While we’re having a go at the Eucharist, how about Cathedrals?

Last week’s article in the Church of England newspaper about re-examining the Eucharist got me thinking. Is the way that a large number of Anglican churches do the Eucharist not the only thing in church life that is dominated by forms of practice that are rooted in a particular period of Christian history? For example, is the cycle and style of daily worship in Cathedrals fixated with a particular way of doing corporate worship that belongs to particular times and circumstances in the history of the church which we have now moved beyond? Whilst the monastic cycle was vital (and still is) for cloistered communities of religious, is this way of ordering daily prayer appropriate for the 21st century? Already we have new mission orders like those based out of St Thomas Philadelphia (in Sheffield) who operate within a cycle of prayer that is radically different then the more “catholic” model adopted in every single cathedral in England today.

But my real bug-bear with cathedrals is the style of worship. It’s not that I don’t mind traditional worship – far from it – but every single time I have been in a cathedral the worship has been “traditional” (and please don’t get me started about the fact that every single time I have been to a diocesan gathering of clergy it’s exactly the same story). It’s not that some cathedrals aren’t innovative in the way that the do the traditional. Take for example Canterbury Cathedral where this December’s vigil on the Feast Day of Thomas Beckett was a gloriously executed re-enacting of the Vespers being sung when he was martyred. Great choir, great story, great incense, but very, very traditional.

I know that there are some cathedrals that have dared to do something different. Take for example the FEIG community based in and around Gloucester Cathedral. It is hardly traditional in any sense of the word, but it’s leadership are part of the Cathedral community. However, whilst FEIG carries on around it, Gloucester Cathedral itself gets on with all it’s normal services very much of a traditional Anglican form.

44 dioceses, 44 cathedrals and all of them following traditional forms of worship. Why is this? More importantly why should it be this way, especially when in the Church of England modern charismatic forms of worship are a huge part of the Sunday scene. Research shows that well over a third of regular worshipers use modern forms of worship with New Wine / Spring Harvest style music predominantly in the fore and not a single cassock or ruff in sight. Of the 160 largest churches (those with membership over 350), almost all are Evangelical with a guitar far more likely to be played on Sunday then an organ.

What are Cathedrals for after all? Beyond being the home of the Cathedra of the Bishop, most of them are simply very large city centre churches. Once you strip away the occasional ceremonial service with the Diocesan, there is often nothing that they do that isn’t done elsewhere. Is it perhaps time for us to think radically about how Cathedrals should express the worshipping life of the whole Church of England?

Here’s an idea. When you look at Sheffield (just to pick one diocese at not so random), why not move the Bishop’s Cathedra from the city centre church to the St Thomas Philadelphia campus? St Thomas is arguably a much better example of the kind of worship most prevelant across the city and the numbers attending on a Sunday are far, far greater then the current Cathedral. There is already a charismatic cycle of prayer going on every day and there would be no problem hosting ordinations, major festivals and other special services. Why not give it a go for a year and see Stephen Croft?

What do you think?

Posted in Church of England, Ecclesiastical, Worship Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Kelso

    I think the rot in the church set in when we left the traditional Book of Common Prayer for all this Holy Roller Nonsense. We Anglicans should be preserving beauty for the ages – not following the fads of jumping around the nave singing cheap music whilst clowns lead communion.

    • Jill

      Amen to that, Kelso! It's difficult enough to find places of worship without guitars, drums and big screens. At least one can guarantee dignified worship at Cathedrals. I never miss Evensong at a Cathedral if I get the chance. Wonderful!

      • Tom

        Or in Cambridge? Choral evensong from King's was transmitted live on Wednesday.

  • Not being in the C of E, it's hard to imagine the worship that goes on in many places on a Sunday. Though the Episcopal Church has been captive to many strange liturgical innovations in recent years, the ethos is still very much rooted in the BCP, both for liberals and conservatives, though they understand it differently. The idea of parishes celebrating mega-church style with almost no liturgy, or on the opposite extreme celebrating out of the Roman missal, is shocking and feels somehow profoundly un-Anglican.

    All of that being said, though I'm a High Churchman, I'm not one of those fussy types who believes that the appearance of a guitar in worship equals instant aesthetic abomination. I'm glad that the C of E cathedrals maintain the BCP liturgies, especially given the strange latitude afforded many parishes. But perhaps what they could do, a la your suggestions, is to find ways of doing those liturgies in new ways. There's nothing inherent in a BCP liturgy that says that you can't do away with some of the excess vestments or use other forms of worship music. Of course, I think that the way the buildings are laid out will have a lot to do with the success or lack thereof of such experimentation, but it couldn't hurt. A bit of 1662 meets 2011. What could be more Anglican than that?

  • Alathia

    It is difficult to strike a happy medium of what worship is ‘contemporary’ worship. Personally, the thought of a church, let alone a cathedral, where t-shirt, baggy jeans wearing 30 somethings strum out the chords of personal pronoun rich chorus on guitars, while the congregation bleats along, thinking they love God when it might just be a case of liking the music, chills me to the bone. Yet, surplice and cassocked choir boys and men, having a whale of a time singing a dissonant, incomprehensible and inaccessible piece by Poulenc or the like also leaves me rather cold. Both are examples of particular – and I would even argue exclusive – cultures.

    My own research has meant spending a good deal of time with a certain Evangelical new religious movement. I have been particularly impressed and challenged by the place this movement gives to single people and celibacy – one of the married elders noted, in a research interview I was conducting, that sometimes married people can feel almost second class citizens. I found this ironic when usually the reverse is the case in so many churches. It made me think that if perhaps I had found this fellowship earlier on in my life, I may not have decided (after many years of singleness) to settle down in a same-sex relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with my situation – I’d even go as far as to say I think it is God-given; but still, my research has challenged me. I did mention this, at the end of my last interview with one of the elders. However I noted that I doubt I would have become a member of the fellowship even if I had come across it at an earlier time in my life, simply because I can’t stand its worship: lots of ‘me-me-me’ choruses, lots of noise and a good deal of emotional masturbation.

    Horses for courses I suppose, though neither situation thrills me: inaccessible, elite choral music nor Evangelical smiling, guitar strumming ‘contemporary’ worship. But this is my own take and thankfully, not everyone is me!

    I think you have a point, here, that Cathedrals need to move on from a style of music begun by the likes of Byrd in the 16th century. But I also think there needs to be a fuller understanding in parish circles of the purpose and history of liturgy – not least in Evangelical churches where the effort to be contemporary can cross the boundary into cliché. Tho’ it is doubtful many of those who cling to the English Hymnal would be founts of knowledge if asked why the Eucharist, matins or vespers have a particular order or texts! In the late 80s ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ became a well known hit, yet few of those who sang it had any knowledge the Phos Hilaron and its place in Christian liturgy. Does this matter? Yes, I think it does. Liturgy means ‘The Work of the People’ – it is not just about nice warm feelings or making a church look like it has its ‘finger on the pulse’. Liturgy is in itself ‘Evangelical’; it is also sacramental, expressing in time and space something of the heavenly Kingdom. There is a need for balance, but in the polarised Christianity of today, styles of worship have become (as with so many other things) badges of tribal identity when in reality they need to be expressions of ontological purpose.

    • James

      Thanks for that, Alathia – yes, there IS a problem of "snobbery" amongst SOME people who can't stand the happy clappy stuff (I am probably one of the snobs here, unfortuantely). And yes, a lot of it has become inaccessible. And yes, the stuff being composed today that is beautiful tends to be very inaccessible – but this has been the case of most Western art in the last century. It has a lot to do with romantic prejudices and their consequences as cultures try to move forward with them.

      I went to check out this "Shine Jesus Shine" –


      What we can note about this piece:
      It is obviously written for solo voice and not congregational singing – or at least, the congregational aspect is ignored in essential points. Notice the way the syncopation in singing "Shine Jesus Shine" encourages a slight R&B'ish rubato (not singing *precisely* on the note or half note – messing a bit with where the attack (beginning) of the note takes place) – so the solo male voice is slightly out of sync with the background singalong choir.

      What we need to ask about a piece like "Shine Jesus Shine" is: why does it inspire? What is good about it? There are some aesthetically good things about it. It's good for people with a really, really simplistic taste in music – e.g., people who have been listening to the Carpenters and adult pop shopping music and little else, who can barely understand development in music and how music "builds up" to certain moments. Check out how the chorus is sort of foreboding – rushing – a dramatic tension is set up, in a very very short space – the tension is set up by the verses which never quite hit harmonic resolution, it sounds like there's sort of an implicit desire for the ear to hear a fifth or something like that. Then, with the chorus, after such little development, that resolution is fulfilled. I'd have to listen more carefully, figure out the key and intervals etc. in order to make this analysis more precise, but then it would also only really make sense to musicians – though this is important to realize – your unconscious mind is doing all these things, longing for harmonic resolution – non-musicians simply don't know how to express what is going on, or why they find certain moments of music "exciting."

      Anyways – this is a very FAST emotional buildup, which is then "satisfied" with the verse. It's great for someone with rather simplistic musical tastes, and it's even sort of nice to hear once or twice. But if you hear it too often, it really grates – the "cheapness" of the music becomes more apparent. But people are motivated to think that if they admit that the music is grating – that they are somehow "not charismatic" or deficient in inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Or that they are just being obnoxious or snobbish. This is simply not the case. The piece does have its merits, but it is NOT fit for repetition more than a few times a year by persons who regularly hear music and have the opportunity of developing musical taste. Our problem tends to be: we HEAR so much music, without LISTENING to it, that we actually stunt the development of musical taste. This is one of the reasons why so few today really appreciate a good cantata by Bach. Bach's listeners HEARD much less music than we do – there were no radios, no cd players, no television shows with music – and then when they did hear music, they would LISTEN to it (and keep their brains active). By implicitly teaching Evangelicals that "Shine Jesus Shine" is "good music," we are doing A LOT to prevent them from developing good taste in music. We are telling them: "You have to keep liking this rather cheap stuff – and if your musical taste moves to a point where you start yearning for something that's not this cheap, your taste has somehow become bad." We are really telling Evangelicals: "don't LISTEN to the music – only hear it." This is NOT what God wanted for our appreciation of beauty. We should either cut down on the music we hear by wearing earplugs in shopping malls etc. – or we should allow our God-given appreciation of beauty to unfold, as we do by listening to music, and not merely hearing it somewhere in the background.

      One of the things we are doing here: we are confusing the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with something like Goethe's romantic notion of individual poetic inspiration and the "expressive theory" of art – it is individualistic, it inspires us to do things different from other persons – it encourages us to "deviate from the norm." Thus the love of breathy rubato in solo singing.

      The Holy Spirit *can* inspire us in ways which appear similar to a Goethe-like type of inspiration – but this is a very impoverished notion of the work of the Holy Spirit, very individualistic, and sets the individual off from the body of Christ.

      We need pieces of music where the congregation is really the "main instrument" and not simply a backup for a breathy, inspired soloist trying to convey to the congregation the fact that he/she is being inspired by the Holy Spirit by appearing as a kind of breathy R&B singer who is really "in the groove."

      Peter, I tend to post a lot of youtube videos of sacred music on my FB profile – I usually pick ones that are particularly well performed – I have a bit of background in this area. I'm the only "James" amongst your friends who's not in the UK. If you click "like" on a few of my posts, they'll probably show up more on the page you see when you log into FB.

      • James

        To explain the effect I describe above with "Shine Jesus Shine" – when singing in the first verse, "Jesus light of the world …" – try singing this, but after "world", sing a note one tone higher. You will "feel" that the first verse is sort of "aiming" at this note – it sounds very fitting – there is a great harmony with this note and the rest (it's probably a fifth or some other highly harmonious interval, compared to the base note of the piece). But it never gets there. It is the rather rushed feeling – the fast tempo of the verses – mostly rising in tone, dithering a bit – then falling, but never achieving that final harmony – which builds up this harmonic tension.

        It's true that all music exists because of interesting harmonic tensions and resolutions. Only, they usually aren't quite so apparent as this one – this one sort of tries to push the "drama" to the max and then resolve it very quickly and triumphalistically. It's sort of a musical "quicky."

        In classical music, overtures to operas are known for building up tension quickly and then dramatically resolving it – usually in the space somewhere between eight and fifteen minutes – sort of creating an emotional high and feeling of drama which puts the spectator a bit "on edge" for experiencing the rest of the opera – which is a much longer, more drawn-out story arc of drama, with lots of smaller moments of tension and resolution in between.

        However, what you never have are further pieces of enormous tension and quick resoultion following the overture. If you ever listen to a bunch of opera overtures back-to-back, you are likely to experience emotional fatigue, or get sort of tired of all of it – one simply can't sustain a lot of ups and downs like this.

        It should also be noted: the build-up of tension and resolution in an overture takes place over a period of at least five minutes. Here, it's all happening within a few seconds, with the resolution in the chorus, and then you do it all again in the next verse – and then you do it again.

        I hope, then Peter, that you are able to see that the claim that a lot of this is "emotivism" isn't an empty charge. A lot of this Christian contemporary music is so harmonically emotion-packed, with lots of successive climaxes.

    • James

      I think that I would actually go so far as to say: listening to a lot of pieces like "Shine Jesus Shine" is likely to numb one's musical appreciation. There is so much "stuff" going on – quicky-style drama – that one simply can't be sensitive to nuance, or beauty that lingers over a period of time. It's like the sexual equivalent of a man who wishes to have lots of quick, successive orgasms with different women. His friends will convince him that he is having more pleasure, which surely must be a good thing – but he loses his appreciation for all the beauty of intimacy in rushing headlong for that ultimate "thrill." He is likely at some point to feel he has lost feeling for all that leads up to the climax.

      It is very understandable that such pieces are written for persons who have, for whatever reason, tragically lost the ability to appreciate music that's not very quick and cheap – people who are subjected to hearing lots of shopping music in the background, people who watch too much television with poppy soundtracks, people who have sadly been subjected to various aesthetic conditions which numb their ability to appreciate musical beauty. It is a lovely and beautiful thing that they are still able to be musically stimulated by pieces written especially for them.

      However, for such a person to insist that his taste in music is the equivalent of that of someone who has spent more time actually listening to music, and trying to appreciate God's great beauty in music – this is problematic, to say the least. It would be better for such a person to investigate what gifts God has given him, and in what areas of life he excels – and ask himself if, perhaps, he could even gain more appreciation for beauty by taking on the challenge of actually listening to music, instead of simply letting the music have this rather rudimentary effect of drumming on his faculties while he maintains his listening capacity switched off. And when someone has spent years loving the beauty of sound and music, and a pastor then suggests that his congregation end their worship of God with beautiful music, and rather subject themselves to sounds which will likely debase their sensitivity to God's beauty – this becomes all the sadder, when such sounds are full of words about praising and worshiping God.

      If we wish to "identify" with people in impoverished circumstances, we can find much better ways of doing so, than in promoting sounds and noises which themselves are likely to numb and impoverish. It would be better to simply refrain from buying new clothes, or from showering. But we wish upon all the graces of God's good gifts – this means feeding them, rather than asking them to further "identify with the poor" by going hungry – this means helping them learn to sing, instead of beating their ears with drug-like noises which will numb their appreciation of God's beauty in music. We don't have to aim at helping everyone appreciate Prokofief violin concerti (Yancey, a Christian author for whom I have much respect, once singled these pieces out as somehow being "decadent" – I suppose I can understand why, but I love these pieces, they are wonderful indeed). But we should warmly (and not snobbishly) commend to all who are capable of listening to music, a bit of time spent actually listening, so as to multiply the bountiful rewards God has in store for those who take the time to linger over the beautiful things He has made (and inspired in His children). If they are "turned off" by "old church music," we should then provide services for them with contemporary-sounding music – even with the dangers of numbing their senses – but strive to inspire them, when we can, to move forward in delighting in God's awesome beauty as present in His creation.

  • I think Alathia makes some good points.

    I also find that cathedrals are often the only places I can go and know there will be some sort of regular daily cycle of prayer: if I'm away from home I often have a hard time finding out which local parish churches have Morning Prayer open to the public. Whether the cycle of prayer in the BCP or in Common Worship is appropriate for today's context is something I'll leave others to debate, but CW Morning Prayer (or occasionally BCP Mattins) is part of my daily life and I hugely appreciate being able to join others. I don't get to many cathedral Eucharist services (it's this working on Sunday mornings thing) but I've found them less "high church" than the local parish church where I'm organist, too. I don't think things are that polarised.

    I think cathedrals can support a variety of forms of liturgy without needing to actually host such services themselves, and that the cathedrals' role in supporting the parishes goes beyond setting a liturgical example. If you want an Evangelical megachurch with worship songs, why on earth would you go to a cathedral? And I think the liturgy as currently practised in cathedrals is not always alienating and inaccessible, not always antiquated. I don't come from a C of E background and certainly not a liturgically ornate one, but I have found various fairly high services much less unsettling than a rather packed evangelical service in which there was only one reading (and it wasn't the Gospel) and absolutely no space for silent contemplation.

    Horses for courses indeed.

    • I think my problem with this is that none of what you suggest is essential for a Cathedral. Ultimately a Cathedral is the place where the Cathedra, the seat of the Bishop, is and where Diocesan services normally happen. Nothing in that requirement necessitates a particular style of worship. You will always be able to find what you want liturgically somewhere else even if the Cathedral is charismatic evangelical.

  • Cerebusboy

    Come on Peter, Cathedral are a part of our heritage, and they are evangelistic in the sense that people who feel a yearning (if only for tradition's sake) for a place suggestive of the glories of God can go into one, and find themselves in a place that bespeaks holiness. It cracks me up some evangelicals think that vestments=old-fashioned=unpopular. The world's biggest Christian denomination is all about the vestments and, strikingly, there is a far more socially diverse social congregation at a RC Mass (at least in Glasgow) than there is your average Boden catalogue resembling evangelical service. I realise that no all cathedrals are like St.Paul, but people with a taste for evangelical worship can get it at many a mega church, so why should their flavour-of-the-month pseudo trendy music be a part of Cathedrals? Surely old-fashioned buildings – which Cathedrals necessarily are – are better suited to authentinc, quality worship, rather than inane pop songs that mention Jesus a lot? In any case, if you asked your average evangelical worship leader to name their ideal venue, is it not more likely to be a trendy multimillion pound hall than a proper Cathedral? I'd also note that people talking of 'traditional' music need not be High Churchmen. A Protestant of a certain age (probably 30 or over) would fondly recall all sorts of fine hymns that are , sadly, now likely to be supplanted at your local evangelical place by trendy songs aimed at catching the 20 something professional women market. The presence of electric guitars doesn't make songs good, let alone relevant. In fact, anyone with a decent knowledge of real rock music ( Stones onwards, although I concede that U2 are easy to misuse as a pseudo-Christian rock band!) are hardly likely to be impressed by second rate rip-offs that bang on about Jesus a lot but lack melody, riffs, energy, invention etc etc. Sometimes I wonder if worship leaders decided (understandably! I'd love to pretend to be The Edge or David Gilmour if I had the talent) to embrace electric guitars in the hope that it would fuel a need rather than the need coming first. And, surely as an Orthodox Christian, you find many of the lyrics of popular worship songs problematic in a way not true of more traditional worship? I always find it amusing to watch evangelical churches, nominally full of men heroically defying society's encroaching gayification, singing lyrics like "I am my beloved and he is mine". And charismatic worship is surely the least 'normal' form of Christian praise, not the traditional kind. If we're gonna justify overthrowing traditional worship on the grounds of appealing to the world, then it should be admitted that your average person of the world will look at an evangelical charismatic service and think " what's with all these people jiving about like spastics and singing crappy 'rock n 'roll' songs? I guess Christians are nutters afterall!' . Conversely, even Richard Dawkins (or at least Jonathan Miller) can appreciate the glorious of some Christian art and music from the past. TS Eliot famously said that "the greatness of a work of art can not be decided by literary standards, but whether or not it is a work of art can only be decided by literary standards" (am paraphrasing). Most evangelical rock n roll stuff is not good, let alone art.
    And Bishops are focuses of unity, meaning that Cathedrals should reflect similar solidity and consistency (grandeur over trendiness!). Photos from a High Church service fifty, 40 or 30 years ago will still look superbly evocative of the glories of God. Whereas photos of an evangelical service from a mere 10 years ago will not. Remember the passion for 3/4 trousers? ;-)

    • Ryan,

      I think all this comment demonstrates is your camp love of vestments, your gut dislike of modern worship, a naivety about the theology in what is actually sung in charismatic environments, and most of all, a rather intriguing inability to disconnect male love and male sexual activity.

      Discuss.

      • Cerebusboy

        I think you'll find that a lot of the points above were about wider perceptions than mine. For example, say you told your average working class blokeish man, interested in Christianity and brought along for a service, that "male love" and "male sexual activity" are unrelated. What do you think they would say?
        I'd imagine that, whatever exciting conversation would ensue, that it would not end with the guy saying "Great point! I'm gonna start telling my pals that I love them. Perhaps a hug or two is in order"

        I know a lot of evangelical, Mark Driscoll admiring types who are fans of "Why Men Don't Go to Church". So I'm hardly making a radical, explicitly personal or even 'liberal' point here.

        Similarly, I was talking about the perception of charismatic worship. If a seeker said 'people in Charismatic worship jump about like nutters' , do you really think that they'd be impressed – or revise their original opinion – if you said ' ah, but the theology of their worship is superb and biblical!'. ?

    • Tom

      Evensong is the English for Vespers and the services follow the common liturgical pattern of the Divine Office, yet Vespers is hardly known in Catholic parish churches in this country*. You have to go to a cathedral (and then not all) or a contemplative monastery to hear Catholic Vespers, whereas you Anglicans have got it even in parish churches. Maybe this is what the pope meant in setting up the Ordinariate – introducing some cross-fertilisation, not only some of the spiritual treasures of Anglican worship but a rediscovery at the parish level that the Divine Office is for every church and not just something that has to be muttered from a book by priests and deacons in spare moments on the top of a bus. You ordinariate-wallahs if you hate the evangelical guitars I think you are going to hate even more the English/Irish Catholic evening service of Rosary, Sermon and Benediction or RSB.

      *St George's Sudbury Hill used to do Catholic Vespers in the Sarum rite ( oh so elaborate with all the cantors in copes, servers in tunicles and so on……ex-Anglican priest, what else!) but I haven't been there for yonks so don't know if that little local tradition still goes on. I wouldn't be surprised if the Ordinariate doesn't try to resurrect the Sarum rite. There was a touch of it at Diana's funeral with blue vestments….

      • Cerebusboy

        Cool. I remember reading about the Sarum Rite (unbleached linen in lent? Sounds lovely!).

        I'm in Scotland (and part of its Episcopal & Fabulous Church), and we have all sorts of cool services that I gather aren't very common in the C of E (not least gay blessings ;-))

        • Tom

          I remember reading that when the Catholic hierarchy was restored they considered asking Rome if the Sarum rite could be adopted for the whole country – then they had an ultra-montane moment and thought "Roman rite or nothing". Anyway, without all the priests from Ireland there wouldn't have been enough clergy and I don't suppose they'd have taken kindly to it at all.

          Interested that you are in Scotland. I met Richard Holloway when he was Gresham Professor of Divinity shortly after he retired from being Primus. Is the Episcopal Church there openly in favour of gay relationships. Not like our ex-Lord Chancellor who is a Wee Free and who thinks it okay to discriminate if you run a guest house. I wonder if he minds being served by gay waiters in the House of Lords?

  • James

    I'm sorry here to enter the feeding frenzy in having a go at attacking so-called contemporary worship and in doing so, also implicitly having a go at Peter.

    I must admit that I think that "contemporary worship" is a dead end. Its practices ensure that whole congregations never learn how to sing properly. Pop music is imitated, but to the uninitiated, it doesn't sound like good music – it is an acquired taste, and there are a number of objective measurements which could be applied to pieces of music to reveal that there are a lot of sloppy techniques employed to get people excited which good musicians tend to avoid – like augmentation used specifically for this purpose. I tend to see it as an attempt of conservative Christians, who feel they may be seen as "irrelevant and old," trying to do otherwise – but instead of seeming "contemporary," end up appearing as a rather strange 1970's sort of sect – and something 40 years old is hardly "contemporary."

    There are many reasons that so many Christians have acquired this taste for this type of music, but that would take a lot of explaining. I agree with Alatheia that we need something different from William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons etc. etc.., though at the current moment, singing Byrd and Gibbons would probably appear as more "contemporary" than muddling further with this odd "contemporary music" which makes many churches places that I wouldn't bring my friends, without first doing a lot of explaining about the unique cultural situation which informs the odd musical tradition with a lot of people singing monophonically stuff that sounds like the Carpenters.

    To understand this better, we would probably have to look at the American religious scene which inspired a lot of this, and the problems it has had.

    Unfortunately, we are seeing a situation in the world church where "Evangelicals" are composing a lot of these very poppy, hotel lounge crooner type pieces, and very little is being done to create music which can be sung by a group of amateurs without a lot of singing skills, but nonetheless singing in harmony. And amongst non-evangelicals, composers of contemporary sacred music like Pärt, Gorecki, Sandström, and others tend to write music which is only singable by highly trained amateurs, with lots of challenging dissonances which sound utterly awful when not performed with great skill. We desperately need to re-consider beauty when composing music – and write pieces that are capable of inspiring members of the congregation to learn basic singing in harmony. The congregation should be the church's "main choir" and not just a sing-along or group of backup singers for a breathy R&B-like soloist.

    I can understand the "loose, unskilled jamboree" type aesthetic for sitting around campfires at night, bar room singalongs to old 70's rock and roll classics with people waving around their lighters … especially if most of us are somewhat enebriated … but I can not help but think that God wants Westerners to sing to Him more beautifully than this when we are convened for congregational worship. We need easy-to-sing pieces like the "Doxology" to start out. We need to take time out of our services, and encourage people to try to learn to sing in parts. If we are made to glorify and worship God, then why spend so much time doing this, but doing it so poorly, in a manner which will keep us locked into ugly forms of worship forever? We must take those difficult steps of encouraging congregations to learn to sing properly together (which is different from solo singing) – once this is done, newcomers will be inspired by the singing to learn themselves – or they can be coached privately if interested – and if not, they can simply sing the main melody line.

    Unfortunately, many Evangelicals don't understand the history behind "contemporary Christian music" and simply believe that this is what it means to "be Evangelical" and to take Scripture seriously. It could be that this great "worship clash" is one of the things that drives people toward churches which don't take Scripture seriously … and makes them then fear "Evangelicals." I was once in a church situation with a beautiful choir which I'd started and trained myself – and a congregation that knew how to sing in parts – and a delightful pastor friend came and visited us, and told us that "if we wanted to grow … we'd need to ditch the choir and start singing praise songs projected on an overhead." Peter, please consider this. People who take Scripture seriously should also be encouraged to sing beautifully. Somewhere along the line, we need to lose these stereotypes of Evangelicals doing Carpenters-like sing-a-longs, with beautiful music meaning "idolatry," "probably dodgy theology" and "shrinking irrelevance." Because the alternative is people who haven't acquired the taste for this very odd stuff cringing at the prospect of their churches adopting a more serious approach to Scripture.

    At the church I currently attend, the congregation spends the first 40 minutes or so doing singalongs – "worship leaders" up in front with microphones, people singing along to words projected on a screen. Then there are short announcements, the sermon, and a single closing singalong. This is a very effective form of worship. People are able to come depending on the number of singalong songs they are capable of doing without beginning to develop a bad attitude. On a good day, I can handle three. Most days it is very, very hard for me not to feel sadness and shame that the Christian community has so lost sense of beauty in worshiping God. So I can come right before the sermon, and all is ok, and I have had a day at church, and there isn't unnecessary tension. Interspersing these singalongs in various parts of the service is rather cruel to people like myself, it makes it more apparent that you are just showing up for the sermon.

  • James

    To be completely fair, I believe that the "traditionalist" Anglican scene has done its fair share in polluting the environment of sacred music. One would need to examine the various exaggerations in musical practice and sentiment in romanticism in the 19th and early 20th century to completely appreciate this, but I'll still try to provide a thumbnail sketch.

    We tend to still have a very "romantic" understanding of music, wanting our choirs to "sound like angels" (and a bit "cloudy"). This means our "traditional" music tends to have very "soft" style note envelopes – never staccato, never a nice, crisp entrance of the note – notes tend to enter soft, and only a few hundreths of a second later build up to their full volume. This is "angelic singing." It's like the Fauré Requiem – a beautiful piece – but it should be exceptional – it's a specific style, and when you make all your music sound like this, it starts sounding cloudy and ethereal, and after you've listened to 20 minutes, it begins sounding like soup. We sometimes also need to learn to ditch the vibrato – as contemporary study of the performance of baroque music has shown.

    Herbert Howells is a fantastic composer. But a lot of his pieces sound a bit too much like this angelic stuff, they sort of lend themselves toward this interpretation, even though many can be sung in a more crisp, rhythmic way. And sometimes when we sing Bach chorales, we make them sound a lot more cloudy-angelic than they were intended to sound.

    We need to draw on a broader aesthetic which also includes elements we find more in baroque choir music – some moments which are strongly rhythmic, some moments which are profoundly driven forward by a strong and aggressive bass line – in short, a lot of the things which we today tend to associate with "rock" and not "classical music" (because we have such quirky ideas of what this "classical music" is, and is supposed to sound like).

    Sacred music doesn't have to sound like we're all on clouds dressed in robes, strumming on Enya-like golden harps. It can sometimes be incredibly earthy – it can sound violent – it can prompt the lower registers of the aesthetic emotions.

    How to move forward? Listening to good, contemporary renditions of renaissance and early baroque sacred music can help a lot. Much is likely to come as a surprise and not sound very "typically classical" (whatever that is supposed to mean). William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons have also written quite a few pieces in English that are also not terribly difficult to perform.

    We also are in terrible need of good compilations of sacred music that church choirs are able to perform (we have been getting worse and worse at music, I think partly because of the "contemporary music" craze – worship music becomes very impoverished when only a tiny fraction of those in the church are trying to practice it). Even basic hymns from hymnals published until the 70's – at least the ones in the U.S. – tend to be good sources of music that can be sung in parts by amateurs. A lot of these hymns can be re-invigorated, simply by attention to how we sing them – avoiding the "angelic" tendencies, and ladies doing their best to sound operatic with loads of vibrato – and focusing on rather "crisp" sounding renditions with interesting dynamics and tempos. But we can't let pop music provide our dominant paradigm – pop music is NOT corporate singing, and it nourishes unhealthy impulses for groups that want to focus on congregational singing. It's simply a matter of telling people: "Singing together as a congregation, is in many ways very different from singing solo R&B."

  • Jill

    Well I'm definitely a music snob. I simply don't go to the kind of church where they will sing Shine Jesus Shine, which I consider suitable only for five-year-olds, and I don't see anything wrong with Byrd, Tallis and Taverner. Nor can I bear the sounds produced by some contemporary choirboys such as The Choirboys and 'Libera' (I hope I have got that right) who are breathy and not properly trained, in my opinion. Compare their voices with those of boys in the 1920s like Master Ernest Lough, Master Ronald Mallett and Master Denis Barthel – it is still possible to buy recordings. Not only were their voices richer and more controlled but they broke quite a bit later.

    And I am going to stick my neck out get hated by the sisterhood and say that cathedral choirs should be all male. As a church chorister myself for many years I obviously don't object to women and girls singing, but the purity of sound is lost.

    Listen to Ernest Lough singing his best-known piece:


    • James

      Jill, I think that's what's more important is the quality of the sound. It's true that men can produce a very high quality sound, but so can women … and these days, women are more likely to be found with such a quality of voice. And the very few men who can sing well are needed for the bass and tenor parts – *especially* the tenor parts – you find about one reasonably good tenor for twenty reasonably good altos – any of you guys out there who can reasonably sing tenor, find yourself a local choir – they will probably treat you like a celebrity.

      I'm in 100% agreement with you about Libera and similar boys' choirs which have become popular recently. I think it's part of the stereotype, "music which we associate with being 'classical' needs to be comforting, rest (or even sleep) inspiring, angel-onna-cloud type stuff." And this is *deathly* for music. The Libera stuff actually gives me the bad kind of goosebumps … like, "something is profoundly wrong here." Associating boys with all this nicey-sleepy-softey aesthetic is not healthy. If I had boys, I would never send them to be in a Libera-type choir, despite the vocal training they would get.

      If Jesus were to sing with His disciples, they wouldn't sound like a buncha angels onna cloud. They would sing beautifully – but it could well be a beauty which would require us to listen for a while, before we were really inspired – it probably wouldn't be this kind of modern production which tries to impress upon the listener in five seconds that this is "really happening music."

      • Jill

        I fear it is part of the culture, James, turning boys into girls – they can't even have their own scout packs now without being invaded by girls. Metrosexuals in the making! It's surprising really that they don't all grow up to be tenors – but as a member of several choirs I know that tenors are usually in short supply.

      • Alathia

        Yes, I sing tenor – and (without being overly self-praising) I also happen to have a very good voice. And yes, you begin to feel a bit of a Z list celebrity as choir directors fight tooth and nail to keep you and guard the contacts you have with other choir leaders, just in case there is an attempt to poach you! The only down side is that I am not a particularly good musician and my sight-reading is far from standard required for the better choirs.

        I occasionally attend mid-week communion at my college chapel. As the college happens to have a surfeit of grade 8 musicians, the choir is only open to those with brilliant sight reading and good voices. It is interesting to note less than half the choir receive communion – this also happens at All Saints’, Margaret Street, where a paid choir augments the worship. As I am a PhD candidate, old enough to be the father of many of the students I don’t often hang around after chapel, however on one occasion when I did, I stayed for lunch in the chaplain’s office and made small talk with an earnest member of the choir. I noted that I had sung the Kyrie and Agnus Dei that had been used for that day’s Eucharist (one of Palestrina’s mass settings). I asked how long it had take to learn it and was told the choir had run through that day! The church choir I was then a member of, itself a good and well respected choir, would have taken about two months to learn the same piece! Excellent musicians can do things much better than committed amateurs. But was this wonderful rendition of Palestrina worship or entertainment?

        Yet in the above little tale, nothing is made mention of the fellowship and friendship that is often a part of choir life. Yes, I know choirs can also be bitchy and small minded, but I am thankful, I have not really experienced this. The only reason why I left my previous church choir was because I moved out of London. There is not a week goes by when I don’t miss that choir. The church, a traditional, middle of the road Anglican church with an overtly Liberal vicar, had a bias towards traditional music: English Hymnal, chanted psalms and we wore cassock and surpluses. Yet there was also leeway given to modern music and we had a healthy number of children in the choir who also got to their own bits. What is interesting is that, being North London, the congregation was about a third African and many of these Africans had chosen the rather sedate tone of our traditional Anglican church in preference to the rather fuller and nosier African churches in the neighbourhood.

        To my mind there is a place for traditional church music, but the key issue is that it must remain the means and never the end. I have sung – during Cathedral school holidays etc. – at two cathedrals (Manchester and St Paul’s, London) and I was struck on both occasions how so much effort is put into how the thing looks and sounds rather than its meaning. On one occasion I (showing off as usual) commented to one of the vergers on the choice of psalms and noted that we were singing the traditional vespers psalms of the early Church (Ps 130 and 141). ‘Oh I think that is more a coincidence, than design.’ Was his reply. I don’t think it was, but the fact the verger of all people was ignorant of this, made me realise that even in cathedrals there is ignorance of the meaning and significance liturgy.

        • Jill

          The thing with being an amateur singer is that one only needs to be able to sing in tune and vaguely follow a score to be able to rise to quite dizzying heights! I claim no particular talent, and am certainly not a musician in the same sense as probably James, but I have sung many times in the most prestigious venues in the UK and abroad, under some of the world's best conductors. I feel most privileged. My husband always wanted to play cricket at Lord's but in spite of being a talented cricketer was never good enough for that! He is very envious!

          I am rather puzzled by your comment about the virger, though, Alathia. Why would he (she) be expected to know about the music? The Psalms are set out for each day in the Book of Common Prayer.

          • Alathia

            Jill

            It wasn’t a BCP service, Ps 130 & Ps 141 were included for a special service. It was the fact the verger was so dismissive of the fact the Psalms had been chosen with any reference to a particular order I found hard to believe. I knew the guy reasonably well as when I lived in Manchester I often attended the cathedral’s mid-week communion service and he was an intelligent and well-informed man. Of course it could just be an odd one off, but it could also demonstrate that cathedral staff, who play a regular part in service, may have little more understanding of liturgy and its purpose than those belting out the Kendrick with their hands in the air. In fact, I know this is not a one off, because a friend of mine was for several years a verger at Canterbury (under Cary’s tenure) and his job was more about managing a ‘performance’.

    • Tom

      That's beautiful Jill. Thanks for sharing it. Perhaps you know this already but in case not here is a clip which has Ernest's son and Ernest himself talking about the making of the disk.


      • Jill

        Wow, Tom, I remember watching the original broadcast of that. Was it really 1994? A youthful-looking Dudley Moore, Brian Kay and Robert Tear and Attenborough! It was great to see it again – or part of it, anyhow. Both of Ernest's sons followed his footsteps into the Temple Choir, and he himself was a member of the Bach Choir once his voice had broken, and I do remember seeing him on TV as such – perhaps it was later in that same broadcast.

        Just in response to James's point about female singers – as one, I would of course agree, but admit, James, listening to Master Lough, you wouldn't get a girl singer with that quality of voice.

        Some cathedrals do have girl choirs, of course, which is only right, and they combine both choirs for some services, but I do hope they will retain the boys-only top line for some services.

        • Tom

          I thought you would know about the recording. On your response to James, that is a musician's answer and is quite right. I fear it is often misunderstood by people who don't have an ear (or who have not tried to listen to the difference) and they think it is sexist not to admit girls. Nevertheless in Cambridge with its world-famous all-boys choirs at King's, Jesus and St John's it is very good that St Catherine's has introduced an all-girls' choir, don't you think, Jill?

  • Tom

    James, so much of interest here I hardly know where to begin. To start with I think you are right about the Anglican choirboy voice. George Malcolm at Westminster (pre Stephen Cleobury) intoduced the harder sounding Italian voice to his boys. It's quite different from the typical Anglican cathedral sound we know and love. Then there is the issue of girls' voices. Musicians do not think they blend with boys so I am enormously impressed that in Cambridge at St Catharine's College the chaplain has introduced an all girls choir. It's time girls had a chance and their voices are equally beautiful though not as ethereal perhaps.

    But saying that we were having a go at Peter who likes rock I didn't see it like that (even though Jill and I on another thread didn't appreciate the sample he gave). Actually I am not limited to the appreciation of classical music. I was introduced to Neko Case by a friend in Chicago on a DVD of her performance in Austin, Texas. When I was in Chicago again he had managed to get tickets for her show there. Back in London I saw her at the Barbican Centre. It might be secular but hers seems a most spiritual sound.

    The tradition has always adapted secular music to a religious purpose and we can certainly do better than converting the East Enders theme music for our Anglican aunties. Just listen to this from Canadian Amp

    Do you know James MacMillan's Mass that he wrote for Westminster Cathedral? He set the whole Preface anew and it is not difficult for a priest who is not tone-deaf to sing it. The whole thing is modern yet moving -without the difficulties of Tallis and others without being banal. Do you know the Gelineau Psalms and the Taizé chants which are spiritual and can be congregationally sung without the difficulties of Gregorian?

    • James

      Tom,

      Thanks for this. I am very thankful for what you're pointing out here re. new avenues for Christian worship, and especially happy to hear about the Italian style being brought into the boys' choir.

      I also like pop music, though not the pre-chewed versions they tend to play in shopping malls – anything that is too "backgroundy" should be suspect, as likely to inculcate habits of hearing music while not listening to it. The early Billy Bragg does a lot for me. But I won't say: "I like early Billy Bragg, so let's have some church music that sounds like that." As Christians, we need to think broadly – this includes, "what kind of music is aesthetically appropriate for what setting?" E.g., an icecream truck's music can sound good when you're visiting the icecream truck, but will sound awful at a funeral. The problem with imitating pop music in general is: there is precious little pop music that isn't for solo voice, and uses a lot of rubato / tempo idiosyncracies / changes in dynamics effective for an individual, but no longer practicable for a duet even, not to speak of a choir or a whole congregation. A lot of rigour is needed in composing interesting music for congregations. Some of the easier Bach chorales could be cited as examples of such – I believe many of these were intended for the congregation to sing.

      I think that a lot of the "beauty" genuinely experienced by adherents of Christian contemporary worship music in churches is largely ideological and not aural – i.e., it isn't beauty we can hear, it is rather beauty of the general situation. We are happy because our music adheres to certain ideas of what we think is important – i.e., "This is great, because anyone can sing it, even if they've never sung a note in their life! It's totally democratic!" (problem here: in actuality, regular church goers will spend many hours singing, if one tallies up all the singing they do in a year. And isn't glorifying God something we should do with the aspiration that it is also aurally beautiful – i.e. it sounds good, even if it requires a very small learning process?) Also: "Look at the kids having such a good time playing their instruments" (parents loving the beauty of children playing). Also: "See, we aren't old and stuffy like those parishes that idolize outdated forms of worship, we are contemporary and speak the language of the current generation!" (which I don't think is true – this is what we aspire to, and some will comprehend – but the aversion that most non-churchgoers have to this form of music should demonstrate that it is something different – it is speaking a "language" that Evangelical culture has created, and is improperly idolizing). And: "What we do gets back at the roots of simplicity that Jesus stands for – blessed are the poor of spirit, etc. etc.." – but then look at how we shave and shower and put on clean, nice clothes for church, look at how expensive our sound system is, look at how much people are paying for those Sunday clothes etc.., look at what people are paying for other leisure activities which they consider to be "important." Worshiping God is not a "leisure activity." I think if you ask most Evangelicals why they like "Worship Music" – they won't say it's because of how it sounds – it's because 1) of the associations they have with it – democratic, contemporary, childlike, etc. etc., and: 2) because of how it makes them feel – but this is because it sort of peddles to sentimentalism – it's manufactured to produce quicky emotions in persons who have dulled their musical sensitivities.

      Evangelical Christians need to keep in mind that they aren't some sort of remote, impoverished African tribe which is cut off from educational resources. And they need to realize: remote, impoverished African tribes without educational resources, when they praise God, tend to do better than we do anyways – they develop skills, and they don't go "slumming" by pretending that they aren't capable of improving their singing, or intentionally writing songs that avoid using their God-given skills in some odd attempt at avoiding "idolatry." Many sing in harmony – and those who don't, are finely developing means of expression which are intricate and beautiful in their own right – e.g., sometimes immensely skilled in staying together with highly challenging rhythms. This is their way of glorifying God in beauty. This is something that we simply don't have when we go slumming and inauthentically mimic the "childlike" when we aren't children.

      With all these new prejudices, we would be opening up new worship wars if too many in Evangelical congregations became aware of the issues involved – but I do hope that churches gradually begin to realize how ugly the worship practices tend to sound to those who haven't attached themselves to the full ideology of "Christian contemporary worship" – and how difficult it is for one to attach one's self to such an ideology when one simply begins to consider only two or three of the aesthetic issues involved.

      Your example of the Gelineau psalms is very nice – this is stuff a whole congregation could do.

      A few weeks ago I had a telephone discussion with our pastor, in which he said he wanted me to worship more with the congregation, and said the two of us could discuss my issues with contemporary Christian music. I thought that I could write a few thoughts out beforehand that he could read, so we could be more assured of covering new territory. I ended up writing a 16-page paper on the subject. Afterwards, I did some googling to see what others were writing on the topic. I didn't find much that was very compelling, except for … Michael Spencer (who died about a year ago), the "Internet Monk" – he has a whole series called "The Worship Series" – here's his page of Essays, with The Worship Series being the second grouping of essays – http://www.internetmonk.com/essays – I was particularly astounded at the reasons that pro-CCM people give for CCM, none of which I have mentioned here, simply because they are so daft they tend to confirm the prejudice that CCM-worship people haven't spent more than a few minutes actually seriously thinking about whether or not CCM is a good thing – i.e., doing the really challenging thinking necessary.

  • Hi guys,

    Just to say, I'm having a busy 48 hours so not able to respond to your comments at the moment, but I'm grateful for the response. I'll try and write something substantial tomorrow.

  • James

    I have sort of written a whole LOT of comments here and I may seem like I am "totally against CCM." I should make clear that I'm not. I can definitely see CCM in some settings, but the setting is really key – the setting needs to match the music or that CCM basically seems pretty wacko. And it's the "seems pretty wacko" that unfortunately keeps people away from church, or even worse – inspires them to attend churches which may deny Christ.

    CCM can be cool for evening gatherings, especially if the lights are out and it's feeling campfire-like. The last time I really enjoyed CCM was with a group of students – big group, about 50 – they would eat first, then gather into small groups in different rooms of the house for Bible study – and when it was all done, they would go to the basement with its dirty bricks and cement floor, boilers, and generally musty feeling – dark except for a large circle of candles – and we sang some CCM songs accompanied by a guy on a guitar. No one up front with a microphone, no theatrics, no people pretending to be powerfully hit by the Holy Spirit with their very jazzy R&Bish breathy singing – just a lot of people worshiping God in a dark basement lit by candles. If we sang a cappella hymns in parts, I of course would have liked it even more. But this was a setting where corporate CCM was appropriate, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

    I also think that somehow, some people ARE able to worship God in a manner more authentic than they would in singing older hymns. I do think that there is some genuine inspiration here. I do not advocate canning CCM completely, or not investigating what is up here in this general dynamic, where people are very earnestly worshiping God. The Holy Spirit has taught us some very important things in the last century, and some forms of CCM are definitely a part of that. However, what could have been a gift has grown like kudzu and made a mess amongst us, extinguishing almost entirely wonderful gifts which had been carefully cultivated through past centuries – to the point that we really can no longer sing together, and are only capable of "singing along."

    • Tom

      Thanks for the link to Michael Spencer. A lot to read there and I strayed away from the stuff on CCM and found this:

      'Yo Ho Ho A Papist’s Life for Me? Could Evangelicalism drive me straight into the arms of Rome?' http://www.internetmonk.com/articles/P/papist.htm

      I thought it was still germane to what we are discussing here even though it might seem off-topic at first sight.

      • James

        Very glad you dig Michael Spencer, Tom. He was a great thinker, and then very, very good at putting his thoughts into lovely and compelling prose. You can see how much he loves the church. He is great at putting his finger on problems the church has and not simply ranting about them – but constructively thinking about them, and offering alternatives.

  • Jill

    The annual Carols from Kings is one of the highlights of the year, as far as I am concerned. This is church music at its very best. I never fail to be amazed at the confident way the youngest choristers handle some quite difficult music – which I would probably struggle with! (This of course gives lie to the frequently-heard claim that young people cannot understand the antiquated language of the BCP, as if 'young' also means 'thick'.)

    While I do think it is good that girls are introduced to singing, I still firmly believe that not only do all-male choirs produce the best sound, but also that once girls start moving in, boys tend to leave. This has happened in most of the small church choirs. Before you know where you are, there are no boys, just girls. Once the tipping point has been reached, it loses its appeal to boys. This has a knock-on effect on adult choirs – not just church choirs (many of which seem to consist of half-a-dozen warbly old ladies and a dog) but in choral societies. I have been part of this scene in all types of choirs for many years, and have seen a decline in the numbers of tenors and basses.

    Back to Peter's original post – cathedrals are centres of excellence as far as the worship is concerned. (Pity about the theology in some, though.) Please let them remain so! I read recently that while church attendance is declining, cathedral attendance is actually increasing. Could this be why? Because we can be assured that things are done 'decently and in order' and we don't have to worry about some frightful alternative worship taking place at regular service times? I have a vivid memory of one of our bishops, in an ecumenical service at St Paul's Cathedral in which I was taking part, jiving about to the beat of African drums. Much as I love African drums, I felt they were totally inappropriate, and as for the bishop … I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

    • Why couldn't a cathedral be a centre of excellence for charismatic worship?

      • Tom

        In the heyday of the charismatic movement it even happened in St Peter's Rome. I doubt it would happen there today somehow :-)

      • James

        What would excellent charismatic worship sound like, and look like, and what motivates it, and these worship choices? Would it have a "worship leader" and "worship band" prominently up at the front, with the congregation doing a sing-a-long to words projected on a screen, as a kind of back-up to the soloists? And if yes: couldn't excellent charismatic worship aspire to be more than this? And if yes: why this bifurcation between "charismatic" worship and catholic worship? Is there any way we could work together toward a common goal – that goal being excellent catholic worship, which should presuppose worshiping a Triune God?

        I suppose I'm fairly open to just about any kind of instrumentation, provided we make a serious effort at having the congregation itself being the main "instrument" praising God – and the instruments mostly providing support in keeping the congregation in-tune and on-target rhythmically. Drums and guitars tend to provide more "filler" and don't accomplish this purpose. But I can imagine their being brought into this type of service in a way that highlights the congregational singing more than providing a kind of side-attraction or "filler." It seems to me that in dentist-chair pop, drums & guitars provide more "filler" and lulling sound for moments that the pure sound of the vocalist seems to need "something else." Though I can well imagine a congregation with minimal part-singing ability needing something of such a filler type sound. But if we aim to sing in harmony and not monophony – how do we bring those electric guitars and drums in, in a way that sounds fitting – given that there are so few good examples in pop music of harmonic singing that's fit for a congregation? For examples I can think of Crosby, Stills & Nash – maybe some of their pieces could serve as models. I'd also want it to avoid sounding mostly bubblegum – yippie – skippie, as a lot of the drum & guitar church music I've heard, and I'm afraid that our first few attempts at doing harmonic singing with drums and electric guitars would sound yippie-skippy. Renaissance secular music often makes use of drums, but some would object by saying "that sounds too old" or "it doesn't sound happy enough." I tend to suspect more "conservative" congregations when it comes to musical taste – too often they've erred on the side of the sappy and the drippy, and when you introduce drums and guitars – you almost HAVE to err on the side of the sappy or the drippy, or some in the congregation will find the music "inappropriate."

        Here is a piece I had our church choir learn, which they loved – I wanted to give them something secular and dancy, as a kind of example for the kind of tighter musical effect I wanted at some moments, to keep things from sounding like porridge. This is the Swingle Singers' arrangement, which introduces some "instruments" (we did it sans-instruments) – but I'm wondering if this couldn't provide some "inspiration" to how good, tight, non-sappy, suitable-for-adults, "charismatic" sacred music could sound – the piece happens to have been written by a rather swinish man, responsible for founding a rather swinish church – which may have been one of the reasons our singers liked it so much –

        A big drawback of this as an example – nice, tight renaissance secular pieces would be very, very, very hard to get rhythmically right for a whole congregation. The real masters of congregational harmonic singing were writing from the early baroque to some time in the 1950's. When this "charismatic" stuff took over, we witnessed a terrible decline in skill of the congregation, and in discipline of musicians for writing music which congregations could feasibly sing beautifully. This is perhaps another reason I am reluctant to give too much heed to CCM musicians – they would need to build credibility in the area of congregational harmonic singing, instead of relegating the whole congregation to being monophonic backup singers. An essential element of that "excellence" your mention is missing.

        I tend to feel that a lot of "charismatic worship" is prone to the "look-we're-different-ism" theology (i.e., not very much theology) that characterizes also some of the dippier "liberals" – erecting straw-man type arguments about what the others believe – sometimes bolstered by some of the most unfortunate comments made by uninformed parishoners (and sometimes also clergy). I.e., "we do it this way since we don't believe that electric guitars are evil." Or: "we don't believe that God is an old man with a long gray beard sitting on a cloud."

      • James

        Peter, perhaps the main reason I'd rather not see this come up in our cathedrals, is what happened in our church.

        I started a choir at our tiny church, and stimulated a good part of the congregation to sing in parts. We were doing a great job, our singing rarely had the problems of sounding sappy or warbly, it was generally rather tight and responsible tempo-wise – so a lot more "modern" than romantic / 19th century sounding.

        We had a visit by the rectors of two neighboring churches – both wonderful pastors, very solid in theology and the authority of scripture. I'd never been to the church of one of them – I'd been a part of the other's church, which sort of dithered between "traditional worship" (though no singing in parts by the congregation, it was rather uninspired traditional worship) and the off-a-screen singalong with drums & guitar thing. I think any objective listener would have said that our congregation sounded better and was also more inspiring.

        The two rectors told us that if we really "wanted our church to grow," we would need to become "more family-oriented" and ditch the choir and singing in parts for your "charismatic worship." The tiny church was in a student town, a huge university, and most of the people in the congregation were somehow related to the university. We were successful at interesting people at all ends of the "conservative-liberal" spectrum, while the teaching was solidly rooted in the authority of scripture. We were able to do so because of the quality of our music, because we consciously avoided certain aspects of "evangelical culture," and because our Bible study was very challenging.

        It wouldn't have been this visit alone, there were also other things in the mix – but I think some people in our church began to sense that there was pressure from outside to change the character of our church. When before, things like Spong had never had a place in the Bible study – these things became more prominent. I think that some members began to attach themselves too firmly to "identity politics" with the general thought: "The evangelicals want to change our church, we need to make clear that we aren't evangelical."

        It's important for people who hold the authority of scripture dear to realize that there is a distinction between "evangelical" and "Evangelical culture" – i.e., a set of certain cultural expectations that we tend to associate with conservative Americans who like to do things thus and so – who tend to think, e.g., we are being more spiritual if we're more like the Baptists.

        Something similar could easily happen in these cathedrals. With a feeling, "the evangelicals are on the attack and wanting us to bring in this … stuff," people who secretly read Spong will come out of the woodwork and start making comments to try to "differentiate" and "make statements," feeling that they are somehow contributing to protecting their church from the onslaught of these Evangelicals. Granted, they probably don't really know much about what these Evangelicals are like, and have their associations with them mostly taken from The Guardian or whatnot. People who never thought of getting into the fray of church politics will begin involving themselves with the running of the church, trying to find ways of fending off The Evangelicals.

        As you point out, it is difficult to find a large church which takes Scripture seriously which has not already caved into the band & a screen ideology of church music. Many of us who are not quite so enthusiastic about this trend view our own means of worship as something we would like to protect. There is often already pressure in our own churches to convert to this kind of thing – people who tend to believe that good choral music is somehow "liberal" and "suspect" and that doing the screen and a band thing will somehow keep the faith in our church pure. It is true that this will tend to chase away some types of people, and thus the church would be more "pure." But some of the people it would tend to chase away in our case, were also some of the people who had been most important in good, informed, respectful study of Scripture. Except that they had nowhere to go – there were no other churches with good music, and all the ones with more of a focus on liturgical worship other than ourselves were rather poor when it came to respect of Scripture. We ourselves had actually just climbed out of being a flamingly "liberal" church with very little understanding of anything except sex issues and civil rights, into one which was one of the most solid in our city with regard to the authority of Scripture.

        I would also say: your pattern of thinking here isn't that different from some of TEC's "facts on the ground" approach. "Look, almost ALL of our church already does [ … ] – this must surely be a good thing – so let's try to make more of the church do this too!" You simply need some more theological grounding for whatever this "charismatic worship" is. It should be pointed out that quite a lot of theological reflection went into the introduction of the organ into church – in fact, some of its initial supporters didn't even like the sound – but they liked the way it represented the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. There was probably also reflection regarding the positioning of where the organist's manual (keyboard) tended to be located – at the BACK of the church. The organ also has pipes which are much better at blending with, and supporting, human voices. Until the 19th century, it tended to be used primarily as a "basso continuo" – i.e., no showy interludes during choir pieces – just a simple tone / rhythm support for the singers.

        SO:
        1) you are likely to get the cathedral congregations defensively engaging in "our identity is …" type arguments against Evangelicals, Spong stuff likely to come out of the woodwork, bad Christology likely a result, hundreds subjected to the spiritual death of bad Christology being taught within the church
        2) the argument, "a lot of our church is already doing this, therefore more of our church should be doing it" is a bad one [though: I must acknowledge that what you say about cathedrals and their relations to individual churches here makes a lot of sense. Only: non-charismatic worship is already such an "endangered species" that here the need for additional theology is particularly compelling – especially if there are so many big churches where one can go in order to experience charismatic worship, and there are zero big churches outside of the cathedrals where one can go for regular worship other than the charismatic variety]
        I should add:
        Charismatic worship is often viewed as the most "cheap" option of worship. It can take a long time to get a disciplined, trained worship program under way, and pastors often just say, "hey, can anybody play the guitar and lead us in worship from a screen?" In the many new ACNA parishes in the U.S., there is already complaint that relatively few of these are doing non-charismatic worship, even though many aren't happy with the charismatic worship. It's sort of like if you have an establishment with a house quartet. If at some point, your guests decide that they like listening to the radio better … you can fire the quartet, and just listen to the radio. But then your quartet will find work elsewhere, and it may take years before you are able to find similar players … and it will be difficult to find the discipline to do so, as your establishment will by that time be filled with more people who like to listen to the radio, and many people who liked the quartet will have left.

  • James

    Here is an insight from another article (which is critical of CCM, but this point here I think sheds some positive light on one potential of CCM):

    "The function of the order of service is not to draw attention to itself but to aid the soul’s communion with God in the gathered company of the saints by serving to convey the Word of God to and from God, from and to His people. C. S. Lewis puts it this way: ‘As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t have to notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.’ This is why the great Baptist preacher Geoffrey Thomas can say that, in true worship, worshipers ‘have little thought of the means of worship; their thoughts are upon God. True worship is characterized by self-effacement and is lacking in any self-consciousness.’"
    – Ligon Duncan, posted at http://www.religiousaffections.org/news-reviews/a

    I think that one of the positive aspects of CCM is its rather Dionysiac quality of helping some people feel they are effacing self-consciousness. All eyes are glued to the screen with the lyrics (or the worship leader) – and a single point of attention upon which all are focused lends itself to such a Dionysiac quality. The tune is also so simple that no notes are needed; it is similar in a way to an incantation. There is no flipping around in hymnals and switching around between hymnal, prayer book, and bulletin. This helps in focusing all one's attention at the screen and losing one's self in a sense of the collective organism. The emotions which are suggested by the music which is more or less written to foster such emotions will be suggested in a powerful manner overriding critical attitudes; and very likely, the worship leader is also modeling such emotions.

    Such a situation can have a powerful effect on those who fully submit to it. It can also be used to direct people toward God, if they are able to "get beyond" the screen with the lyrics and the worship leader.

    The passage here also brings up a powerful criticism of what I tend to aspire to in corporate worship: singing in parts. This is certainly something that most aren't accustomed to, and it requires, at first, some thoughtfulness about things like notes.

    I do not think that worship services are places where our main thought is about making people feel comfortable, and "speaking their language." There is something about transformation which is essential to the Christian experience – we meet God, but then He transforms us. As He transforms us, we set aside moments of time, and sometimes even places, which are dedicated to Him – moments and places in which we engage in purposeful activity, and don't just hang out slapping people's backs and telling jokes or whatnot (which is also blessed and good behavior, but simply isn't a part of that for which we have set aside these times and places).

    Part of our worship experience also has to do with "growing into" the worship community. This means getting accustomed to the flipping of pages etc., and also learning new songs. When worshiping, we might simply remain silent and worship by reveling in the voices around us; if we choose to begin singing, at first we will need to learn the piece (whichever line it is we are going to sing). But if we also want to sing beautifully, we will need to have the musical training necessary for carrying a tune … and hopefully, even for listening to music to find that voice that we want to sing. It may take a few singings of a new hymn before we feel that more of our minds are focused on singing to God than reading the words and notes. But since we are Christians who have given our lives to God, and worship is central to this … as one of the very most important ends for which God created us … we may as well spend some time learning about this – at least as much time as we spend, e.g., memorizing football scores, or other such things we do with our spare time. It is understandable that this may sound "foreign" to many – but I would argue, *we have made it foreign* by our consumerist attitudes toward worship – the notion that worship somehow has to suit us and our own cultural preoccupations – rather than participating in the eternal (neither "traditional" nor "contemporary") choir of angels and archangels praising God.

    Anyone can learn to sing in parts. I taught some people who could hardly believe that they would ever be able to do so, to sing beautifully – we were able to sing some of the more elementary sacred music of Bach, Palestrina, Schubert & Mozart – though it was a difficult road for the music tutor, hearing sounds that made one at first want to cry in dismay – "how could anyone sing THAT off-tune and not hear it?" There may be people who are genuinely and incorrigably tone deaf. But I'm not sure – I think a lot of it is simply a matter of learning to listen. About 70% of singing is listening carefully. And this contemporary stuff certainly doesn't help us listen – it almost forbids us to listen – it's mostly about self-expression – and it is not about corporate expression.

    Worship enters a new dimension when one is no longer simply expressing one's self – or one's attitude toward God, etc. etc., but when one is bonded harmoniously with one's brothers and sisters, singing to God in a manner which isn't intent upon self-expression, or upon the mimesis of particular emotions. Emotions are still a part of the equation – but the music isn't geared toward producing such emotions.

    This all means that there's something of a learning curve – not so much an intellectual one, but one in picking up habits, and eventually learning to release one's self in praise of God, without singing "I'm coming into the heart of worship" etc. etc..

    For "traditional" (I prefer "eternal") forms of worship, this means we shouldn't place too many demands on the congregation – and give preference to numbers which are harmonically rather easy to sing.

    The nineteenth century expressive cult of the genious and notion of art as self-expression created some grave difficulties for art and for artistic expression. In a certain sense, it may even be better to consider artistic activity to be something other than "expression" – i.e., the "pushing out" of various internal emotions. Any good poet will tell you that poetry that begins as "self-expression" tends to be pretty bad poetry – good poetry tends to begin with playing with words, experimenting with words, crafting words … and picking something out of the mix that has a certain ring to it, and a certain quality.

    Because we increasingly hear much more background music than we actually listen to – it should be no mystery that most people have been terribly desensitized to music. The rich and engaging music of previous centuries no longer engages – not because we have evolved into a higher aesthetic form – but simply because our aesthetic faculties are clogged with bits of noise resembling music which we never take time to process, or apply toward aesthetic growth. We tend to either prefer shocking noise, or rather sugary, jingle-like tunes, and express ourselves about such more because various aspects of "identity" which really aren't very aesthetic. The rock bands we associate with are really a lot more like sport-team affiliations than aesthetic appreciation – "I like Speed Metal Rap because it isn't all gushy like R&B, and it presents a challenge to the superficiality of media-dominated culture" etc. etc.. It's more about what the music is in some way aiming for, rather than how its sound is somehow related to our sense of beauty.

    So part of our nourishing Christians will need to be in encouraging them to listen to good music, and to try to cut out excessive sources that clog our aesthetic faculties and overload us with noise. It means that to many of the uninitiated, our music won't sound particularly compelling. But then again, we don't distribute crystal meth to the congregation for those whose minds have become numb and can't be stimulated without crystal meth. We don't invite our clergy women to give sermons in lingerie simply because our ADD riddled men have difficulty in paying attention if they don't.

    So yes, there IS a reason that CCM "works" for a lot of people – and it is a good and blessed thing that such people are able to worship with it. However, there should be channels available which help encourage such people to take the challenge of undoing the effect that our culture of noise-as-music has wreaked upon our sensitivities, and taking part in a full transformation of mind and being that Christ calls of us. Those of us who feel called to help out with CCM services should also make plain that the "grooving" which takes place in CCM services is nice, and it is given by God – but it is a far cry from worship which takes place when we have submitted our very aesthetic faculties to His transformative power, in the profound enjoyment that we have when our appreciation of God's beauty in music grows in the way He intends it to grow – when we are careful with our consumption of consumerist jingles and the like.

    CCM becomes the ugliest when it goes on the attack of more intentional forms of worship, when it is assumed that churches can only "be spiritual" or grow if they conform to the CCM expectations. People who have spent time developing a sense of taste in music tend to be easy targets – they often are much less aggressive and "expressive" than rock-n-rollers – they don't put such great stock in identity politics and self-expression. They are more likely, like myself, to simply worship God in the many secular choirs which have sacred music as their staple in performances, and leave the church stuff to the more vocal, expressive types. If we leave the church because of it, we probably won't mention it.

    How to help reform CCM churches into something a bit CCM-ish, but minus the nastier sides, and with beauty?

    We need to understand what the more radical branches of protestantism did during the past centuries. Previously, the pulpit was positioned to the side of the church – with the altar and cross in the center, usually with a large cross situated above – a natural place for a central point of attention when worshiping. The choir was located behind the large cross and the "screen" in the part of the church called the "choir" – and then not facing the congregation, but rather facing one another, along the side walls. Or in some churches not in cross-formation, they were situated in a loft, behind the congregation. Here, attention is most naturally focused on the cross – and not on the person occupying the pulpit, and certainly not on the choir (one couldn't even see the choir members' faces, in most cases). No need for the choir to appear all smiley-happy as a "good example" for the congregation. This is good – many amateur singers don't look happy when they sing, even if they are very joyful at heart.

    With the Baptists and some other radical protestant formations – church architecture changed, the pulpit was situated in the center, I suppose the cross being seen as a form of "idol" or "image." Stained glass windows were more likely to contain depictions of the Bible than e.g. lambs or crosses. The choir was placed in the more human-friendly position of directly facing the congregation, behind the pulpit, where their friendly and inviting faces could be seen and their facial expressions could also be appreciated. This was in many ways more "modern" like a modern assembly or speech – putting away a lot of the arcane mumbo-jumbo of a cross-shaped church, a choir no one could see. This "spoke the language of the people" who would be more accustomed to lectures and town hall meetings, which tended to have the speaker in the center, and not awkwardly positioned to the side.

    Then with a further radicalization of protestantism, the "worship leaders" occupied a spot in front of the pulpit, again, much like contemporary rock and roll concerts, which in some ways they emulated. Individual expression, facial appearance and gestures became even more prominent.

    This is all understandable in some ways, and each of these reforms allow for new ways for the Incarnate Christ to show Himself – people, after all, are important, and seeing them can help in presenting a message.

    However, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on God Himself with all this people-stuff happening in the church.

    I think it would be interesting for some CCM type churches to try positioning their worship leaders in the back of the church … given they probably don't have choir lofts any more. Perhaps trying to re-introduce printed lyrics – either in books or on bulletins – in order to see if this helps some focus on God, and not so much on the Dionysian psychological effect, with its enhanced sense of powerful suggestion, when all are focused on the lyrics. Perhaps hanging a large cross high, at a natural gazing point for people who are worshiping and lifting their eyes. If churches spend half an hour in this type of worship, perhaps ten minutes could be spent in some musical training – asking the congregation to sit (during the learning period) SATB (maybe with a spot for families who feel they must sit together) – so e.g. basses are more capable of listening to other basses – and continue sitting this way for 4 months. Some simple, round-type piece could be learned first (i.e., like "row row your boat" – the "Laudate domino" based on Les Folies d'Espagne is a good simple round, but it's in Latin and would likely put some off), and each week, one new hymn added to the repertoire – with ample repetition of the hymns already learned. Pieces selected which are very simple and not at all hoity-toity sounding; everything in contemporary English.

    The congregation would also be taught that the "contemporary" word on the street about language and music is – the medium IS the message (Marshall McLuhan) – and that no medium is "neutral." So each medium we use in trying to communicate a message, or to praise God, must be evaluated and appropriately transformed so as to please God, and reflect His divine will and message – and when it comes to the rather silly pop scene full of underwear-tossing, nose-jobs, and nipple-slips, that there is quite a bit of redemption necessary for us to bring such things into a place and time set aside for worshiping God. And that anyone who so chooses is free to listen to the Butthole Surfers at home, and that probably some "traditionalist worship" people also listen to the Butthole Surfers at home and would likely find contemporary worship, if it could somehow actually sound like the Butthole Surfers instead of like a singalong, to be vastly more aurally acceptable than it currently is.

    Maybe if enough congregations did this, some CCM artists would even get involved and write pieces intended for SATB congregational singing, with electric guitars, drums, synthesizers, and other "inherently demonic" instruments. The CCM crowd should still, in theory, be pleased, since they still have the electric guitars, drums, synthesizers, and other such "abominations," maintaining the illusion that others find them somehow unacceptably naughty and progressive, their sensitive ears shielded from the music of organs and non-amplified string instruments (pardon the irony here – I tend to find the "trad vs contemporary" arguments of previous generations rather ridiculous, and have met very few persons who actually believed that drums or electric guitars are inherently demonic). With the congregation beautifully reflecting the unity and diversity in the Body of Christ by singing in harmony, rather than monophony. Congregational singing would be raised above the level of being a sing-a-long, and the pieces the congregation sings would no longer be determined by the CCM hit chart for solo voice pieces (which is controlled by secular music companies, and has little responsibility to actual churches), but rather churches would again become significant in the creation of music, and selection of such music. And the Congregation would again be the main "instrument" worshiping God, with this worship being much more intentional, befitting a well-lit congregation of God's people who are sober and aren't waving lighters around in the air, and don't appear to outsiders like some weird Karen Carpenter cult. And, I think, God would be well-pleased.

    And so would those who visit. Once the congregation gets congregational singing up to a certain level, where it actually sounds beautiful, and intentionally praising God instead of vaguely imitating poppy jingly commercial music, visitors will likely want to "come taste and see" quite a bit more. The über-sensitive may feel weird that they are only capable of singing the melody line, while others apparently are able to sing harmonically – but hopefully they will be appreciated just the same, and if they are interested in trying to sing harmony, some member of the congregation will help them out. Or maybe there can be meetings a few times a year for coaching newcomers that are interested in singing in parts, but can't quite figure out how to begin.

    And perhaps those rather stuffy traditionalist parishes trying to do the angel-like sound, or with music that sounds more sloshy-soupy than crisp and dance-like, would become inspired by the nice, tight, crisp, somewhat-trained sound of these new CCM congregations – singing in a way that the rhythm actually makes sense – and with some elements of 19th century romantic posturing removed – like a good, rollicking renaissance secular piece with some drummy-drummy dancy-dancy to the way things are sung.

    With Evangelicals' supposed dedication to God and enthusiasm to give their whole lives to Him – doesn't it at least make sense that they in some way should be able to excel above their come-to-church-every-once-in-a-while "liberal" high-church counterparts? And can't the worship be a part of their greater dedication to conform themselves to the beautiful will of God?

  • Hi folks,

    Sorry not to have been around to join in, but our youngest boy Jonah has been ill. After 48 hours with a high fever the GP decided he wanted lots of tests done just to make sure our 7 week old just ("just") had a virus. Blood tests, stool samples and one lumber puncture later we think he's OK and the registrar's put him on a course of antibiotics, but they won't let him out till Tuesday once all the results come back.

    I'll try and respond to the issues raised, but apologies if that's not for another day or so.

    • Tom

      I hope he gets better soon.

    • Cerebusboy

      Hope your son gets better soon.

    • James

      Blessings upon your whole family, Peter. Come back to blogging & this thread only when you feel you've got the time & gumption. Family matters like that require a lot of time and energy, and your family needs you more than we pesky commenters do.

  • Just to reply to this thread (and thanks y'all for your patience).

    It's been a fascinating conversation about the merits (or otherwise) of contemporary worship. I think the main response I want to make to those who have rejected my proposal is that a lot of the reasons given for not changing the place where the Bishop's Cathedra is have had really little to do with the actual nature of the Cathedra (as opposed to the Cathedral) and everything to do with maintaining excellent

    examples of traditional worship. If we took Sheffield as an example, the current Cathedral in the town centre could, under my proposals, continue as a centre of excellence for traditional worship as "Sheffield

    Minster". It could continue the cycle of prayer, the seasons and saints and continue having a top notch choir and musical programme. However, *none* of that is essential for the location of the Bishop's Cathedra.

    I guess that's the key point – a lot of this thread has highlighted what are very good aspects about some of the churches in which the Bishops' Cathedras sit, but I've yet to see someone give me a good theological or ecclesiastical reason why it *has* to be a particular kind of worship.

  • Jumping in having seen Mark beach's blog reference.

    I was a Cathedral Precentlor for seven years, and responsible for shaping the kind of acts of worship which rile Peter.

    A cathedral does act as a focus for teh Bishop's ministry, which is to the whole diocese and with all styles of mission. That does mean that when 'the diocese' gathers, you choose stuff which most people will know. And the size of the gathering (and the acoustic of a place like York) means that contemporary music group stuff is difficult to do. That should not mean it should not be 'referenced' in some way.

    You're right: history pushes many cathedrals to provide a daily diet of sung worship at the trad end of things. Sunday worship does range in many places from middle to high – robed choirs do that kind of thing well. And many many churches in the land do it (or a version of it) too. So it's not out of touch, particularly. Just not expresive of the charismatic end of things. Many cathedrals don't operate a 'parish' or even 'congregational' model, so it would be hard to generate the kind of commitment and sense of being the body of Christ which enables teh best charismatic churches to do their stuff.

    BUT: that should not stop cathedrals doing more than they do in this regard. In the 19th Century cathedrals started using their superior technology (light and heat) to put on services for working people. In York it was so popular that one parish priest lost his living – they were all going to the cathedral. Look around and you'll see quite an engagement with multimedia and alternative worship (see Transcendence at York) – and at Coventry and amazing amount of zappy engagement with very untraditional cultures. At York we had massive Taize things, big Youth events, the launch of the charismatic organisation Resource, and so on.

    I think that the cathedral needs to express the whole of the churches life, not just one bit of it. At the moment the dice is loaded in favour of the trad. But there's more contemporary than you might think. And a purely charismatic seat of ministry for the Bishop might alienate more people than it helps. Not what a Bishop wants.

    Great debate. Read the book 'Dreaming Spires' (Ed Lewis and Platten) for more inspiration about cathedrals. Yes, I did write the chapter about worship.

  • Duncan Courts

    Most cathedral buildings evolved around the liturgy (including music) used at the time, therefore it makes sense that these buildings and their liturgy work together. I have no argument with those who wish to worship in the charismatic/informal style in congregations which find this style natural, but it would be artificial to crowbar this style into the ages-old monastic tradition as found in the cathedrals. These buildings and their people (including musicians) support a vibrant living tradition and faith – tradition simply does not equal old-fashioned. Why take away the living tradition of the few places that support such a vibrant culture in favour of imposing an artificial token gesture? The next logical step would be to demolish the cathedrals (too expensive, no structured cabling etc.) as they would no longer serve the liturgy adequately. Our cultural and spiritual loss would be incalculable.

  • Richard Ashby

    Not content with taking every opportunity to indulge you obsession with the 'gay' issue you are now taking time off to castigate cathedrals for not fitting in with your views about worship.

    Don't you realise that not everyone wants to indulge in happy clappy, theologically lite and superficial religion, but that beautiful music, intelligent preaching, old stones and contemplation are just what some Christian need. Cathedrals by and large are a success story, their congregations are going up (mine certainly is), the number of visitors is increasing, attendances at both secular and religious events is soaring. I may also add that cathedrals provide just that sort of support and welcome which the marginalised and uncertain want from their worship, people who would run a mile from the sort of 'commitment' you demand.

    Your reasoning is wrong. The whole church needs to be about expressing the richness of church life. Is your evengleical approach going to modify its way of worship and introduce surpliced choirs, regular sung Eucharist and highly qualified organists and musical directors? Of course not. Different places of worship have different traditions and ways of expressing and communicating with the divine. We all have differing needs, in this area as in may others. You want to force us all into the same mould. It's exactly the same with your strictures on human sexuality. This sort of authoritarianism doesn't wash any more.

    • happy clappy, theologically lite and superficial religion

      Oh, and that's not offensive in the slightest…

      So kind of you to drop by and insult me.

  • Philip Cole

    I'd missed this post by Peter as I was away from t'interweb at the time. Thanks, Richard, for drawing my attention back to a wonderful post that asks the key question of what is the purpose of worship. Is it to perpetuate a church culture, or is it to worship the living God? And if our worship is true worship it will touch hearts as well as minds as we lift our spirits to the Lord.

    Reading these posts I must confess that I have not seen such snobbery since, ooh … since I last visited the UK a month ago. And as a good charismatic I love 'Shine Jesus Shine'! 'Happy clappy, theologically lite and superficial religion'? Well, let's have a look at the chorus of that particular chorus with Bible references alongside …

    'Shine, Jesus, Shine (Matthew 17:1-8) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matth

    Fill this land with the Father's glory (Hebrews 1:1-3) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebre

    Blaze, Spirit, Blaze (Acts 2:1-4) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%

    Set our hearts on fire (Luke 24:30-32) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%

    Flow, river, flow (John 7:37-39) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%

    Flood the nations with grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:4-9)
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephes

    Send forth your word (John 1:1-5)
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%

    Lord and let there be light (John 1:9-13) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%

    Now I fully understand that some people may not like charismatic forms of worship. One man's meat is another man's poison, and so on …

    But I humbly submit to you that even someone without theological training, like me, could take the verses of 'Shine, Jesus, Shine' and run a decent teaching or Bible study on the great messages of scripture that fairly leap out of the words of this chorus: the glory of God, the supremacy of Christ, the riches of his mercy and grace, and the wonder of salvation.

    You might not like it as a chorus, and that's cool. But 'theologically lite'? Nah, you're pulling the other one!

    • Thanks Philip,

      For future reference, any Bible verses you quote will automatically be linked to the relevant passage in the ESV. No need to provide the links.

      Try putting your cursor over the references you've put in and see what happens.

      • Philip Cole

        Ooh, that's clever! Thanks

  • One point which I think is very important and which has not been mentioned once in all the above discussion is that, whilst parish churches across the land are being deprived of priestly ministry, if you go to any service at any cathedral it is almost certain that there will be at least two and probably more "collars" involved. What is the point of this? Those traditionalists who like to go to cathedrals for "their kind" of worship are welcome to do so, but please don't continue to take an inappropriate share of scarce priestly resource away from those congregations where worshipping God and taking the gospel out into the community are more important than listening to your own favourite type of music!

  • Oh dear! Now who is getting touchy! Is this an instance of the cap fitting????

    I am sorry that apparaently I did not make myself absolutely clear. I was speaking specifically about the topic under discussion – ie: the variety of different services within the C of E and their relative merits.

    I really do not see the necessity for having more than one ordained person conducting/taking part in a service just because it is in a cathedral – and those ordained who are therefore surplus to requirements in these locations would be better employed in parishes that are starved of priestly ministry.

    Despite the conclusion you have jumped to about my ignorance of what goes on behind the scenes, in my experience there are those in cathedral and diocesan ministry who are aware of their Christlike role in supporting parish ministry – and those who prefer not to be. There are those ordained people who are clearly more cut out for central roles than for parish ministry. The point remains that whilst some clergy send Sundays rushing round from one service to another within their parish clusters, there other places where two, three or even more are all involved in the one service. Does anyone think this is a good use of a scarce resource?

    • Don't worry about it. Richard's not commenting here anymore.