned for saying the Lord spoke to me, but you have to believe me, and believe this is true or else the story I’m going to tell you, will not seem real either and then you will be missing out.
My name is Simeon by the way and I’m a priest in Jerusalem. That vision I had was a long time ago. At the time I was filled with excitement and hope. “Imagine,” I thought “I’m going to see the messiah! And he is coming in my lifetime.” You must remember of course that the coming of the Messiah was something written about many times in our holy scriptures. He was going to come and free us all from our oppression and save us all. We were all expecting great things from the coming of the messiah and his coming would be in a way that would be hard to miss. Mountains will tremble and all our enemies will quake at the coming of the lord. And I was going to get to see it all. But, like I said, that was all some time ago and I confess, I’d started to doubt.
I know that they say, good things come to those who wait, but I was so excited by this news that each passing day that went by without me seeing the messiah, seemed to take forever. I would wake up every morning and think, “is this the day? Is this when I will finally see the messiah?” but the sun rose and the sun set and still I saw nothing. I would just go about my usual business in the temple, praying and waiting for that day to come soon. Many years passed and still I saw no messiah and so eventually, I’ll admit, I started to doubt. I wondered, whether it had all been a dream and not a vision. That when I heard God telling me of my fate it was nothing more than my own wishful thinking and my own desire to see the coming of the messiah. But still I waited. I never gave up but I did doubt.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I sat around and twiddled my thumbs whilst waiting for the moment to come. I got on with what God had initially called me to do and serve his people in the temple. A large part of my job, and the part that I liked the most, was meeting and blessing the new-born children and their parents. It is a large part of our tradition that when a new-born baby is born the parents bring them along for a series of rituals which are, the purification of the mother, the presentation of the child for the service of God and if the child is their first born then also the ritual of the redemption of the first born. The purification of the mother is required because of Leviticus 12:6-8 which I’m sure you’re all familiar with but just in case it’s slipped your mind it reads;

“When the days of her purification are completed, (which was 40 days after the birth) whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.”

The redemption of the first born is about making sure the child can start life without the burden of sin upon him. And the final part of this process sees the parents presenting the child for the service of God. This comes out of the knowledge that each child is a gift from God and whatever role that child goes on to fill in our world, he or she will life their life for the service of God. Because this is so much part of our tradition performing these ceremonies has become a large part of my job but I love seeing the smiles on the faces of the new parents, even with their bags around their eyes and expressions that tell of both joy and exhaustion.
But still I had always a part of my brain focused on that question, would today be the day I met the messiah? I am now quite old and an awful lot of time had passed since that vision appeared to me. But despite my growing doubts, God was true to his word, as he always is, and the day did come when I met the Messiah. It was a day like many others, nothing particularly special about it. No reports of mountains shaking, loud trumpets being heard or anything else out of the ordinary.
This ordinary family arrived ready for the ceremonies to take place. They handed over an offering of two pigeons or two turtle doves, I can’t remember which, but I remember it was one of those because they were regarded of as poor offerings. Not that they were less valued by God but a rich or wealthy person would be expected to bring a sheep or a lamb. So clearly they were not from a wealthy background. I took one look at them, and at this beautiful little boy and my heart leaped up into my throat. I knew. I just knew that this was the moment. He was Messiah. This little baby, so helpless and tiny was going to be the one to change the whole world. I took the baby in my arms and raised my head to the heavens and said to the Lord,
“Now, Lord, you have kept your promise,
and you may let your servant go in peace.
With my own eyes I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:
A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles
and bring glory to your people Israel.”

When I finished I looked in His parents eyes and I could see a look of shock and amazement. But then something else struck me. I remembered all the teachings and prophecies that say how the story of the messiah was to unfold and that His life would be one of great suffering and that ultimately he would have to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes. I felt I had to warn his parents that being the parents of the messiah was going to lead to great times of trial and so I said to Mary, his mother “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” I knew that many would reject him because it was clear to me, as I looked into this child’s eyes that he was going to be a very different messiah that the one people were expecting. I saw that there was something powerful and meaningful in the way that this child had been brought into the world as a humble child born to poor parents, that would challenge people’s perspectives and attitudes and that often leads to conflict, hatred and even death. He was not a wealthy prince who would carry on the old ways but rather he would challenge our very perception of God. But I knew that he would be wonderful. There was just something peaceful and beautiful about him, an ora beaming off him, which ensured I knew that this child truly was a gift from God. And not just in the way that all children are gifts from God but this was a gift for everyone.
After they had left, I felt at peace; a kind of peace that I had not known for a long time. I no longer had that niggling doubt in my mind that I was going to die have never met the messiah, that God would not live up to his promise or that perhaps I had already seen but simply missed the messiah. But I need never have doubted because God always keeps his promises you just have to keep your faith, keep your trust and keep you hope in Him and He will come through. Just like with the messiah. God promised that a time would come when he would send his only Son to live among us and that that messiah would come and bring good news to the poor, free those imprisoned, make the blind see, free the oppressed and bring closer the kingdom of God. It’s just that God moves in mysterious ways and things are not always done in the way that you’d imagine. But just because things may appear different, never doubt that God has your best interests at heart. So keep your faith in Him and trust in his love for you and God will never let you down.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. Those famous words by Martin Luther King Jr were delivered on August 28, 1963, in which he called for an end to racist segregation in the United States. The speech, delivered to over 200,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. The words of that speech are as powerful today as they were back then; such is the measure of that man. Martin Luther King Day was celebrated this past Monday in America and is celebrated every third Monday in January. The date was chosen so as to be as close to his birthday on the 15th of January as possible whilst still being a Monday which is an easier day for a public holiday. It is interesting to note that the journey towards this becoming a national holiday was not a straight forward one and was met with a lot of resistance and hesitation. I didn’t know this until recently but the Stevie Wonder Song Happy Birthday was actually written and recorded as part of an appeal to get this day recognised. It was finally passed as an official holiday 1983, and it was first observed on January 20, 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000 which was 32 years after this great and powerful man had been tragically assassinated. I think it is a shame that we don’t celebrate that day in this country too because Martin Luther King’s work in America acutely effected the whole world and forced people in this country to look at the inequalities that were around them. It challenged people to look at their attitudes and to think about that bible passage “love your neighbour as yourself.”

          It should be of no surprise, in many ways, that it took a man who had an enormous Christian faith to be the voice of the voiceless and to speak out about the wrongs of inequality. He was a Baptist minister and you can hear when he delivers his speeches, the power and conviction of his words that leave you in no doubt that he believed every word he spoke. But speaking out didn’t make him universally popular. Speaking out never does. Challenging the status quo never does. Asking people to search their souls and realise that they are wrong never does. Indeed Martin Luther King knew he was putting his life at risk by standing up and saying what needed to be said. If you click on the following link now you can see an extract of the last speech he gave before his untimely death at the age of 39. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oehry1JC9Rk 

          Even though he says he’d like to live a long life, he is fully aware that he may not make it to the Promised Land, but he knows that because of the strength of the movement largely driven by him, they will overcome the odds, one day.

          The fact that, knowing the risks and knowing his life was in danger, he carried on regardless shows not only his strength of faith but how strongly he believed in what he was doing. He was an enormously courageous man. I know he was not perfect, nobody is, but I admire the strength of his convictions and the fact that he took his Christian faith, and saw that it was his responsibility to made a stand.

          That is what James is saying in his letter that we read from earlier. If you have faith and if you believe that God is a God of equality and justice, yet you do nothing to promote that message and you do nothing to help those around you, what you have is a dead and lifeless faith. It is like someone being given the gift of healing who doesn’t heal, someone who has lots of money but keeps it all for themselves or someone who is a great singer but never sings. What is the point, then, of their gifts? We all have gifts, and those gifts have been given to us from God and so to not use them for God is, frankly, a waste of those gifts. It does take courage to stand up and be counted. It is easier to hide amongst the crowd. But is that what we as Christians should be doing? I don’t think so.

          In Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus taking those first steps into rebellion. The first time he rocked the boat. The first time he stood up and got noticed. From this point onwards he became a threat to the established regime and his path towards the ultimate sacrifice had begun. He stands up in the synagogue and was handed the scroll which held the words of the prophet Isaiah and he found the part he wanted and read this,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

 

          It is from Isaiah the opening part of chapter 61. It is quite a small passage to read out but he knew what he was doing, getting straight to the point. I feel there must have been something about the way he read the passage that raised more than a few eyebrows as we are told that the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. I believe he put plenty of emphasis in the passage on the word, me. The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor etc. That would have not only attracted their attention but also their anger especially when, after taking up his seat back amongst them and feeling the eyes of the synagogue upon him, he said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

          I think there would have been two main things that caught the ire of the religious leaders and members of the Synagogue who heard this. Firstly Jesus was leaving them in little doubt that he considered himself to be the long awaited messiah because this passage was regarded as one of many that spoke of the Messiah’s coming and what He would do when he arrived. Such a thing was Blaspheme and punishable by death. But then also, Jesus was surely forcing them to look at a passage that I’m sure they’d rather not look at or at very least only give a glancing interest in. It forced them to take a long hard look at themselves and the way they were treating the poor, the oppressed, the slaves and the blind and that is something we all know we’d rather not do.

          There’s one thing that all the great leaders and the great public speakers do that makes them divisive. They make us take a look at ourselves.  Let’s face it nobody really wants to do that because we all know, deep down, that we could do better. We could be more inclusive when we talk to our neighbours, we could do more to help those around, we could better enact our Christian faith and we could all practice more of what we preach. Jesus knew that he was putting his life at great risk by reminding us all of our responsibility to love our neighbour as ourselves, to turn the other cheek and to forgive those who trespass against us. Martin Luther King knew that he was putting his life at risk by asking the people of America, and by proxy the rest of the world, to look at how they treat people. These countries claim democracy and freedom yet fail to actually live out those promises. You may think that because King’s speaking and the Civil rights movement was so long ago that the problems have vanished and everything is ok and that all people are actually equal. Well I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but that is not the case. And I’m not just talking about people in far off counties but here in this country and in America too people are still not being treated as equals. Instead the words of George Orwell still ring true when he wrote in his novel Animal Farm back in 1945 “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

          It isn’t a nice thing to think about but if we are truly to call ourselves Christians then we must surely start acting out our faith and bring God’s vision of and all inclusive world even if it makes us unpopular with some people who prefer the status quo and who benefit from it. We must make the dream of Martin Luther King come true and help to bring about a world where people are not judged by the colour of their skin. But I want to take that dream a step further and I want to dream of a world where people are not judged by us at all. That is the hope that lies in the hearts of all Christians and we must start to bring that dream to life. Then and only then will our eyes truly glimpse the coming of the Lord.

Amen

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aor6-DkzBJ0

Hi everyone. 

I’ve not been posting on here for some time now but i’ve had a few people asking me to post my sermons on here each week for those who cannot make the services. I’m happy to do this, (although they are better live!) so every week I will post my sermon here. please be aware of a couple of things though, firstly i’m dyslexic so there will be a few little issues with them but i never bother too much so long as i know what i’m saying it doesn’t really matter normally, and secondly i do write in the style that i preach so it may not always read “write” but again, so long as i know what to say i never really bother, and whilst i’m happy to post them i don’t really have the time to spend ages looking through them and doing more editing than i do before i preach them on a Sunday. and finally, i cannot say that there will be here on a regular day and time but i will do my best to put them up asap. 

With all that being said, i hope that you enjoy reading them and if you have any questions/comments then i’ll do my best to respond to them in the comments section on here as soon as i can.

God Bless

James 

How does the choice of Hymns or Worship Songs affect people’s worship?

Since the dawn of time humans have sang. Singing has been around since the time of the early human Neanderthals and has been integral to the development of speech, actions and thought. Indeed, singing has always had a connection to God as the early humans would sing/chant in praise of any rewards in hunting and would direct their praise skyward towards the divine. Communal singing has recently been dying out and this has helped spark a debate in churches about which style of singing would best attract new people into the church and therefore is integral to the church’s very survival. However, there have recently been signs of an improvement in the world of communal singing which comes partly from television programmes like Gareth Malone’s The Choir and also from a movement called ‘shape-singing’ in America which is encouraging people to sing together. What this upsurge in communal singing may mean for the church in the long term is, however, yet to become clear.

In this dissertation I shall be attempting to find out how people’s enjoyment and fulfilment in worship is altered if the minister or worship leader chooses hymns or worship songs. It is often seen that worship songs only appeal to young people and there is a belief that churches need to use worship songs and adapt to a more entertainment based worship that is favoured by many Evangelical churches, which have been the main source of growth in the Christian community and feature bands and singers in their worship, all singing the latest worship anthems. However, there is still a great affinity for more traditional hymns and many churches are resistant to this change. Therefore this dissertation will look at the various strengths and weaknesses of both hymns and worship songs.

I am aware that there is a vastly wider use of music in worship than just hymns and worship songs. You have, for instance, Taize chanting and other forms of chanting, modern popular music with a vague theological leaning, music from the world church and also specific all age or children’s songs. However, to undertake a piece looking at all of the uses of music in worship would certainly take me way over my allocated word count and so in order to do justice to the subject of communal singing, I will just focus on hymns and worship songs.

The whole area of congregation songs is particularly interesting to me for two main reasons. Firstly the importance of congregational song is integral to my denominational background as a lifelong member of the MoravianChurch. Singing has been a focus of Moravian worship from the very early days of the church and the man who inspired the formation of the Moravian church, John Hus, was a very vocal supporter of hymns being sung in the language of the people and of the use of hymns as an educational tool. So from the formation of the church in 1457, hymn singing has continued to be of great importance. We were influential in the creation of the first Protestant hymn book back in 1501 and brought out our own version in 1505. The first version was a private publication and as this went against the beliefs of the church inspired by Hus, a version for the people was published. Although many Moravian churches (especially in the BritishProvince), do practise the familiar protestant “hymn sandwich” liturgy with five hymns, the services would traditionally include many more than that.

However, the importance of singing can still be evidenced in our worship today in our communion liturgy. Our Holy Communion service generally follows a normal service and can include a hymn of thanksgiving, hymn/hymns sung during the distribution of bread, a sung verse after partaking of the bread, a verse of thanksgiving, hymn/hymns sung during the distribution of wine, another sung verse after partaking of the wine, a final verse of thanksgiving and finally a Covenant hymn. In all, that means the congregation can be expected to sing between 13 and 14 times during the morning although the reality is more like 10 hymns.

Secondly, music has always played an important part in my personal life. I have been an organist on many occasions and before training for the ministry I was a professional singer and musician. Music is something I’ve always been passionate about and it will therefore, I am sure, form an important part of my future ministry.

Singing in worship is a profoundly powerful thing and therefore it is vitally important that we use it correctly and find a method that is effective and inclusive to as many people as possible. John Bell puts this very eloquently when he refers to what happens when people join in congregational song,

“…something extremely rare happens whenever a congregation sings to its maker. For not only are there ten or fifty or five hundred individual voices giving their unique gift as they open their mouths and sing; there is also the unique blend of high and low voices, sharp and flat, sophisticated and rough-tongued, male and female, old and young. The chances are that never again will every one of these people be in exactly the same place singing these particular hymns and songs…so, if we can but sense it, every time a congregation sings, it is offering an absolutely one-time-only gift to its maker. It is important that every song sung is offered to God with that sense of uniqueness. God is worth it. “(2004, 80-81)

In this piece of work I will attempt to answer the question outlined above by referring to both various literatures on the subject and referring to a series of questionnaires that I sent out to as many people as possible. I decided upon using this method of research because I wanted to get as wide a response as possible to best enable me to take a broad approach to my analysis. However, there are limitations to this method as it meant that I was restricted to asking only a short series of questions. I decided to make sure that the questions didn’t exceed one page of A4 paper so as to make it seem more appealing for people to carry out but I made sure that the questions were worded in such a way as to avoid simple ‘yes or no’ answers. As this dissertation is an analysis of the strengths and weakness of hymns and worship songs, I felt that I could learn from and use the questionnaires better if I left room for people to express their opinions freely. To that end I ensured that people’s responses to the questions would be anonymous. I sent out around forty questionnaires to a wide range of people but I kept it to people I knew who were church attendees. Asking a non-church attendee would interest me in the future but I felt that for the purposes of this dissertation it would be best to ask only people who had a lot of experience with at least hymns and, preferably, worship songs too. Because of this approach I have a slight Moravian influence to the responses as those are the people I have greatest contact with, but I have also received responses from other denominations as well as from people who are attached to the Hymn Society of Great Britain. Before I start looking into the issue in more detail I think it is wise to start by explaining how I shall quantify what is a hymn and what is a worship song as often the lines can be blurred.

In order to answer this question I shall be using the illustration laid down by prolific hymn writer Andrew Pratt who, in a lecture delivered in New Jersey in March 2012 which he has posted on his blog, agrees that the line is becoming increasingly blurred. He admits that in order to gain an understanding of the difference, there is a need to go to the extreme levels of both styles. He goes on to describe the important characteristics of hymns as being able to be sung either as a solo or as congregational song; encompassing a wide range of themes and emotions; a tendency to use the word ‘we’ instead of ‘I’; the need to be placed with a tune that is instantly familiar and will last for many years. Worship songs, however, tend to be more individualistic – “I want to praise You, (with the “You” often being Jesus not God)”; they are more inclined to be solos which invite people to join in rather than being written specifically for congregational use. The worship song has a greater tendency to be repetitive, which is a result of the more unpredictable structure of the tunes for worship songs.

A good example of the solo orientated nature of worship songs comes in the well-known worship song “How great is my God” which is song number 2065 in Songs and Fellowship 4. In the chorus there is a line which always makes me feel uncomfortable when singing it congregationally: “Sing with me”. Clearly this has no place being sung by a group of people but was intended as encouragement from the soloist to join in with the chorus. It is like a pub singer saying, “Join in when you know the words!”

Another difference is outlined in Nick Page’s excellent book, “And now let’s move into a time of nonsense – why worship songs are failing the church” (2011). In a chapter entitled ‘From poet to pop star: or How we got into this mess’, he outlines how hymns and worship songs are often inspired by entirely different sources. His book mainly focuses on the importance of the lyrics in songs and he points out that many hymns came from poetry whilst many worship songs are inspired by pop music. The influence of pop music on worship songs can be seen, Page argues, in the lyrical blandness afforded to some worship songs,

“The Pop world is a world of banal emotion and meaningless lyrics…We live in a superficial, shallow culture and our media reflects that. In an era of banality, the banal lyric is hardly noticeable…The same is true of too many worship songs. The words often seem second in importance to the music. They talk about the same things in the same way, and often we end up singing a little more that the religious equivalent of ‘I love you baby, oh yeah’ “(38)

Here I think that Page is being overly generalistic about pop music and whilst it is true that many songs have bland and banal lyrics, the popularity of artists like Coldplay, Adele and Ed Sheeran who often show excellent poetic form and imagery in their lyrics demonstrates that there is a thirst for meaningful lyrics in the popular music world too.

Hymns and worship songs also have very different musical styles. As Pratt mentioned, hymns are more structured and regulated whereas worship songs are freer flowing. But there is more to that as, stylistically, hymns are often related to old folk tunes, classical music or other old musical styles. Worship songs are often musically based on soft rock, pop music, modern country or the epic ballad.

So, to summarise, hymns are more congregationally focused whereas worship songs are more solo orientated (with encouragement to sing along); hymns are set to a more predictable format whereas worship songs are more freely formed; hymns are more focused on God whereas worship songs are more focused on Jesus and they come from different roots. I used a summarised version of this wider explanation in my forwarding e-mail to all the people I sent the questionnaire to, so that we could all be working from the same understanding of what the differences are between hymns and worship songs. I felt that this would be important when collating their responses.

I shall now turn to analysing the responses that I received from my questionnaires. The first question I asked was simply whether they enjoyed congregational singing in worship. I am an unashamed fan of singing in worship, which is a large part of my reasons for doing this dissertation, but I am aware that for some people it is uncomfortable. I also felt that this was a nice and gentle way to encourage the recipients of the questionnaires to start thinking about the actual act of singing in worship which many of us take for granted.

The response to this question was almost unanimously positive with just one person, appendix 2, expressing how “it is alien in almost every other walk of life, expect sporting events”. All expressed their liking of congregational singing and the majority wrote about how they enjoyed the sense of togetherness and fellowship that it brings. This is perhaps not surprising considering the fact that I asked people who were all church goers. In appendix 2 the same person who points out its foreignness to the outside world, says that they enjoy it because it “is something I have always done”. I suspect that the emphasis on the togetherness and fellowship in singing shows the Moravian influence in the research as fellowship and equality is one of the key principals in Moravian teaching, and congregational song is an excellent way of putting those sentiments into practice.

The next question was getting more into the meat of what this dissertation is all about. I asked them whether they preferred singing hymns or worship songs in worship. The majority of twelve said that they preferred a mixture of both, while seven people said they preferred hymns. One person didn’t feel they knew enough worship songs and nobody preferred worship songs. The general feeling was one of preferring the familiarity and predictability of the hymn tunes and the ease of singing them. In appendix 1, the person writes “I prefer singing hymns as the tunes are usually easier to pick up so people have more confidence when singing them.”

There is something about the fluidity of worship songs that I too sometimes find difficult, but this often depends on how familiar I am with the song and the strength of the person leading the singing. In a hymn the structure is generally verse, chorus, and verse but with worship songs you can have verse, chorus, verse, bridge chorus, chorus, verse or any variation depending upon where the worship leader feels inspired to take you. In some ways I see this as a good thing – that the worship leader is seemingly responding to the mood of the congregation and divine inspiration as to where the song needs to go, but from a practical standpoint of a person simply trying to sing the song with them it can be confusing and I easily find myself lost and therefore feeling left out. There, then, is one of the strengths of hymns: that even though it may be a new hymn to you, generally you know where it is going and what is being sung rarely differs from what is on the page of the hymn book.

This formal style of singing is more suited to different types of worship.  As the person in appendix 17 writes, “I like both because it depends upon the type of worship.  A traditional service with perhaps a liturgical base suits hymns.  An all-age or café style worship suits worship songs.” The person in appendix 3 delves a little deeper by saying that, “At our “informal” worship the older hymns often have words that are not familiar to the congregation; at our “formal” service the congregation have difficulty in singing worship songs that are repetitive or musically complex.”

The issue that appendix 3 raises about the words not being familiar is something that I shall come to look more at later, but I agree with the principle that the style of worship and the congregation’s preferences all make a big difference in terms of what we sing. If I was conducting an all-age worship style service which would have a more informal style to it as a whole, then singing worship songs would fit best. However, if I was going to do a more traditional worship that was aimed at the older people then it would seem more fitting to pick traditional hymns. Generally, however, most people’s services tend to be a mixture of both styles.

When I am leading a service at a church that has a Sunday school, then the time before the young people leave tends to be more relaxed and informal and then when they leave it becomes more formal and my hymn choices often reflect that fact. I do, however, see the danger that abounds in sticking to the philosophy that you can play things too safe by never challenging older people to sing new songs or by not challenging young people to engage with more traditional hymns. There is also the risk of stereotyping. My questionnaires spanned a wide age range and it was telling that in this question many preferred a mixture and I would not want to prevent someone from singing a worship song that they may like simply because I assumed that because of their age they would prefer hymns.

The next question was a matter of seeing whether each person could choose a hymn and a worship song that they would class as their favourite. More importantly, I wanted to look at why they were their favourites. People generally found it easier to think of a favourite hymn than to think of a favourite worship song as everyone I asked, except for the three who didn’t pick a favourite, was able to pick a hymn they liked but only eight managed to name a favourite worship song. As previously mentioned, I was less interested in what they actually chose and more why they chose them. The answers to this question, I think, outline just how important emotion is to congregational song and how emotive those hymns and songs can be. For example, in appendix 7 the writer says that whilst his favourites are subject to change, “I do like ‘And Can it Be’ as I once had a spiritual experience when singing “my chains fell off…”” Also, in appendix 11 the person chose the hymns that they had at their wedding and as such have a special potency for that person. This connection between hymns and important life moments is echoed in appendix 16 and 18.

Hymns and worship songs are often more powerful when you can connect them to a specific moment or feeling or to a spiritual experience. Some people may try to analyse how these songs manage to connect and achieve their aim by offering some deep psychological or physiological insight, but for me this is unimportant. The important thing is that these songs DO have an effect, and once that effect has taken place that song is never the same again. This helps to explain why many of the people haven’t chosen a worship song as, simply put, worship songs haven’t been around as long and therefore haven’t had as many opportunities to achieve this bond that occurs when the moment and the music combine and you have a shiver up your spine and achieve this unforgettable moment. As John Bell puts it

“For many people the old songs are the best ones. The simple but inarticulated truth is that they have accrued to them a canon of sacred memories and associations. The new items, as yet unknown, have no pedigree of familiarity and fondness” (2004, 43)

Perhaps there is another reason for the lack of worship songs being chosen. I mentioned earlier that the findings would have a largely Moravian influence and many Moravians are simply not all that familiar with worship songs, as many of our congregations are only really exposed to hymns and the occasional worship song. As we read in appendix 6, many Moravians’ only real exposure to worship songs comes from television programmes like Songs of Praise and unless people are exposed to worship songs more frequently, moments of synchronisation of emotion and music will not happen as often and therefore people won’t have them as favourites.

For the record, my favourite is ‘I the Lord of Sea and Sky’ (Mission praise combined 857), which seems to fit the worship song mould being that it is introspective and biblically based.  However, I think there is enough regularity and depth of theology to warrant also calling it a modern hymn. This is my favourite because of the connection I have with the words and my own sense of calling to the ministry. There have also been several moments when that song has been used in worship at exactly the right moment for me.  For example, on my first day working with the Moravian church in Albania at times I felt very lost and out of place.  The song resonated with me and helped me throughout my time there. So my reasoning for choosing this song is very similar to the reasoning given by most answering this question, and it demonstrates the importance of emotion and personal history to the successfulness of any hymn or worship song.

The next question looked at the relationship between the lyrics and the music and asked which they thought was the most important. Page (2011) places a lot of emphasis on the importance of lyrics that mean something to people, but I feel that without a decent tune then the lyrics risk getting lost. Often, because of the structured and more formal nature of hymns, if someone selects an old hymn they pick a tune that is not necessarily the one for which the lyrics were originally written. The famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ has had several tunes attributed to it but it was only really when the Pipes & Drums & Military Band of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards had a number one hit with it that the tune that is now known as ‘Amazing Grace’ was really firmly established. Singing that hymn with a different tune would now be very unusual. Whilst the words of that hymn have survived long enough for this to happen (the words were first published in 1779 and the Scots Guards didn’t have the hit until 1972), it is the tune that propelled it to being a favourite of many.

I also feel that it is often only because of the tune that we remember hymns, because of the power in music to aid people’s memory. When I was a child I struggled greatly with my times tables and was helped enormously by a cassette tape that had them sung to music. It was the music that helped me to remember the words, which helped me to remember my times tables. When people are trying to remember a song they like, they hum the tune and don’t say the words. There is something unequally potent about the tune that sticks in our mind and helps the lyrics sustain. I know that many hymns and songs have great lyrics but I truly believe that it is the music that has the power to sustain. However, I’m not saying that the lyrics are unimportant because like the majority who returned my questionnaire; I believe that they both need to work with each other. In appendix 9 the writer says,

“A lousy tune can sink the most wonderfully profound and poetic set of lyrics.  Unfortunately, a great tune can give wings to the most dire drivel and the most heretical nonsense as well!… I think I would want to summarise the relationship by saying it’s a partnership in which the lyric is first among equals.”

A prime example of this problem comes, for me, with the hymn ‘Days of Elijah’
(1047, Songs of Fellowship 2). I love the tune of this song and it is a great one to sing along to, but the theology and lyrics make me cringe and would prevent me from ever picking it to sing in worship.  That being said, I do still occasionally listen to it on CD though simply because of the tune.

I find myself in whole hearted agreement with Page as he stresses the need for contemporary language and images in lyrics. It is imperative especially for young people and non-church attendees to be able to sing songs that they understand using imagery that they are familiar with. As Page writes,

“Jesus talked about shepherds not just because of Israel’s historic links with sheep farmers, but because everyone in his audience knew a shepherd. Many, indeed were shepherds. So the metaphor had both potency and immediacy. Not so today. Singing “you are the shepherd, we are the sheep” may well have a biblical precedent, but to a modern, urban congregation it is almost meaningless. Most of them wouldn’t know a shepherd if one came up and belted them over the ear with his crook,” (2011 92-93)

It seems to go without saying, yet many modern hymns and worship songs are still sticking staunchly to the old imagery simply because it is “biblical”. Page goes on to compile a table  showing three popular song and hymn books, Songs of Fellowship, Spring Harvest and  soul survivor. His findings are quite staggering. He writes,

“Out of some 1000 songs only fourteen use any distinctive, contemporary image. You can find flocks of lambs, vats of anointing oil, enough two edged swords and chariots to stock an army. But no cars. No electricity. No internet, newspapers or TV.” (2011, 99)

In my opinion, this issue needs to be addressed urgently. If people don’t understand the language or the imagery that they are being expected to sing, it will only lead to a greater sense of isolation and a feeling of not belonging that compounds the fact that singing in public is in itself a very alien thing to do. I believe neither hymns nor worship songs have the balance of music and lyrics right.

This is why I asked my next question, because it seems to me a perfect compromise to use new lyrics with the modern imagery set to tunes that people find familiar and easier to sing. However, some people react strongly to a well-known hymn tune being used to accompany anything other than the original lyrics; especially if that hymn has any associated emotional attachment. Even without adding modern imagery and simply making the language more inclusive, you can create quite a stir.

The British Province of the Moravian Church has recently introduced a new hymn book and one of the criticisms that it faced from many of the older congregation members was this change of language. As the writer of appendix 6 states in response to my final question about the future of congregational song, “I would like to think that many of the good “traditional” hymns will survive, preferably not altered unnecessarily by the thought police and the feminist mafia.” This idea that their sacred hymns are being altered by the “PC Brigade” is a powerful and, I believe, a potentially destructive one. The person writing this questionnaire is not alone in their view, as in the April year edition of the Moravian Messenger someone has written to the editor saying,

“I am not against modern hymns or songs. Let us use them when appropriate. I am not even against the odd changing of Thou to You when it fits in, but how did we allow this mutilation of some of our most sacred old hymns, where every word was thought of prayerfully by the author?…would we do the same to Shakespeare?”

The language used in both of those examples shows how strongly they feel by referring to the practice as ‘mutilation’ and those who do it as ‘a mafia’. I realise that a lot of this has to do with those special memories attached to the traditional hymns that we discussed earlier, but I feel it is deeply unwise to dismiss this practice of modernising language and to be too resistant to change. When discussing the potential purchase of the new hymn books one congregation member said, “how would the writers of those old hymns feel about their language being changed?” Frankly, I don’t think they’d mind because nobody wrote a hymn expecting it to last several hundreds of years. Hymns were written for the moment and using language that was appropriate for that moment and that context. But we are not in that time or that context anymore and the words must reflect where we are today, not where we were then.

The decision to change the language to be more inclusive is not done out of malice for the old writer, but out of respect and a need to make these old hymns work for today and to enable them to live on in our churches for many more years. It is always a decision taken with the best possible of intentions, to make our churches and our worship more inclusive to better enable us to reach out to those of God’s children not familiar with the language and terminology that those who have grown up in the church take for granted. As Kathy Galloway writes in ‘Worship: Window of the Urban Church’,

“…we believe that the gospel is inclusive. Yet the realty we too often communicate through our arcane and inaccessible jargon and forms is that of insiders and outsiders. It is not a long step from here to ‘the other’ becoming ‘the problem’, and we ourselves becoming sectarian. Sometimes the church’s projection of its own collective fear and disgust on to those who are ‘not us’ can revolt all that is humane and sensitive in people, and undermines the credibility of our professed truth. “(2006,18-19)

I then wanted to examine how people’s experience of congregational singing and the use of hymns or worship songs vary when used in a special service like a wedding or a funeral. In 2010, the website ‘Newlyweds Magazine’ published a top five list of hymns for weddings. It read;

1. Give Me Joy in My Heart

2. Amazing Grace

3. We Pledge to One Another

4. Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

5. Jerusalem

Of those five, only “We Pledge to One Another” is actually about love, or at least about the love between a man and his wife. There is great difficulty for people choosing wedding hymns especially if they are not regular church goers and the general idea seems to be to pick one that they think people will know. That is surely the only reason Jerusalem is on the list which has nothing to do with weddings and, in fact, very little to do with God either. I once visited a wedding where we sang “Abide With Me” (number 4 Mission Praise) which is a hymn that I, and many people, associate with funerals and again it was picked just so that people would know it. There are also emotive reasons for choices, such as a grandparent’s favourite or a memory of school assemblies. John Bell writes,

“the bondedness to the past which songs evoke helps explain the unusual nature of some choices of hymn at weddings. When a bride and groom stand before the altar to vow eternal love to each other do they really want to sing… “dear lord and father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways, reclothe us in our rightful mind?” (2004, 40)

But if it is the case that these hymns are being chosen because of important memories attached to them, then what of the future? This speaks to the age of Christendom when everybody had a connection to the church and all schools had a Christian input, but this is no longer the case. We live in an age of post-Christendom where people do not have that same connection to the church. What then will happen when people who still want a church wedding have no knowledge of the church’s hymnody? Worship songs are not the answer here either because they are equally and arguably more unknown to non-church attendees than hymns. Perhaps that is why some ministers are finding the best option to be a service without congregational song.

In my questionnaire I asked people how they would feel about a service without congregational song and, bearing in mind the fact that all had spoken earlier about how much they enjoyed congregational singing, the majority would not mind although as the person in appendix 6 writes, they feel it would be “cold and emotionless”. However, it seems that most people feel it would be better than having someone practically singing a solo whilst those in the congregation feel uncomfortable and left out. Some people suggested playing a piece of music or listening to a choir as a potential replacement and whilst I feel that would be better than nothing, there is something special about a group of people singing together that is lost if you are merely listening to music and not engaging with it. I feel that I would be reluctant to have a funeral or a wedding without some aspect of congregational song for two main reasons. Firstly, there is my obvious love of congregational singing which means the service for me would feel empty. Secondly, if congregational singing is to survive and indeed to thrive again then there needs to be a period of reintroduction and re-education of that act, and these occasions are ideal times to do it. When else except for weddings, baptisms and funerals do you get so many non-church attendees in a place of worship?

When I got married two years ago, my wife and I picked ‘As the Deer’, ‘I the Lord of Sea and Sky’ and ‘Let there be Love Shared Among Us’. We picked these as they were special to us and the words spoke to us and our lives, but we had the advantage of both being regular church goers and we didn’t really think, or practically care, if people didn’t know them. My mother-in-law was not happy with our choices because she said that “she didn’t know them”, and “nobody will sing them”. However, after hearing and singing them she changed her mind and saw why we chose them and said how much she liked them. I believe that if people are reintroduced to congregational singing then they too will change their minds. The best way to reintroduce this act is, perhaps, to lead them. I feel that the model of singing used in worship songs, having a worship leader leading the singing and encouraging people to join in is the best way of doing this. The writer of appendix 9 agrees by writing,

“If a congregation is to be invited to sing something which is unlikely to be at all familiar, having a solo voice or small choir to lead the singing would help; we did this with v1 of an unfamiliar hymn at a family funeral some years back, to enable people to get a feel of the tune and what the hymn was saying.”

Perhaps, then, it is the model of how we sing rather than what we sing that makes for a better integration of non-regular church attendees. The issues around attracting more people into church are the main focus of the final section of questions in the questionnaires. Indeed, the next question asks whether it is true that worship songs appeal more to young people and non-church goers. From my experience with churches that are mainly made up of life long attendees, many of whom are now elderly, I feel that there is a perception that in order to attract new people into church, especially young people, we need to use modern songs.

I believe that this sentiment stems from the preserved success of the more evangelical churches, such as the Vineyard Churches who mainly use worship songs and have a more performance based worship style. They have seen a big growth in numbers in this country. Twenty five years after its initial inception, Vineyard has grown from nothing to having 1500 churches worldwide and over 100 churches in the UK, according to data from their website and many of them with large congregations. I remember a conversation with a leader of the Vineyard church in Nottingham a few years ago where he told me that they had two services on a Sunday, each having over 1000 people attending. This could have been an exaggeration of course but the building certainly seemed able to hold those kinds of numbers. I had no cause to doubt him and material on their website certainly seems to back this up. This is why the next question specifically asks how important the choice of hymns and/or worship songs is to the growth of a church, bearing in mind the apparent growth in such churches as Vineyard.

I don’t think that you can be so clear cut as to suggest that the increase in these churches is solely down to their choice of music. Nor do I think it is fair to think of mission as an ‘identikit system’, where what works for one church will work for another. There are so many different aspects of how and why those churches seem to be thriving that to address them all would be outside the scope of this dissertation. Nor do I think it is possible to be clear cut in suggesting that young people and non-church attendees prefer worship songs. I tried as much as possible to keep the results of the questionnaires anonymous but this was not always possible because of how I received them via e-mail. Therefore I can say that the person writing appendix 10 was, at age 21, the youngest person by a reasonable distance to reply. It is perhaps interesting to note their response to the question about young people and worship songs:

“I would agree with the statement as I feel the older generation don’t like change as I do.  However, like I have previously said change is inevitable and you have to get used to it as do I…I think churches do need to use more modern songs simply to get young people through the door. However, I think the old songs still need to be used because there are some good ones. “

I am interested in the language that this person has used here as there is a sense of the inevitability of change, and that change will necessarily mean more worship songs and less hymns. I feel that this attitude is shared by many of the older people in the congregation and that this is perhaps why there is often reluctance on their part to engage fully with worship songs and why they are so defensive of the old hymns. One of the dangers of introducing any change in worship (but perhaps especially with music) is that you risk isolating those who have been regularly attending in an attempt to attract new members – which may not work. What would be the point in gaining new members if at the same time you lose the ones you already have?

One of the reasons why worship songs work so well in those larger congregations, however, is the more emotive nature of a large number of people meeting together with a common goal. There is something akin to mass hysteria when you have so many people singing along but there is a danger that, because of the large numbers, it is easy to get carried along without ever really engaging with what you are singing. There are two main dangers of this. Firstly, you may end up singing something in which actually you don’t believe, and secondly you may fail to ever fully own your faith and your relationship with God, as the writer of appendix 15 writes,

“I have a personal concern that some of the churches that appear to attract large crowds because of the music are becoming performance arenas in which people can become anonymous and may never really grasp the personal commitment that is an essential part of being a Christian”

Equally, faith is shallow if the raw emotion of this kind of worship is not backed up with the sound theology that you find mainly in hymns. Nick Page writes,

“We need balance. As I argued earlier, worship is a combination of understand and feeling: when we understand what God has done for us and who He is, then the emotion should follow. Understanding alone results in lifeless, dry worship. Emotion alone results in superficial temporary worship. We need a balanced diet.” (2011, 43)

The concept of a ‘balanced diet’ brings us nicely to the final question, and perhaps the biggest question of all, where do we go from here? In the words of Psalm 137, “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Are either hymns or worship songs our best tool for the job?

I feel that part of the answer to this question is to remember that not every hymn has survived the test of time and it is not fair to say that all hymns are ‘golden beacons of light’. I believe that we are still very much in the process of sifting through the rubbish in the masses of worship songs available. Just like the time when hymn writing was all the rage, we are now seeing numerous new worship songs every week and from the thousands of new songs perhaps only a few hundred will survive to live on in the memory of the future generations of Christians in the way the old favourite hymns do for many of this and previous generations.        So how can you know which will survive and which will simply fall by the wayside? You look and you learn from the hymns that have survived. The ones that have stood the test of time have generally been the ones that express what we would struggle to articulate for ourselves; those that find the perfect balance between lyrics and music; and also those that have been tried and tested by congregations of Christians. This is why it is important to expose people to worship songs and not to fear what will happen to traditional worship if you do. It is not always the case that only young people can enjoy or get anything from worship songs, as the writer of appendix 11 states:

“I went to a funeral recently of an 85-year-old woman who had worshipped in the same village chapel (membership: nine!) all of her life. Her favourite song was ‘In Christ Alone’ – a song written in the last 10 years. That said a lot to me about how it is possible to have modern music, good doctrine and congregational singing.”

That song, chosen by an 85 year old, has all those things that you need in any hymn or worship song. It has a tune that fits, lyrics that move and a theology we can all relate to. To neglect to expose older people to worship songs is to potentially limit their Christian experience. If the minister in that woman’s congregation had taken the easy route and only chosen hymns with which they were familiar, then she would perhaps never have found this song which then became her favourite.

I feel that the key going forward is not either hymns or worship songs but rather a balanced diet of the strengths that both contain. This dissertation has been constantly critiquing the merits of both styles of congregational song and my conclusion would be that neither is perfect but both have elements of merit. We need to sing songs that have the theological depth of hymns but that are sung in a way that is accessible like worship songs. We need to ensure that people are singing about things that they understand and can relate to. No more of the ‘double edged swords’ and archaic biblical language loved by many worship song writers, and no more ‘thee, thou and thine’ of the old hymns, for if people cannot understand what they are singing, then why sing? You may as well sing a tune to the Solfège ‘do re mi’ scale of singing. When the words and music connect to that moment in time, then you can truly feel God’s presence among you and then you will be singing with the choir of angels.

Hymns and worship songs need not be enemies. They are both trying to achieve the same aim in enabling people to express their faith in a powerful and potent manner. I believe that if congregational singing is to continue, and I believe that it must, they need to become allies and work alongside each other. For myself and many others, worship without singing is, empty and cold but faith in God is alive and warm and so our worship should be too. It may be that in time we sing less and less the hymns of old but that should not happen until worship songs have learnt from the successes of hymns. The writer of appendix 9 writes this,

“With all this in mind, I don’t feel hopeful for the traditional hymn.  What I do find, though, is that some of the songwriters are maturing and producing longer, more thoughtful, more hymn-like material.  Perhaps the future will see the emergence of a hybrid genre which recaptures the strengths of the traditional hymn while harnessing the benefits of the worship song … it’s a lot to ask, but it could be good.”

I believe in congregational singing. Not just because I like to sing, as I could do that anytime I want to, but because I believe in the unifying power and the uplifting spirit that comes when a group of Christian brothers and sisters meet to offer up their songs and praises to their Lord and Saviour. It is something that has been around for thousands of years. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing” as the psalmist sang in psalm 100. However, nothing is immune from extinction if it doesn’t evolve and adapt to survive. It is therefore vital to constantly critique new worship songs (and indeed old hymns) and ask the question, does this still work for today and does this do all that I need it to do?  If not, then it is no great shame if that hymn or worship song fades away. Faith is a constantly moving, evolving and invigorating entity and therefore, surely the ways that we express our faith should be equally moving to keep up with how we feel today and not stuck expressing how we felt in the past. Then and only then can congregational song survive and indeed thrive, and then our worship will truly be fit for the purpose of praising the King of Kings.

 

 

Bibliography

Bell, John L (2004) The Singing Thing – a case for congregational song; Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications.

Cole, James (2010, July 15) Top 5 Wedding Hymns Retrieved 09.04.13 from NWD website http://www.nwdwedding.co.uk/2010/07/top-5-wedding-hymns/

Holy Bible (NRSV)

Ingham, Gillian (2013) letters to the editor; Moravian Messenger; 47

Ipswich Vineyard Church (2013) History of the Vineyard Retrieved 24.04.13 from Ipswich Vineyard Church website http://www.ipswichvineyardchurch.org.uk/about-us/history-of-the-vineyard

Mithen, Steven (2005); The singing Neanderthals, London; Orion Books.

Mission Praise Combined (1999); London; Harper Collins Publishers.

Central Moravian Church; German—English Advent Singstunde 2010 Retrieved 04.02.13 from Moravian Archives website http://www.moravianchurcharchives.org/documents/advent%20singstunde%202010.pdf

Page Nick (2011) And now let’s move into a time of nonsense-why worship songs are failing the church; Milton Keynes; Authentic Media.

Pratt, A (2012, March 31) Worship Songs and Hymns retrieved 30.01.13 from http://hymnsandbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012_03_01_archive.html

Schattshneider Allen W & Frank Albert H (2009); Through Five Hundred Years and beyond – a popular history of the Moravian Church; Bethlehem Pennsylvania; Interprovincial Board Of Communication of the Moravian Church.

Song of Fellowship 4 (2008); Eastbourne; Kingsway Publications.

Stratford, Tim (2006) Worship-Window of the Urban Church; London SPCK;

Trent Vineyard (2013) Trent Vineyard Church Retrieved 24.04.13 from Trent Vineyard website http://www.trentvineyard.org

Vineyard Churches (2013) Vineyard Churches Retrieved 24.04.13 from Vineyard Churches website http://www.vineyardchurches.org.uk/churches/

Wren, Brain (2000) Praying Twice – The Music and Words of Congregational Song; London; Westminster John Knox Press.

Appendix

1-20Questionnaires

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix 1

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes, I feel that it is a way to connect to God in a collective way.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

I prefer singing hymns as the tunes are usually easier to pick up so people have more confidence when singing them.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Not sure if it is a hymn or worship song, “Guide me o thou great Jehovah” OMHB 277. This has such a powerful tune and the rise and fall of the tune is very uplifting whilst the words offer comfort and promise of a new life in Christ.

“I the Lord of sea an sky” MP 857. This speaks to me (and I think most people) in a very personal way, the key is very mellow and the song asks you to think about what we have been given and what we are asked to do with the gift.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

I think a good tune can make even the most simple words come to life.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

I try and do this as often as I can when using the projector.  Some of the hymns in the little book ‘Sing Out Today’ have been re-written and use old tunes and the new words bring a special meaning to the service as the congregation doesn’t have to worry about learning a new tune and can concentrate on the words.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I always try to make the hymns/songs relevant to the occasion and/or persona.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

This is new to me, I would feel that the service is not complete without some hymns/songs but it is a personal choice.  I am sure that most people would remember a song from school such as “All things bright and beautiful” for example.  It would be nice to be able to offer an alternative such as a choir or recording so the congregation can get the feeling of hymns, it might just touch a nerve and give some people something to think about further.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I wouldn’t agree.  Some of the old hymns are ‘classics’ and I feel tap into an unknown part of the brain that brings comfort. A balance is needed though.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Not heard of the Vineyard church but have an idea of the type of church.  I think there is a place for songs and when sung with a house band can be very powerful emotionally.  I think it is the overall experience of being swept up in emotion with many other people that can help the church grow.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

In the Moravian church I can’t see it changing that much.

 

Appendix 2

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes and no!  Yes in terms of it being seen as ‘the norm’ and because it is something that I have always done.  No because it is alien in almost every other walk of life, except for some sporting events.  Where else, other than in church, do a group of people sing the same song together?

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

A mixture of both.  Traditional hymns tend to have a greater depth of theology than some worship songs.  That is not to say that hymns are all good and worship songs are all bad; it is not as easy to define as that.

I feel uncomfortable with the same line being repeated just to amplify the message without giving anything further.

Then there is the question of tune – there are some wonderful tunes for both old and new hymns and worship songs, and there are some really horrendous ones too.

Ultimately, it is a matter of knowing the congregation well enough to discern their style of hymnody.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Hymn – My song is love unknown.  It brings together powerful words and a lovely tune.  It also has deeper contextual meaning to me personally.

Worship Songs – I really can’t say that I do, although some more modern hymns speak to me.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

The words have to be of the utmost importance.  Why else would we sing them?  The tune has to be a means of singing the words, nothing else.  I would rather sing a hymn to a tune more associated with Advent or Christmas in August to allow the congregation to forget the tune and be able to concentrate on the words.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

Depending on the words, I would be more than happy – see previous answers.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I spend a lot of time choosing hymns to fit with the service and theme.  It is essential.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

It depends on the service, and the reasons for holding such a service.  I fully appreciate that non-church people can find singing in public alien, and I wouldn’t want to push the issue too far.  But I do feel that a balance has to be struck, especially if someone is wanting a Christian service.  It is a point of discussion.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I don’t think is it as ‘black and white’ as that.  Young people, perhaps; non-church goers, I am really not sure.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

For me the jury is out, but I feel it is a matter of personal preference.  I feel happier and more comfortable with a mixture of old and new hymns, but less so with modern worship songs.  Others will say something different, or even the exact opposite.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I hope that we are able to discern what of the ‘old’ to keep and what of the ‘new’ to use, but ultimately it is down to the congregation.  Horses for courses….

 

Appendix 3

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

I enjoy singing when the tunes are within my range and ability. Some of the modern songs are more suitable for solo/choral singing as the timing and range are too complex for the average congregation and this can detract from the “worship” as more concentration on the music is needed.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

Both hymns and worship songs have their place. I prefer the older hymns when they resonate with my memories of being in church over the years; I prefer worship songs when they are appropriate for the type of worship in a particular service. At our “informal” worship the older hymns often have words that are not familiar to the congregation; at our “formal” service the congregation have difficulty in singing worship songs that are repetitive or musically complex.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Favourite hymn is “Dear Lord and Father of mankind”. It offers forgiveness and hope for the future. It reminds me of my schooldays and of Sunday School.

Favourite worship song (at the moment, they change frequently as new ones are introduced) is “In Christ alone”. It provides a sense of comfort, theological truth, and constant support. It is also an easy tune to follow and allows the singer to enter into the song at different levels – simply singing the words or feeling the truths more deeply.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

If the tune is reasonably easy to sing one can concentrate on the lyrics. The problem with some worship songs is that the tune/rhythm is so difficult one is concentrating on that rather than on the lyrics. However, if the lyrics contain archaic words or strange imagery (“open the eyes of my heart”, for example, makes me think that the writer has a very unusual physiology) can detract from the level of worship.

So the tune and the lyrics are equally important as there is a danger that either can make the singer focus more on the song than on God.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

It’s sensible to update hymns when certain words no longer have any meaning to the people singing them. A completely new song using an old tune is fine, so long as the tune is appropriate to the lyrics.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

At these services we usually allow the participants to choose their own hymns. Otherwise, if I’m expecting an older congregation who don’t attend church regularly I would suggest hymns they learned as children in school or Sunday School. Equally at a service where young people who don’t currently attend church are expected I would select something that was used in school at the time when they were there. We try to tailor the songs to the age of the expected congregation. If the congregation is mixed then we have a varied range of hymns/songs.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

No problem. We often use cds instead of congregational singing.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

hmmmm. Not sure. Worship songs certainly appeal more to young people but a lot of us older ones enjoy them too. Non church-goers are unlikely to want to sing worship songs as they often express sentiments that a non-churchgoer would be uncomfortable with. A current favourite in our church is “Here I am to worship” which our young people love but non church-goers just listen to.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Growth of a church is more dependent on the missionary zeal of the people in it, not the choice of hymns or songs. Once people know the love of Jesus they’ll tolerate all sorts of activities in church because they know that the people are doing it for love of Christ. If the music makes people feel totally uncomfortable then they’re likely to opt out of regular Sunday worship. Much of the Vineyard music is sung by professional singers with the congregation singing along. I’d say that a good worship leader is more important than the choice of song.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

If we can train up worship leaders then congregational singing will continue to be a major part of Sunday services. However, in many churches (of all denominations) it is something that the younger people find alien to their normal activities. If it can emulate the enthusiasm of football crowds singing their team anthems it will continue to thrive, but at present it is a pale shadow of such enthusiasm.

Appendix 4

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes. Having been brought up as an Anglican I have experience of choral Evensong, where the only singing comes from the choir. Lovely though that is, it often feels like watching a performance rather than take part in worship. Congregational singing gives you that involvement.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

It is hymns for me. I occasionally lead worship at the “Blue Ribbon Gospel Mission” in West Bromwich were worship songs are mainly used. Whilst I enjoyed occasionally I find them much more repetitive the most of the hymns that we sing.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Now we come to that difficult thing about what is a hymn and what is worship song. For family reasons my favourite traditional hymn is “the Lord is my Shepherd” sung to Crimond. I can’t really claim to have a favourite worship song.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

The lyrics. As an occasional worship leader with no musical ability at all when I am choosing a hymn it is the words which determine whether the hymn is included in the service.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

I love trying new hymns I love trying new words put together in whatever order you like!

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I have been lucky enough to conduct a few weddings (unusual for a lay preacher) and there, though I may suggest, I would usually leave the final choice to the couple. Funerals are the same. (Unfortunately, I have conducted many more funerals than weddings!). If by “special” you mean Easter, Christmas, et cetera, I use my standard selection techniques.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

I would be concerned for a wedding to go by without the inclusion of some congregational involvement. However, funeral are different. If you have a small congregation some of whom are grieving and some of whom have little church experience it can be very difficult to involve them in a congregational hymn. If I feel this is so then I am happy to advise the family to maybe have a piece of music to listen to rather than to participate in.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I just don’t know if this is true or not.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Again I have to say that I haven’t enough experience of this. However the little experience I do have is that the music in some of our evangelical churches is much better, more professional, and better orchestrated than the single organ or piano that we have in the majority of our churches. I also believe that the growth in evangelical churches is driven by the “certainties” that they preach.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I hope it is strong. Speaking from the recent experience over the past 6 years as Sparkhill has worshipped with Hall Green Methodists I can honestly say that I really enjoy our congregation singing. But part of this is due to the fact that our music group is strong, features a range of different instruments, and is led by a really competent musician. Outside of church people have got used to good music being played by good people. We in the church try very hard to ensure that we provide first rate preaching and teaching but accept the fact that our musicianship may not live up to the high standards to which we should aspire.

 

Appendix 5

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes. It is a Psalm 100 job for me, brothers and sisters gathered together to make a joyful noise to the Lord, even if not everyone can sing. The ‘noise’ can be happy and offered to the Lord in good faith as worship.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

I have no preference either way. I think that it is important to have a balance of old and new, ancient and modern in worship. Communion services for me are usually Moravian Hymn Book, whereas all age worship is usually Complete Mission Praise

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

MHB 272 – When a knight won his spurs. I know it’s old fashioned and may not make a bit of sense but I have always liked it and I always will. Good for young and old and people always smile when I choose it.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Words are important, especially if they are conveying a theological idea or aspects of faith and yet, if they are delivered with a tune that no one knows, then the whole hymn falls, potentially. Therefore I would have to say that both tunes and words are equally important for me.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

I have no problem with this, although I do feel that new tunes should be leaned wherever possible. We can’t always stick with old tunes, although I don’t think that we should throw them all away. In addition new words may be written with tunes that make more sense than throwing old tunes at them and so we should be aware of this.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

Hymns have to be appropriate to what kind of service is being prepared and what types of people are attending. There’s no point in have Christmas Carols in Easter and there’s no point in going for ancient traditional hymns all the way when you have young families in church, when they might appreciate praise songs. Also, with regard to wedding and the like then it is good to ask the participants which songs/hymns they would like.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

For me this is the choice that the family makes and I would have to go along with it. I understand that one or two people singing in a congregation can be a little awkward and so may be better to go without, although I would miss it for sure.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I can understand where this statement is coming from but I find that older church goers can surprise and take to newer worship songs more readily than I would expect. If given a chance to learn new material most people take to it in my experience, although sometimes the older worshippers find the repetitive nature of some new songs a little tedious.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

This is a tricky one and beings me back to the idea of striking a balance. I can see that modern worship songs might be attractive to new people but more established worshippers also love the older hymns. It is good to find a way to cater for both new members and established members. This is hard, but possible, I think.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I hope that congregational singing will survive, with a blend of old and new. This does depend on organists/pianists being available and worship leaders keeping hymns some alive whilst being brave enough to introduce new material as well.

 

Appendix 6

 

Qualifier: my only real experience of worship songs as you define them is from “Songs of Praise” although I dimly remember solo songs from Cliff Burrows at the Billy Graham Wembley and Manchester gatherings in the 50’s and 60’s.  I assume you don’t class modern hymns (e.g. Brother Sister Let Me Serve You, or How Great Thou Art) as worship songs just because they are late 20th century.  He Lifts Me Up is perhaps what I would call a worship song.

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Singing is an enjoyable human experience, and in worship it helps to generate a sense of worship, fellowship and comradeship

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

See the qualifier above

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Several favourite hymns, some old e.g. When I survey and some new e.g. Spirit of God

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

There is no point in a hymn with meaningless words – the words are the raison d’être of the hymn. Equally, the tune is important because it should not interfere with the singing of the words.  If you have to struggle to fit the syllables of the words with the notes of the tune, you forget the meaning of the words.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

No problem (even if the tune is a secular one) provided the words and tune fit well – see previous question. You have chosen this week the hymn We Have A King Who Rides A Donkey, which is set to the old tune for “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”, and it fits very well, so why not?

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

It makes sense for at least some of the hymns to have words relevant to the event.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

It’s their funeral, so to speak!  I would conduct, reluctantly, such a service, but it would be cold and emotionless. (I have conducted a funeral in Scotland, half the service around the open coffin in the house and the final part around the grave. I did not like it.)

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I don’t see why.  If you mean they may be attracted to a less formal rhythm, I don’t think that would turn a non-church-goer attending a baptism or funeral into a regular church-goer.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

They grow because they induce a sense of “we do things the right way”, they have a fundamentalist approach to the Bible, and they use songs and repetition of phrases to induce an emotional atmosphere which makes the congregation susceptible to indoctrination.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I have no idea.  I would like to think that many of the good “traditional” hymns will survive, preferably not altered unnecessarily by the thought police and the feminist mafia.

 

Appendix 7

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Singing has been an important and integral part of Moravian worship from the beginning. It brings people together and gives the congregation the chance to participate rather than being priestly led

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

Sometimes difficult to distinguish between hymns and worship songs they are all to the glory of God. I love both.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

I have many favourite hymns which change over the years. I do like ‘And Can it Be’ as I once had a spiritual experience when singing “my chains fell off…” remembered by many at Lower Wyke I think?

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

I feel that they are both important great lyrics can be ruined by a tune that doesn’t scan properly.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

No problem providing the tune scans properly. In fact often old lyrics are rejuvenated by a new tune.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I often spend as much time choosing the hymns as I do on the sermon as they are crucial to the service.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

This question is rather vague and is dependent upon the context of the service itself. But not every gathering (or service) HAS to have hymns. If there is a hymn to be sung then I just bellow forth and hope to carry others along. I have, from time to time, at weddings asked the congregation to join in out of respect of the couple who have chosen them.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I don’t necessarily believe that worship songs are just for the young. However, it depends on the words and music. Some worship songs can be complicated which makes them more difficult to sing. But not always.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Singing should be a joyful experience and, if it is, it should lift people. Music is still a vital part of our worship. Sadly we end up putting hymns and worship songs into boxes or categories without trying them out. I have known organists refusing to play hymns because they were out of Mission praise even though they were in the Moravian Hymn Book.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I see it as an essential part of Moravian Worship even more so than set liturgies. However, what you haven’t asked about is the availability of organists and pianists and the ability of accompanists as this directly affects the hymn and worship songs used.

 

Appendix 8

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

I enjoy congregational singing in worship because of the opportunity it gives people to express their feelings and beliefs, as individuals and as members of a worshipping community.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

It depends entirely on the local circumstances, so, sometimes one, sometimes the other.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Hymn: ‘O praise ye the Lord’ (because of the mention of instruments)

Worship Song: ‘As the deer’

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

The lyrics cannot exist without the tune, so in the memory it is the tune which ‘carries’ the words.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

New words always make us think a little bit more about what we are engaged with when we sing. Of course, there must be a good match between both the mood and the metre of the tune and the words. And if a tune, e.g. EVENTIDE, is very well-known, then it is unwise to sing it with new words.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

The music sung must fit with the overall theme and intention of the service.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

No problem, if that’s what makes members of the congregation feel at ease.

 

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I would ask for more explanation of the terms ‘young people’ and ‘non-church goers’. And a related point: many irregular church attendees have no knowledge of contemporary worship songs but they might have residual memory of more traditional hymns.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Clearly some evangelical churches are flourishing, and their worship is greatly enhanced by the use of worship songs. However, do not discount the thousands of people who regularly worship in our cathedrals, and whose experience of music, sometimes passive, is of a different nature.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

Congregational song has an exciting future, provided those responsible for the choice and direction of materials are sensitive to the needs and expectations of their worshipping communities.

There is a wealth of music which is available through the use of recordings and other technologies. When we sing ‘in the spirit and with understanding’ we have the potential to enhance our spiritual awareness and growth. Worship leaders should do everything they can to enable this to happen. Encouragement and education are all part of Christian discipleship.

Appendix 9

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

That depends very much on both content and – to a lesser extent – context.  In theory, I enjoy joining with God’s people to sing to him.  In practice, too often I find that the material we are asked to sing is of poor quality, and I come away feeling either disappointed or – occasionally – frustrated.  It may not be any particular song (although there are some that I find quite unpalatable, and one or two I simply decline to sing); what also matters is the overall mix and the impression gained from the service as a whole.  So many of the songs of recent years seem very similar in content and style, and if there is nothing else in a service apart from such material, then by the end of the day the congregation will have participated in only a narrow subset of worship.  Typical examples from my own experience as a member of a Baptist congregation:  we seem to hear / sing very little about the holiness of God, his creative activity, or the social needs of the world around us; we sing very little of penitence or lament; our songs do not link us greatly to the wider church across the world or across the ages.  It’s a shortcoming of our service style, reinforced by the music.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

My first preference would be a good, balanced mixture.  Hymns have frequently stood the test of time; address a broader range of topics and offer a broader understanding of God; and can develop the journey of discipleship.  Songs tend to have a more immediate impact; create mood rather than imparting knowledge; touch the emotions; and make the act of singing personal.  Put the two together in a sensitive blend, and the result can be very powerful.

If I had to choose for one or the other, I would unhesitatingly choose hymns – maybe it’s my age (51), maybe it’s because I write them, but I feel they have a depth and a strength which are vitally needed in today’s church.  I find the songs are often too samey (see previous answer), too frothy and – musically – too high for comfort (which may again be an age thing, but I’m not alone there!).  One of the other frustrations I feel is that there is still a view that hymn=old, song=new; there are a number of writers working in the hymn genre today and producing material of real quality which has a lot to offer the church but which remains largely unknown, sad to say.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

I don’t really have a favourite as such; hymns (perhaps unlike songs) are often specific to particular times of the year, the service, the life of a congregation etc.  (What may be a great opening hymn would be utterly out of place just before communion, for example.)  For my personal use I have built up a repertoire of around 250 items (mostly hymns, but including one or two newer items in the Kendrick / Townend mould) and I use those on a very regular basis, singing at least one from the list almost daily.

But if pushed into a corner and berated to select a single hymn which stands out from the repertoire, I would probably choose Samuel Crossman’s My song is love unknown – written in the 17th century, yet allowing a little leeway for language and pronunciation it still sounds fresh, relevant and full of the central truths of the Christian faith.  It’s also very personal (My song) and quite intimate – almost like a modern worship song in that!  Of worship songs,Beauty for brokenness stands out – partly because it contains strong imagery and memorable lines, but maybe more because it’s not the usual subject-matter for a worship song.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

A lousy tune can sink the most wonderfully profound and poetic set of lyrics.  Unfortunately, a great tune can give wings to the most dire drivel and the most heretical nonsense as well!  So both words and music matter a great deal.  What also matters is the pairing between the two; not only because there may be an emotional attachment of words to tune (as below) but also because the structure of the tune (its particular idiosyncracies and stresses, say) may not reflect the flow, meaning and punctuation of the words.  A good set of words needs a good tune well matched to that specific lyric, and sometimes those pairings do not come about when the two items are first written.  I think I would want to summarise the relationship by saying it’s a partnership in which the lyric is first among equals.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

It’s something I often do – at least conceptually (when writing new hymn words as a non-musician) and privately (when singing hymns to which I do not know the published tune).  In principle, I can cope with it, though I am aware that for some singers, particular tunes resonate with only one set of words and any other pairing is anathema; as a minister once said to me, “That tune is already married.”  There are also tunes which have a stylistic “age” about them – possibly in the arrangement as much as anything, but I’m no expert in this area – and can make even modern words sound more dated.  (This consideration also applies for a case not included in the question – a new tune for old words – which probably works better in the main … )

For new words, the best options would be either (a) a strong, new tune, easily recognised, sung and memorised, well-matched to the words, or (b) a strong, well-established tune which is already used widely with two or three other hymns so does not carry connotations of “exclusivity”.

There is a special case of the above which I should mention:  the times when someone has updated an old text but retained the original tune.  This can be done well, ironing out phrases which now sound dated; it can also be done very clumsily, leaving what looks like a botched, half-finished job.  My particular gripe here is where the attempt has been made to replace thee / thy with you / your, but some of the older words have been left in for the sake of a rhyme, so that a single line may contain both your and thee.  That’s very poor!  (Sometimes this is done to make a song out of a hymn, and the results can be very disappointing to those fond of the older item …)

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I don’t have a ministerial role and I don’t choose the hymns and songs for services very often at all, but the underlying principles would be the same.  Any service should ideally:

  • be overtly Christian in nature;
  • reflect the Triune God;
  • celebrate his holiness, his creative activity, his faithfulness and his purposes for his creation;
  • expound something of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection;
  • and renew the call to daily discipleship in its various personal, corporal and social aspects.

No service will focus on everything equally; sometimes – depending on the time of (church) year, for example – there will be a more obvious bias; and some of the above will be expressed in prayers, Scripture readings and other parts of the service, not just in the congregational songs.  But I’d still like to use that general ethos to help guide the choice of hymns, whether for Sunday worship or a wedding.  There are hymns which could draw out the relevant aspects of the above, with a focus on God’s love, on commited relationships and so on … I’m never sure quite why Jerusalem is a popular wedding hymn though I can see why my sister-in-law’s suggestion of When a knight won his spurs was turned down!

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

With the caveat above that it’s not my particular role … again, the context would matter greatly.  For example, a funeral could be for an older person who had been a lifelong churchgoer but whose surviving family were at most nominal Christians – it would be good to include what was an important part of Granny’s life.  On the other hand, if there was no real Christian heritage involved it may still be helpful to find a way to offer that (such as a well-sung solo of a suitable hymn).  If a congregation is to be invited to sing something which is unlikely to be at all familiar, having a solo voice or small choir to lead the singing would help; we did this with v1 of an unfamiliar hymn at a family funeral some years back, to enable people to get a feel of the tune and what the hymn was saying.  It would also be good to explore other ways to get the whole company to share in the service, whether by readings, movement or some other way, if they are not to sing together.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

Possibly true, in that the style is closer to the modern pop / rock song so culturally more familiar (though is there any proof of the assertion?).  At least three problems arise from this, though:

(1) Worship songs do not necessarily have the depth to nourish Christian faith, so maybe they are better as a way in rather than the whole diet.

(2)  Culturally, if we try to keep the church very contemporary by living on the cutting-edge of the latest trends in music, then anyone older than mid-40’s is likely to feel increasingly isolated – middle-aged people gravitate from Radio 1 to other stations!

(3)  Worship songs all have unique tunes, and all have to be learned – even the predictable ones – and some of them maintain their distinctiveness by having very awkward parts or unusual gaps in the vocal which can catch people out.  So using this style is not a panacaea.

A related problem is one to which you alluded in your covering note, namely, the fact that music is moving more from participation to performance; and the worship song / worship group culture leans too easily in the same direction.  If people resist the challenge to engage in corporate worship, how deep is their commitment to discipleship?

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

I don’t have first-hand experience of these churches though I have enjoyed teaching from some of their leaders in books, on recordings or at conferences from time to time … my concern remains that a worship diet of songs alone, while it may give real immediacy to one’s experience, does not necessarily have the depth that is needed longer-term.  Personally, (I rather wish I could find an evangelical church where hymns were still valued at least as much as songs.)

Having said that, I guess many of us have memories of visiting churches where the music and singing were lamentable and embarrassing – who would want to take a new believer or someone interested in learning more about the faith there?  Any church needs to tailor its worship to become the best it can offer given its particular size, profile and skills; a simple thing done well may be far better (both as an offering with integrity to the Lord and as a means of commending Christianity to outsiders) than a half-hearted failure at something beyond the means of the participants.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

A big question, and there are many trends at work which make it hard to see an overall picture.

  • First, the culture of church is changing, and the churches are having to find new ways to engage people – more fluidity around times for services, less expectation of regular attendance when more people have to work on Sundays, and so on.
  • Secondly, there are the changes to music at the heart of this survey – for instance, the changing styles and arrangements and the different styles of words.  This affects both music (more guitars, fewer organs) and words (less regularity of rhyme and rhythm).  The last 40 years have seen a step-change in worship material; worship songs are here to stay, at least for my lifetime. (One example:  Singing the Faith, the new Methodist book, contains a large number of songs, far more than its 1983 predecessor.)
  • Thirdly, the technology:  the use of powerpoint-style displays prevent congregations from seeing a whole text at once, which can diminish their understanding of what they are singing; but are we nearing the end of the era of the printed hymnal?  (A vicar friend of mine noted recently that the price of Kindle-type devices is coming down; once it reaches the same level as a printed hymnal, why print any more?  Each device can be pre-loaded with just what is needed for the service, and handed out at the door … )
  • Along with this are the commercial aspects – if the “big” players are the recording companies to whom the singer/songwriters are contractually bound, then that will affect their style and content and influence what is offered to the market …

With all this in mind, I don’t feel hopeful for the traditional hymn.  What I do find, though, is that some of the songwriters are maturing and producing longer, more thoughtful, more hymn-like material.  Perhaps the future will see the emergence of a hybrid genre which recaptures the strengths of the traditional hymn while harnessing the benefits of the worship song … it’s a lot to ask, but it could be good.

 

Appendix 10

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes, because you get a sense of unity that you’re all there for the same reason and no matter how different you may be as individuals, you share one thing in common a belief in God.  Usually one thing in common with someone isn’t enough for friendships to last but in this case it’s different, because a belief in God is greater than just a simple like or dislike it affects your entire life and the way you live.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

To be honest I like both for different reasons.  I like hymns because they involve everybody singing and the songs never change.  I myself don’t like change very much so to know that something will stay the same and it won’t change is what I like.  That’s why I like music in general because no matter what, that song will never change and you know it will be exactly the same when you listen to it in a year’s time.
However, when I go to church I would like more meditation and when I used to go to my youth club and we would have worship nights, I enjoyed the meditation element.  Worship songs repeat verses and you have versus that are sung loudly and then it’s repeated but quietly.  When I sing these songs I can close my eyes and focus on what I am singing and I tend to feel God more when singing worship songs.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this you’re favourite?

My favourite hymn of all time is father I place into your hands.  Simply because ever since I can remember the words have stuck in my head.  Also the lyrics just mean so much to me, in that the song talks about God as a father so I can feel closer to him when I refer to him as a normal everyday person, such as a father.  Also it talks about having troubles and placing them into his hands, so it feels like I am giving him all my problems and he will help me out with them no matter what.

In terms of the worship song, I haven’t been to youth club since I went to university so I am out of sync with the worship songs, but one I do remember is how great is our God.  And I loved that song because you were just praising him and his name. And when they repeated it, it just felt how worship should feel.  Also when Jesus returns that is what people will be singing, well I think anyway.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Lyrics are more important because if you don’t understand the lyrics then you don’t know what your singing about. Also I have to be able to relate to the lyrics, otherwise it does not mean as much to me.  For example with pop music I like certain songs because the situation they are singing about relates to me as an individual.

The tune is still important because if it is difficult or boring it makes the song boring. However, I think if the lyrics are good and you can relate to them then the tune is less important.  But a simple, fun tune makes singing a lot more enjoyable.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

I think to begin with I would be irritated slightly because like I said early, am not keen on change.  Also if you know the words well then it’s difficult to not sing the words to the tune that you know, so I think it would be irritating because it had changed. However it depends how much the new words had changed.  If the words were made more modern but not changed completely then I would not mind that because I think you have to change sometimes to stay with the times.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I just think that you have to choose the hymns carefully to go with the service.  That applies whether it’s a special service or not.  I think you have to choose hymns based on the theme of the service otherwise it is a waste of time.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

To be honest when it comes to a wedding or a funeral then I think it is the individuals choice.  I would be quite sad if they did not include any because I think singing is important and creates unity as I have said previously.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I would agree with the statement as I feel the older generation don’t like change as I do.  However, like I have previously said change is inevitable and you have to get used to it as do I.  I think it appeals to young people and non church goers more simply because the older generation and church goers have not experienced worship songs and when they do they enjoy it.  So I think if church goers and the older generation did experience it then I would disagree with statement.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

I think churches do need to use more modern songs simply to get young people through the door. However, I think the old songs still need to be used because there are some good ones.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I think congregational song will still be used and enjoyed, but if people don’t sing more modern congregational songs then those churches will suffer.

 

Appendix 11

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

I do enjoy singing with a congregation and it is one thing I miss with being a minister – not because we don’t sing as a congregation, it is just that because I am so involved in the service, and am usually ‘mic’-ed up, I struggle to fully engage with the singing. It is different usually with the final song after the sermon. It is truly special to be singing with ‘one voice’ with people who whether we like it or not, are ‘family’ to us.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

I would say I do not have a clear preference. I appreciate the depth that you get (usually) in some of the hymns (for example, Be thou my vision, And can it be). These are sometimes easier to sing as a congregation (although increasingly less so as fewer people know them), because the finish is usually defined. However, there is something special about the more upbeat nature (usually) and more personal approach of the worship song, even if it can be harder to sing as a congregation. Songs such as ‘My Jesus, My Saviour’ were important to me in my early days as a Christian.

What I appreciate is how artists such as Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty have written what might be called modern hymns – these are good for congregational singing, have a good theological ‘depth’ but would not be classed as ‘dreary’!

It depends as well on whether I know the songs. I went to a very modern church last year and did not find the music offensive at all, but because all the songs were less than five years old, and from a particular music ‘stable’, I could not engage as I would have liked. No doubt if I worshipped there for six months, that would have been different.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

It is hard to say if I have a favourite as it changes. We had ‘Be thou my vision’ and ‘And can it be’ at our wedding and these will always be special hymns. We also sang the song ‘You laid aside your majesty’. If you were to ask me right now, which songs would I like to sing, I would say ‘I stand amazed in the presence’ (Tomlin version) and ‘In Christ Alone’ (Townend/Getty). I find that I am nearly always moved ‘inside’ when these songs are sung, particularly in a congregation. The words are hugely powerful as well – especially in ‘In Christ Alone’. I also like ‘Before the Throne of God above’ (‘When Satan tempts me to despair/and tells me of the guilt within/upward I look and see Him there/who brought an end to all my sin’).

These songs are my favourite because of: the words, the tunes, certain moments when they have encouraged me, and the fact that when I sing them I am singing them with a congregation who are singing with plenty of gusto.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

I think the lyrics are more important as we get such a lot of our doctrine from songs, rather than the Bible, and so I would be concerned about singing ‘dodgy’ doctrine, however good the tune. However, have a good tune is still valuable as it makes the songs more memorable, and also helps with congregational singing. The doctrine might be spot on, but for it to ‘stick’, there needs to be a good tune. That is why Townend/Getty get a good balance.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why? I think this is good. Although it is not new words/old tune, Chris Tomlin’s adaptation of ‘I stand amazed’ is exceptional and breathes new life into the song for me.

It helps with ‘older’ (I know that is a sweeping generalisation but I am sure you know what I mean) people if they know the tune as well and can be a good way of teaching them something.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

If there a good number of people at a service from outside the church, then it does affect the choice of songs. Ideally, we will try to get some good congregational singing going. This will usually mean choosing well known songs/hymns. However, there are not that many of them nowadays as people become less connected with the church. It may that we use the opportunity to teach people a song (see next answer).

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

That would not be a problem to me. I would never want people to feel hypocritical about what they do at a service like a wedding or a funeral. But if they don’t want any singing, I would want to know why that is. Is it because they don’t believe in God and so don’t want to sing about God? Does that jeopardise whether or not I would do the service in the first place?

I took a wedding recently and the couple just asked me to pick two songs. The problem was that even though they were ‘typical’ wedding songs, no-one really knew them and so the singing was dire. I wonder if it would have been better without songs. Or even whether I should have said ‘no’ to the wedding because they were clearly not engaged with what was being said, or sung – they just wanted the ‘church’ wedding.

If I was in a situation like that again, it might be that one of our musicians could teach the congregation a song. There is something to be said for the popularity of Gareth Malone and community choirs and we as churches have an opportunity there.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

It has a good element of truth about it but it runs the risk of making generalisations. If a worship song is more performance based, then a non-church goer who is not used to congregational singing may engage more with that. But then I know of older people who have come to faith at an older age and appreciate the worship song approach.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

There is a real danger that churches move towards entertainment, especially if people are not engaged with the singing themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean they HAVE to sing along, but they should be engaged with the words, and that usually means singing them. The danger is that that ‘spectator’ attitude to singing could permeate the church and so there is a ‘spectator’ attitude to discipleship.

There has to be a balance. New songs should always be introduced, from different styles. And some of these will be ‘modern worship songs’ with a style of music that connects with a certain generation. However, it is silly just to introduce songs like that for the sake of it – it is important to be contextual. If you are moving the church in a more modern direction and seeking to attract younger people, then the songs should be a part of that, not the whole of that.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I see it having a bright future, particularly because of the musicians I have mentioned above who are breathing new life into some of the ‘old favourites’ and writing songs with a particularly slant to being used in congregations.

I went to a funeral recently of an 85-year-old woman who had worshipped in the same village chapel (membership: nine!) all of her life. Her favourite song was ‘In Christ Alone’ – a song written in the last 10 years. That said a lot to me about how it is possible to have modern music, good doctrine and congregational singing.

Appendix 12

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes, it is uplifting to be in a body of God’s people praising him together.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

Depends on the type of service and the mix of music. Too many ‘worship songs’ (I hate that term because it suggests that hymns are not worship) drive me mad and detract from the focus of the worship – God!

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

This varies depending on my mood and how I feel. I could go on for ever with a list of hymns and songs I like. My all-time favourite  today, and it would be different tomorrow, is probably ‘The servant King’, as the words are amazing but several others come close including ‘Be Thou my Vision’ and ‘Praise to the Lord the Almighty’ which was my school hymn and every time I sing it I can here 900 girls singing it.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Both are important, but the tune need to be played with competency or it detracts from the hymn.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

I don’t mind as long as they fit as they allow you to concentrate on the words without worrying about the tune too much. Can be confusing if you haven’t looked the hymn up before you begin to sing and you start to sing the wrong hymn.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I don’t generally chose hymns for ‘special services’

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

Having been at a funeral where they was only 2 or 3 of us singing in 100 people then I don’t see any problem with it, although personally I would find the service incomplete.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I don’t think that is necessarily the case as some modern ‘worship songs’ have wide appeal and if you are unfamiliar with worship then it will still be odd to sing as a group.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

The music is part of the package. The younger generation may have very little experience of singing in a group setting, or even at all, so I’m not really convinced that they make a significant difference. The use of music to manipulate people’s emotions and the way it is sometimes presented in these evangelical churches actually puts some people off. I think it is far more important for the relationships within the church to be built and for people to feel welcome than the type of music that is used.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I really don’t know but hope it will continue. The lack of people to play at services is an increasing problem and singing to CDs is just not the same. At my own church it is an essential part of our Sunday worship, we will even sing unaccompanied on occasions, but there is no singing at the mid-week communion service. Music makes the service seem more of a celebration – we don’t generally have a party with out music!

Appendix 13

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes I believe it is an integral part of worship and one part where all can share. Paul said Sing hymns and psalms and so we should

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

Probably hymns because I am more familiar with them but do enjoy hearing the songs of worship if sung well

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Lord speak to me is my favourite hymn because of the last verse which says, “use me, Lord, use even my.” It is my favourite because it expresses the feeling that God has a place and a plan for all of us and even if we do not feel worthy in our eyes he will use us in his service.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Both are important. Words because of what they express but tunes because if you do not know or like the tune you can be distracted from the words.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

The familiarity of the tune helps us to concentrate on the new words.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

It is good to have more modern hymns for young people but many older people like them once they know them

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

It is sometimes better to have no hymns than a solo from the minister

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I do not agree with that. What will appeal to none church goers are more the ones that they learnt at school and then they are probably the older hymns.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Not sure that the type of hymn or worship song would encourage someone to join a church but may help them to stay once they have taken that first step across the door

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

Hopefully it will grow and perhaps more interesting musical instruments may be used but as a Moravian singing is very much a part of our heritage and theta should not be forgotten

Appendix 14

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes. It is an important part of the way I worship God.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

 

Hymns. Regular metres, predictable rhythms, good tunes, words that say something worthwhile.

 

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

 

Not really but if pressed:

All my hope on God is founded         –  expresses my firm belief

From heaven you came                       –  embraces the whole life of Christ

 

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

 

The words are the most important and the tune must not distract from them.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

 

New words to a known tune helps the singers to focus on the words without struggling with a new tune

 

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

Sunday by Sunday services need occasional new hymns and songs to increase the repertoire of the congregation. Special services need familiar ones.

 

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

No singing may be an individual choice but corporate singing may help others through emotional services.

 

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

Some songs are difficult for congregational singing, regardless of ages.

Theologically sound songs to a good tune can appeal to any age.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

A healthy mix of hymns and songs, old and new, is the best diet for any church

 

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

Worshippers may be fewer but congregational song will always be important to the majority.

 

Appendix 15

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

I enjoy congregational singing for several reasons – it brings people together in fellowship; it enables those who don’t sing well to join in without having to prove that they have a good voice; music can set the mood and lift the spirits, or emphasize the words; the words can be more meaningful when sung together.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

I prefer hymns. Although there are many hymns with archaic words and dreary tunes, there are many classics that will never die and much new hymnody to be explored and enjoyed. Worship songs can mean a great deal, but can sometimes feel as though they are performance pieces with rhythms, breaks and repeats that can be difficult to follow unless the pieces are known well. And items that are purely repetitive can become meaningless, or hypnotic, masking the true nature of worshipping with music.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

It would be impossible for me to choose just one hymn – or worship song. An old favourite hymn would have to be MY SONG IS LOVE UNKNOWN. A new favourite would be LET US BUILD A HOUSE by Marty Haugen. The first one is such a wonderful re-telling of the story of Jesus and the tune LOVE UNKNOWN fits it beautifully. It stirs the emotions. The second one is an amazing interpretation of the purpose and meaning of church as community. A modern text and tune, but the tune is easily picked up and sung. There are many more I could choose, although I would veer more towards today’s writers than those of the past. For a worship song – again, difficult to choose just one, but perhaps BE STILL FOR THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD – although that has now become such a classic that it’s almost regarded as a hymn by now.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

For me, the lyrics are the most important. Some tunes are strong enough to carry weak words, but in that case I would be looking for new words that were more appropriate to today and would make the tune more meaningful.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

If the old tune is strong enough to carry the new words, then I am perfectly happy. I write words myself, but have no musical ability at all, so I rely on tunes that I know to carry my words until, sometimes, a new tune is written for them. Tunes are flexible and if they’re good enough to be re-used, why not?

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

As a Methodist Local Preacher I do not conduct special services like weddings and funerals, but every service I conduct is special to that congregation and I choose hymns very carefully for each one. If it appears that there may be people there who may not be used to church, then I would carefully choose words that could be understood and tunes that I hope could be sung. I’ve been involved in writing hymns and other material for the ‘special’ services to which you refer.

 

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

I doubt if I would be involved in such a service, but if I were I should hope that I could at least offer the possibility of some music – even in the background – at some stage in the proceedings.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I would say, ‘Not necessarily.’ The tunes may have some appeal, but many worship songs have music of a type that will seem totally outdated to people who are not used to them. And many worship songs use language that is directly taken from the Bible and may well not mean a thing to those who know nothing of the Bible anyway. It is also surprising how many young people and children rediscover old hymns that still have meaning and present them as if they were new – BE THOU MY VISION being a prime example.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

It can be important, but I have a personal concern that some of the churches that appear to attract large crowds because of the music are becoming performance arenas in which people can become anonymous and may never really grasp the personal commitment that is an essential part of being a Christian.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I believe that it will go on. The recent growth of new choirs – the Gareth Malone effect, if you like – has shown that when people sing together there is a spirit generated that produces community and friendship. Translate that into church life and the communal singing produces fellowship and caring. Worship is at its best when people join in song and prayer and praise.

 

Appendix 16

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes.  I think most people enjoy singing in one form or another, e.g. singing in the bath, singing with a crowd of people at a pop concert or a football match.  Also, singing in church as part of a congregation is a wonderful expression of our shared worship of God.  Using the poetry and sometimes deep ideas expressed in the lyrics of hymns and songs can raise congregation worship to a higher level.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

I have no preference.  I like singing both hymns and worship songs.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

I have a few favourite hymns.

If I was to single out one hymn it would be “O Loving Lord, you are for ever seeking, those of your mind, intent to do your will.”  This is Hymn 244 in the new Moravian Hymn Book and Hymn 270 in the old Moravian Hymn Book.  This was a hymn that meant a lot to me when I felt called to and was training for the ordained ministry.  I actually had it at my ordination service.

The first verse refers to God’s call and how we need to be faithful to that call.  The second verse remind us that however much we try to be faithful to God, there are times when we fail God and in this verse we ask God for his forgiveness.  The third verse remind us that we are called to be faithful in the small duties of life, as well as the bigger duties, and that it is through faithfulness that comes delight and salvation.  Although I understand and agree with the changing of the words of the last line of hymn in the new Moravian Hymn Book, it does spoil the hymn for me.  In the new book the last line reads, “True to ourselves, our calling, and our Lord.”  The old book read, “True to ourselves, our brethren, and our Lord.” Throughout my ministry I have always held on to those words and tried to be faithful to myself, my brother and sisters in Christ and, indeed, all people, and to God.

It helps if a hymn has a good tune, and this hymn has a couple of good tunes that it can be sung to.

I don’t really have a favourite worship song.  Although, there are lots of worship songs I enjoy singing.  I suppose, in the case of a worship song, a good tune is really important.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

I in the case of a hymn the words are marginally more important, although if the tune is really awful or hard to sing, it is no good.  In the case of a worship song, as long as the words are not really awful, the tune is marginally more important

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

I do not mind sing a new hymn to an old tune.

It also does not bother me if the words of a traditional hymn are changed as long as there is a good reason for changing the words.  Indeed, there are some hymns with really good tunes that congregations still want to sing that have some totally out of date lyrics that need to be changed if we are going to continue to sing them in church, e.g. archaic language, politically incorrect language.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, i.e. when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

At more sombre worship services, e.g. Remembrance Sunday, I may be less likely to use worship songs.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

I would be fine about this.  I actually agree that it adds nothing positive to a service if the congregation are not used to singing, and feel awkward and embarrassed about having to do so, and the minister ends up more or less giving a solo performance – especially if the minister has not got a particularly good singing voice.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I am not sure this is completely so.  I know a number of young people and people outside the church who appreciate some of the traditional hymns. Indeed, some worship songs may be less familiar to people outside the church than a traditional hymn with a really good tune.  Having said this, on the whole, young people do appreciate worship songs with a modern tune and a good beat to them, and think that this is also true of non-church people who may come to occasional services.  Of course, in the case of non-church people coming to an occasional service, it is helpful if the tunes are easy to pick up and sing.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

I think the choice of hymns and worship songs is important.  However, there are many other factors have to be taken into account when looking at the growth of evangelical churches that have nothing to do with worship – the whole ethos of these churches is often quite different to those of the more established churches.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

Congregational singing will continue to play a major part in church worship services.  New hymns and worship songs will continue to be written and most, probably all churches, will use both in their worship.

 

Appendix 17

 

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes – it stirs emotion and creates solidarity amongst a congregation.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

I like both because it depends upon the type of worship.  A traditional service with perhaps a liturgical base suits hymns.  An all-age or café style worship suits worship songs.  It also depends on the accompaniment.  Worship songs are not good with organs!

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

My song is love unknown – my favourite hymn which speaks of the sacrifice made for us, usually sung at my favourite time of year, Easter.

Everything – one of my favourite worship songs.  Basically anything by Tim Hughes! (see links below to Everything, Beautiful and Here I am to worship.

Great lyrics and emotionally charged.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V0rgrt1nTM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9bC9CRv9oU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQOrYs8s_XM&list=PL5448EBC78BD077A9

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Lyrics are important.  Even the loveliest tune can be ruined by dodgy theology or corny lyrics.  The same can be said the other way round.  The 23 Psalm is set in so many ways from the classic hymn to the “Vicar of Dibley” version and all are wonderful because the basis is sound.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

Not always comfortable with this.  The familiarity of the tune makes it easier to sing first time round but you can still be distracted by trying to understand new lyrics.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

Weddings are difficult because often the majority of the guests are non-church goers so even the most familiar or traditional hymns may be lost on them.  However, ‘special’ services are just that, they are special to whoever or whatever they are dedicated to so it should be a personal choice.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

See above – it is sometimes less embarrassing to have no singing than a half-hearted attempt by one or two to carry a congregation.  However, if it was a special service commemorating a church festival I would be less comfortable not having singing.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I might agree that worship songs appeal to younger people because they can relate to the more accessible lyrics and melodies as it sounds more ‘pop’ or ‘folk’ but non-church goers will still see/hear the ‘god’ in it and feel the same way as they do about hymns.  People are also less inclined these days to join in communal singing apart from at live concerts.

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

You will always attract people who are inclined to enjoy what you are already doing.  Sticking with traditional hymns will attract people who like that kind of worship.  If you change the music to attract ‘young’ or ‘new’ people you may risk losing the established members or worshipers who have valued the original music.  The choice will aid the growth in some churches, which has to be a good thing, but it may not necessarily be your church!

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

While people continue to meet to worship God there will be an expectation to sing to praise God and to help us to tell our story, if only amongst ourselves.  Congregational singing is part of the hallmark of church and anyone entering a church will expect there to be singing of some sort, traditional or modern.  I personally hope it continues.

Appendix 18

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes, I get a lot out of singing both individually and in a congregation.  It is a form of worship in which all can take part and can have great meaning.

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

Much depends on the day or the occasion.  I get frustrated sometimes with the limitations of the hymn book as some hymns are outdated and with the alteration of some of the words to make it more pc but other times find the worship songs to be too diluted and Americanised.

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

I tend to have hymns that have meaning for the occasion, rather than a favourite.  For example, “as the deer” reminds me of my youngest son’s baptism or “dear Lord and Father” was one of my wedding hymns.  I like lots of worship songs too as they tend to have more depth of meaning for me when I’m singing them.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

I feel they complement each other.  If the words are right but the tune is difficult or unknown it can take away from the enjoyment of singing (or vice versa if the words are not right).  A beautiful tune goes a long way though to making the hymn / song work.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

It can be very helpful to do this as it familiarises the singer with the new words without having to worry about the tune as well.  The new tune can then be introduced later if needed.

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

Much depends on who is going to be present and what resources are available.  I’d like to use more worship songs but am limited as the church only has hymn books.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

I would probably offer some sort of CD accompaniment first, then would allow them not to have music if preferred.  Having battled through unknown or unsung hymns etc at a wedding it can be very difficult! But silence at a funeral is not always helpful.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

This would probably be true more so because of the more upbeat nature of songs and more modern concepts as some hymns can be seen to be slow and boring.  There would still be a large part of the congregation of all ages who would prefer worship songs to hymns, so we can’t exclude them by age!

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

If the service is seen to be slow and boring and stuck in the 18th century through its choice of music, it will not appeal to the modern church goer.  While older hymns have their place, more modern music can often help to encourage attendance (though sometimes familiar tunes can).

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

I see it having to evolve to survive. Just as we now have modern translations (not all of them good!) of the Bible and up to date resources for worship, the singing in worship must develop too to incorporate that which has theological depth and that which appeals to the wider audience.  Singing together has a more powerful effect than singing alone, but only if all sing together.  There is still an important place for congregational song to promote unity in worship.

Appendix 19

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Usually, yes. Because I enjoy music and, if the words are appropriate, it gives added depth and meaning to the whole act of worship. Singing together is also a unique opportunity for the congregation to join actively in the worship.(I wonder what evidence there is for your statement that the world is turning away from group singing? I would have thought it still quite popular cf. Gareth Malone etc.)

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

If we are on the same wavelength  about what you mean by ‘hymns’ and ‘songs’, generally, I prefer hymns because for me they have a depth and enrich worship in a way that most worship songs don’t. However, I’m quite happy to sing most worship songs if they help other people. (But please don’t ask me to sing “Shine jesus shine”!! I know you either love it or hate it. I’m in the latter group.)

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

So many, I wouldn’t want to be tied down to one favourite.

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Definitely, the lyric is the more important but tunes are also important.

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

No problem as longs as the words and tune fit one another

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

Not quite sure what you are getting at here. The hymns should always fit the occasion and not just be chosen because they are somebody’s favourite. E.g. ‘I vow to thee my country’ may have been OK for Charles and Diana but is not suitable for a normal wedding.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

No problem. Probably better to have no hymns than badly sung ones.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

Probably true for young people but I think it depends on the people involved. Lots of traditional hymns have a great appeal to many non-church goers cf. TV’s ‘Songs of Praise’

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

Hymns/songs are important but the sort of music depends on the circumstances and the people you are trying to reach.

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

Hymns/songs will continue to play an important part in church worship, with a mixture of hymns and songs. And remember that there are many very good modern hymns. Probably more  hymns have been written in the past 25 years than in the previous 100 years.

 

Appendix 20

Do you enjoy congregational singing in worship, and why?

Yes – I enjoy singing as an activity in itself with or without a religious aspect. As a minister I like having activities that all in the congregation can join in with – it is a corporate act for young and old together

Do you prefer singing hymns or worship songs more in worship and why?

Generally I prefer the objectivity of hymns – the fact that the best hymns are statements of theology with real progression of thought and that goes for modern hymns as well as the great classics.  However I am aware that there are many in my congregation who prefer worship songs over hymns – and there are times in worship when worship songs have a great place –when you want to surrender to the presence of God in a place – when just resting in God means you can allow your heart and mind to be still

Do you have a favourite hymn and a favourite worship song and why is this your favourite?

Favourite hymns – Children of the heavenly king – great song of life’s journey and hope at the end; There’s a wideness in God’s mercy – my theology; As the deer pants for the water – a song of desire for God’s blessing; There is a redeemer – what a song of hope at the end; Be still for the presence of the Lord – recognising God is with us in our worship.  Guide me O thou great Jehovah – My sense of God’s leading and provision even in the difficult times.

Worship Song – Worthy is the Lamb – so Moravian in its expressions of adoration for Jesus the Lamb of God

Which is more important, the tune or the lyrics or are they both of equal importance?

Lyrics have to be the most important – can’t sing dreadful hymns/theology even if the tune is good – I vow to thee my country…. Or and did those feet …both good examples of hymns I cannot sing even though the tunes are great

But great lyrics need good tunes – I won’t pick a hymn that I don’t think the congregation won’t like to sing

How do you feel if we use new words with an old tune and why?

No problems – in fact St Gertrude has been given new life as an old tune with a great Easter hymn Jesus Prince and Saviour

How does the nature of the service affect your choice of hymns or worship songs, ie when it’s a wedding or another “special” service?

I would always go for well-known songs/hymns/tunes that people have a chance of knowing and are suitable for the service – So I am very happy to have All things bright and beautiful etc for weddings and funerals if means people can be included.  I never want music to exclude people which I have seen when people are confronted with worship songs when they come from a non- church background.

Some people have taken to having weddings and funerals without having any hymns or songs due to the lack of participation when they are used. How would you feel if someone wanted to have a special service without congregational singing?

It would be their choice – but I would not recommend it.

How would you respond to the statement, “Worship songs appeal to young people and non-church goers more.”?

I’m not sure about the validity of this statement – worship songs need to be listened to a couple of times before you pick them up

How important do you feel is the choice of hymns or worship songs to the growth of a church numerically bearing in mind the growth in evangelical churches like the Vineyard church and the fact that these use modern worship songs?

I think the choice of music is vital – I spend ages trying to get a balance of styles of songs/hymns but always looking for what the congregation will enjoy singing that fits in with the style of the service – I do not agree with the idea of singing all the hymns in the hymnbook in some form of rotation – some older ministers used to note down in their hymnbooks when the congregation sang a particular hymn so they would not repeat it too often and so would try and go through the hymnbook …. Not a good way to try and bring in new people if the regular congregation are struggling though a load of unknown hymns themselves

Where do you see the future of congregational song?

It’s a vital part of our worship because it is what we do together – we lift our voices as one to our Lord in praise and worship or we reaffirm our theology together in the presence of God. I have discovered over the years that for Christian people very often the hymns stay longer than the Bible verses – this is particularly true of those who have age related memory loss but also true for people in times of stress where remembered hymns/songs go very deep

However songs/hymns are not the only way of using music in worship – there is the whole area of sung responses and prayers – Taize, Iona or others and the Roman Catholic tradition uses much fewer hymns than we do but still has music in its worship.  My own congregation love singing The Lord’s Prayer to the Joseph Lees setting and has happily sung responses to prayers

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.