Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Audience / Congregation / Worship

A couple of posts on the subject of worship, and congregational involvement therein.

"Your Excellent Worship Isn't" from John Branyan complaining about bands playing too much, too well, for the congregation.

And Counter-Cultural Father reflects on the view reflected in specific hymnals as to whether hymns should be easy for congregations to sing or artisically better even if they're a bit higher. I especially appreciate Ben Trovato's comment:
"Trotman seems to me, here, to be exemplifying that exultation of participation (in a particular sense) over quality that I frequently lament."
But what neither really does is tell us the answer to the important question - what does God really want? So it's lucky I'm here, I reckon.

We at the Beaker Folk go through phases. When we decided that excellence in worship was important, we took a few key steps. First up, we noticed that the Beaker Congregation were tending to bring the quality down - turning up late, trying out their own harmonies, bringing their own instruments, failing to hit high Gs - we dealt with the issue by banning them from the Moot House, and streaming worship events to their rooms by cable.

Unfortunately  we in the Worship Executive could now hear the Quire without their contribution being mudditimry the congregation. Recognising that the Beaker Quire were the new weakest link, we replaced them with worship CDs.

This now meant that Beaker Worship consisted of Hnaef and I exchanging liturgical responses, interspersed by Matt German. On the bright side, the Peace was taking less time to exchange. But on the other hand, without the voices of the other Beaker Folk, I was becoming increasingly aware that Hnaef's tones are really pretty posh. And when you're just two druids streaming your worship to a congregation that you've banned because they're low quality, the last thing you want to do is appear elitist.

So there was nothing for it. Hnaef has to go. Which meant so did the responsive liturgy. Beaker Worship became basically me wandering around the Moot House, lighting tea lights, to a backing of the Rend Collective.

At which somebody read a bit of 1 Corinthians 14:
"When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."
And we agreed we needed to change. We went with Paul's advice for everyone to bring their own worship contribution.

Maybe we shouldn't have taken that to mean "each one" every time. Sometimes the services lasted six or seven hours, and we would have to have dinner sent in to keep us all going.

So we have now adopted the following rules:

  1. Worship is to be the combined effort of the people of God. In theory we should use dodgy translations of the word "liturgy" to underpin this. But in practice we include some silence, some responsive prayer, and no song is allowed to go above an E, or have a bridge that nobody is expecting.
  2. The Quire is encouraged to be good enough to lead, but not so good that anyone is ever tempted to introduce a solo during a congregational song.
  3. Percussion instruments are handed out for the last hymn only, with the advice that "we have a lively song to finish".
  4. Nobody who is convinced the Spirit will give them inspiration during the service is allowed to preach - or to play the organ without first learning the instrument.
  5. Anybody who says " of course, the group is better at "Hillsong"" will have an ocarina thrown at them.
  6. This is the only valid use of an ocarina.
  7. Except if the worship leader says "and now just the ladies, this verse".
  8. Song sheets are better than data projectors if there is a power cut. If it's dark, you can light more tea lights.
  9. The organ was a modern instrument once 
  10. Sometimes worship can be just listening or silence. 
  11. If all inspiration fails, use pebbles.
  12. Or tea lights. They're good as well.
  13. The first aim of a human is to love and worship God forever. If our aim is for our quality to be good enough for God, we'll be practising forever instead. God has millions of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus at any one point. Yet that does not mean that a 3-year-old on a kazoo will not be heard. Indeed, that kazoo will be the lead instrument.


  1. Good job I'm teaching ocarinas to year 1 and 2 this term. They'll all be ready by Easter to use them whenever needed and/or appropriate.
    Beginner ocarinas make a pleasant consensual burbling sound. The same cannot be said of beginner recorder players.

  2. I aim for as good as I can. Perfection will have to wait for heaven.

  3. Excellence in worship is about:

    Lacy vestments, incense and lots of bows and genuflections. Reverence to the Blessed Sacrament is key and any failure to bow or to genuflect at important points in the service is punishable by flogging.

    Congregational participation is only permitted in the form of responses and more bowing, genuflections or opening hands in response to appropriate greetings, the peace or whenever it seems that a form of response is needed, but they're not quite sure what it should be.

    All of this is taken from the manual for Anglo-Catholi parishes, which is mandatory reading alongside the Missal and Catholic Catechism.

    Our Evangelical congregation found it difficult to adapt at first, but we've locked and barred the tambourine store and given the worship group robes, haircuts and confiscated their musical instruments - they're now singing along with the organ, quite well indeed.

    All respect Father Jerome, who is a former 'All in Wrestler', publican and Cage Fighter. He gets his way, all of the time :)


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