Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Wednesday, July 4

Out of touch with Worship

While I was in my 16-month self-imposed exile from my church I experienced a variety of worship styles.

My starting point:

The singing in my church is based on modern worship songs and choruses, led by a band of competent musicians. In fact, we have four bands that play on different weeks. The band leader is in effect the worship leader during the songs, deciding on rhythm, style, what verse to do next, etc. Generally they are very good. I am biased of course, since my children are involved playing acoustic and base guitars and singing. But my favourite instrument is the drums – they somehow convey the power and majesty of God more than the other instruments.


The music at my next church was predominantly hymns. Within each service some hymn would be played on the organ and led by a choir of three shrill women. Other songs would be either modern worship songs or hymns led by a poorly amplified band of acoustic guitar, singer, and perhaps something else. The overall impression was of a predominantly traditional approach to music being dragged slowly reluctantly and ineffectively with too many compromises into the 21st century.


The next church was much smaller and much more limited in its pool of resources. There would be three reasonably good singers with microphones at the front, and the organ or piano would be played by someone shipped in from outside the church – a different person each week. In family services the curate’s children were let loose with recorders and tiny tom-toms. Before the service started there would be some worship songs, but during the service it was all hymns.

‘Before the service started there would be worship songs’ – how self-contradictory and just plain wrong is that?


During the third church I started to pine for the modern worship songs I used to sing. Hymns are all very well, but they tend to be ‘about’ God, rather than ‘to’ God. It was much harder to get into them, to sing them with passion. In one focus group activity I asked ‘how can we move from just singing songs to worship?’ The hymns were not doing it for me. But my comment was rebuffed. We do worship. I began to change my view – not necessarily of the hymns themselves but at least of the people singing them and their sincerity and spirituality.

And as often happens, without you really knowing it, you find yourself actually liking it. The rhythm of the services, the atmosphere, etc. And I was happy.

Except of course for all the trouble with my wife and the Sunday School and the curate’s attitude to children I the church making it very difficult to bring our daughter, and the whole thing of being called/sent back to our original church and the mess around all of that.

And I found myself back singing the worship songs I had pined for.

This should be great. But there is something broken about it – it’s not the way it was before. Partly this is from what I call this the Rip Van Winkle effect.

Some of those who used to be band-leaders have moved on, while new ones have come in. They lack the same skill and experience, it doesn’t flow so well. Also one of the bright rising stars is the son of he-whom-we-still-have-trouble-forgiving and it hurts every time his offspring – unfairly guilty by association – is in the limelight.

It’s also partly because I have separately developed a taste for Gregorian chant. I love the mood it creates. I just wish there was more variety in the songs sung in Gregorian chant (and Russian and Greek Orthodox chant or Byzantine chant and even some Anglican chant) – but most of the limited repertoire that there seems to be on YouTube is too Mariolatrously Catholic for me to really enter into.

But setting aside all those transient things, I still find it hard to get into the music again. I guess it is all part of the sense of unsettledness resulting form all the moves and a psychological reluctance to get too involved again in case it all flares up again and we move again in six months. God forbid!

But even deeper than that is a changed perception of the worship songs and the way we sing them. Somehow it seems a little too shallow and fluffy. And yet I know it is not shallow and fluffy. When you engage with it, it is deeply moving and God has often spoken to me through it. But there is something ‘not there’ in my worship at present.

Maybe I just don't love God at present.  But I think I do.  And anyway Evangelical theology is that Salvation is not about our temporary 'feeling-state'.

I’m just thinking aloud.

Overall, I think it is mostly the scars from all the moves and from hurts that set the moves off.

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