Hey, I have an idea: let's argue about church music!
Bruce G. Epperly and Darryl Hollinger wrote this week's offering from the Alban Institute. It begins like so:
While congregations often want to cling to the safety of still waters, the vision of vital and life-transforming worship and music calls them to an adventure of the spirit. As every traveler knows, even small steps can lead to adventurous journeys. Singing an eclectic repertoire enables us to look beyond our own little world and to experience the expansiveness of God's realm. Expanding our repertoire beyond just a single genre or two and a handful of "golden oldies" enlarges beyond measure our view of God, the world, and humanity.
We encourage worship leaders to be bold in this proclamation of faith. It is not about aesthetics—about what we like or dislike. It is about singing our faith in our local community while opening ourselves to new possibilities for singing and worship. Our desire is for worship teams to capture a vision of the rich possibilities of song styles and to grow in faith by singing the stories of those from the past and from other parts of the world.
The article is a valiant attempt to move conversations about church music beyond subjectivity. Epperly and Hollinger don't offer opinions on the 1982 Hymnal or what a former choir mate of mine once referred to as Wander, Lost, and Dazed. (Surely I am not the only former Roman Catholic out there who came to love the folk-y songs in this volume during a post-Vatican II adolescence. Or am I?) Rather they discuss the manner in which various kinds of music can be played to best effect. The only argument they advance is in favor of eclecticism.
To assess how eclectic your repertoire is, have your worship team take an inventory of the songs styles you used in worship over the past year. Use a chart or a spread sheet with these and other styles as headings: chant, Renaissance/Baroque dance, European classical, Western European folk, Hebrew, African, Latino, Asian, Native American, early American, African American spiritual, gospel, and contemporary. Put each song you used under one of these headings, or under other headings you devise. Begin a dialogue about your church's song style by answering these questions:
1. What style is most prevalent?
2. What styles do you use on a fairly regular basis (four or more times throughout the year)?
3. What styles have you tried minimally (one to three times)?
4. What styles would you like to add to your repertoire?