Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bridging the Gap

One of the advantages that conservative like myself have is that we usually get to sit back and work out how something is going to develop before we throw ourselves into a situation. We tend not to be 'blow about by every vain blast of doctrine' but at our best we work for continuity and stability in the Church as it preaches the Gospel to every generation. I also think it is very important for those in leadership positions in the Church to have an overview not just of what is going on in the here and now, but also the trends leading to where we are now, and we also need a certain ability to 'read the runes' of where the church is going.

Well, what I am trying to say is that Traditional Anglicans have a major problem right now. Put in simple terms we have married the spirit of the age - in our case, the 1950s - and we are very close to finding ourselves widows in the next. Increasingly we look like 'the Museum Church' not 'the Living Church' which is precisely the same problem that the Episcopal Church, which is married to the Seventies. Neither approach is bring folks to the Church, though it has to be conceeded that the Continuum is loosing people at a far slower rate than TEC. At least it seems that fifty years out of date is far enough to be somewhat timeless, not just old.

Now I am sure that by this point you are expecting a sales pitch for music groups, drum kits, "Rite 3," burlap banners, name tags, and charismatic carryings-on. Well, not quite! For a start, name tags and burlap banners are so 90s, man! Rite 3 is pretty old hat as well. That was 'happening' when I was a student in the late 1980s. No, what I am getting at is that Continuing Anglicans need to build a bridge to the culture, not that of the secular left, but that of wider Christianity in the USA. We need to have a bridge in place so that some of those who are semi-churched, the unchurched, and those who attend 'shallow churches' can cross into a fuller and deeper expression of Christianity, and in many ways, the path to doing this is through music.

I have to be honest and say that I am as apt to reach for the garlic and a crucifix when someone mentions 'praise and worship music' to me as the most rigid of Spikes. The other thing that I have realised is that the 1928 Prayer Book is not a stumbling block, but some of the music that we use - well, let us just say "Oh Dear!" We have moade the mistake - at least in the USA where we have an official hymnal - of Canonizing a Hymn Book. To an Englishman - where we have never had an official hymnal - I have to say this seems a little - erm - odd. I think we need to remind ourselves of an eighteenth century Evangelical Anglican (Whitefield? Newton? One of the Wesleys?) who said, "why should the devil have all the best tunes?" so why have we chosen to freeze our selection at one point in history omitting not just many good new songs, but many old and valuable hymns?

At University I heard and sang a lot of the then current P&W music, however I remember only two or three of them twenty years later. There is a sense in which they are musical ephemera. On the other hand, I do remember the old Wesleyan standards such as 'O for a thousand tongues to sing' ,"And can it be" and so forth, which I learned alongside the P&W music. I think you can see the case I am making - that we need to bridge the gap.

However, bridging that gap is an exercise that needs a little bit of thought. I honestly think we had it right so far as Anglicanism was concerned, when I was a student. The church I attended did P&W music until the beginning for the formal liturgy, then we had a very simple formal liturgy - with not too many men in funny frocks, and during this formal liturgy traditional hymns were used; then during Communion and after the service they used P&W music again. It seemed to bridge the gap. However, I do know one way of really fouling up the sort of bridge approach that I am taking about and that is to use the Praise Music that was current when I was a student in the late 1980s - which is precisely what so many churches do!

One interesting phenomomen that I have observed in churches that offer both traditional and more contemporary is that as folks become more committed and more comfortable with "the Church thing" they tend to move across to more traditional services. I really do not see why continuing Anglicans have such a block with letting the musical side of worship evolve while the liturgy, which does have enduring value, remains fixed. It seems to me that where there is a real need for it, many churches could benefit from having a traditional service and a slightly more contemporary one to reach out and make a new generation of Anglicans. We all know that the old ones are dying off fast enough.

At the end of the day we belong to the Church, not the Hymnal and Prayer Book Preservation Society. Our function, our great commission is to "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them whatsoever things I commanded you..." Are we achieving that by clinging so firmly to everything from the past? Or do we need to build that bridge? I believe that we need to build that bridge before it is too late, and we become just another footnote in religious history.


  1. WOW! Not quite the post I was expecting! I've had quite a smattering of a background and eventually landed in a Lutheran church that was traditional and eventually became Anglican when that denomination went the way of too many. Along that path, I led music for a contemporary church and got utterly burned out with such an emphasis on trying to people up and exciting to praise the Lord. That burn out is what led me to discover liturgy finally and fall in love with it.

    Long story short, in our little church plant I help with music. I play guitar and lead the corporate songs (I never do solos). And what you described from your early days in the '80s is akin to how I've been leading our music, though using the guitar. Like you impress upon us, there is no need to abandon what we have, but there is a need to receive what is good about the new stuff out there and figure out a way to integrate it. One thing that i do is that I always try to balance the old and new (usually something like 2 contemporary worship songs with 2 older hymns) throughout the service and I have found that that balance works well, even when I use contemporary versions of the old hymns because it is the depth of lyrics that I am after (because we all know that not all contemporary worship music is known for depth!). But I do like how your old service was laid out. That would definitely work in a place that had an organist leading music alongside a group leading the contemporary.

    One thing also for people to consider is the placement of the people leading the contemporary music, especially if it becomes more of a "band" of musicians. I'm of the opinion that it is best for them to be behind everyone to keep it from getting the feeling of a concert as opposed to a worship service. But that is above all, as well as everything else, my humble opinion. Thanks for the reflection on this stuff! I appreciate it and hope this sparks some discussion!

  2. I think the St Andrews University Christian Union tends to strike a good balance, despite being a sodality and not a parish church. There are both older hymns and newer hymns by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty, as well as a bit of Hillsong, and all these are sung heartily by university students.

    It also seems to me that the Litany could easily be used separately with appropriate P&W hymns attached at the end.

  3. If you mix Old & new , you simply end up upsetting both groups. "and can it be" belongs in the Protestant churches, I should be most distressed to hear this in an Anglican church. It is musical rubbish...the real problem is, the guitar happy-clappys aren't doing anything "modern", just performing poorly-written words of extremely dodgy theological value set to risible pseudo-folky musical garbage

    the exodus from the churches started with this"modernising".....people don't attend church for the mundane

  4. Just found your blog. I would tend to agree with the last poster.

    With a Doctorate in Music, and having found 'musical salvation' in the Anglican Choral Tradition, (being raised Roman, and then a very short foray into 'Evangel-icalism'- shudder!) the last decent 'contemporary' praise song I remember was 'Seek Ye First' by Karen Lafferty. That one is already forty years old. I almost lost my faith with Vatican II, "Kumbaya" and "Michael, Row your boat ashore." Literally.

    And as for guitars/'praise bands'? A clear sign of dodgy theology. I'd rather sing from a metricized version of the Psalter as the CRC used to do, (they used to be 'male only Elders,' now they are all about 'social justice' and 'female elders' and are now ALSO into 'praise bands'...see a trend?) than go the way of all flesh/guitars.

    No, what you need is a 'come out of her, and be ye separate' cultural vision, that would embrace paid musicians, a choir school approach tied with catechesis, and the older Anglican Cathedral school model. A sort of "Christian Reconstructionist" view of Music.

    Which (of course) means money, institutions, and (most of all) a college for Anglican Youth. As 'continuers' for the last thirty years, it's the ONE thing no Trad. Anglican jusrisdiction has YET done.

    Could you get one going before my children graduate from High School? Or at least have a working relationship with some Reformed College that would allow/countenance an Anglican presence on campus? - Doctor of Music