Traditional versus … Growth?

by Rie Linton

The website Patheos.org posted an article on August 17, 2013 written by David Murrow entitled “Why Traditional Churches Should Stick With Traditional Worship”. The article was very well-written and talked about a church that attempts to be inclusive to all varieties of those worshipping. Once a month it has a more contemporary service and the music is “Praise” anthems accompanied by a guitar.

The writer mentioned that most in the congregation do not know these hymns and few sing along, even with the aid of a giant screen that lowers with the words on it. The writer also said the guitarist did not keep a steady rhythm. Interestingly, one of his compliments about this church [which is not his home parish but is a parish in the town where he and his wife live] was that “the people are friendly, but not overly so”.

Mr. Murrow distinguishes between the praise anthems and hymns so perhaps I should first point out that any song sung during the church service can qualify as a hymn. The national church has directives and each diocesan bishop employs these as he or she sees fit but basically, if a song has been approved to be a part of the Eucharist, it qualifies as a hymn. Apparently the writer is one of the few who attends a church where the entire congregation sings. I can assure him that this is not the norm. Also, rhythms change so the accompanist follows the music and contemporary music has syncopation.

Perhaps I should state at this juncture that Gregorian chants are one of my most favorite forms of music. I also do a mean calligraphy copy of some of the earliest printed music so I am not one to want every Eucharist to be a U2charist. That said, I did arrange and direct one of the first folk masses performed in Province IV way back in the early part of the 1970’s. As a youth minister, the youth group wanted to do something for the parish and they wanted to do a folk mass. Most were neither musicians nor singers but their sincerity and faith made the service a beautiful experience for all.

The writer of this piece compares a church to a radio station and encourages the church to stay within its “genre”, to “do what you do best”. He concludes by stating: “What has this got to do with men? Guys appreciate a quality worship service — but they are not very forgiving of anything hokey or half-baked.”

Liturgical composer and acclaimed folk mass historian Ken Canedo traces the roots of the folk mass back to Gregorian chant, although it received the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican II. It began in the Roman Catholic Church and slowly grew in popularity and acceptance. Gospel songs became upbeat and rearranged as churches opened their doors to all of God’s children, not a select few of a particular color or social status or neighborhood.

The writer asked “What has this got to do with men?” Fortunately for mankind, the worship service is not about perfection nor is it only for men. The focus isn’t even humankind. The Eucharist is about God and connecting with Him, recognizing the history and elements of our faith and denominational doctrine. It is a time of meditation, confession, supplication, appreciation, and connection.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 compares a spiritual life to running a race. One gets nowhere in a race by standing still or doing the same thing over and over again. Amos and Malachi also address the issue of stagnant churches and stagnant believers. We are all very lucky that God is open to change and forgiving, since many of our daily attempts at living can end up “hokey or half-baked”.

Where would we be today if medicine had decided not to try new things, new procedures, and new cures? How comfortable would we be in our churches if we had none of the advantages of the Industrial Revolution? How many people would come to coffee hour if you had to brew it over an open fire because there was no electricity? I have worshipped in historic churches dating back to the 1730’s. They are lovely with their box pews, etc. They are also chilly, drafty, and the candles needed for light are a great fire hazard.

When we resist learning new things, we limit ourselves. When we limit ourselves, we limit God. No one is born knowing the Nicene Creed or Lord’s Prayer. We had to learn it to love it. When we learn to appreciate the language and music of all God’s children, then we will love our neighbors as ourselves. Religion may be traditional but we are called to be contemporary in living our faith. It’s called growth.

Rie Linton is a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM journeyer, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. She hosts the blog n2myhead, is currently developing a curriculum on Diversity and lives in Huntsville, AL.

Tags :

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real name and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted

One Comment
  1. Clint Davis

    Here’s some rebuttals that I posted to Facebook: “rhythms change so the accompanist follows the music and contemporary music has syncopation.” – Yep, that’s why most P&W music is soloist/band friendly and not 120 people of all ages friendly. For that matter, many tunes and some service music in the 1982 are just as unsingable for this reason. “Apparently the writer is one of the few who attends a church where the entire congregation sings.” – Probably the writer referred to has a good music director at church, paid what s/he’s worth. “…in the early part of the 1970’s… the youth group wanted to do something for the parish and they wanted to do a folk mass. Most were neither musicians nor singers but their sincerity and faith made the service a beautiful experience for all.” – Was it really a beautiful experience for all? The sincerity and faith of the musicians is NOT what makes a liturgy beautiful, it is the music that comes through that makes it beautiful, otherwise we have a sort of musical Donatism that depends upon subjective feelings and not the object of the Liturgy, which is the transmit the experience of the Risen Christ through the words, sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of the historically connected Eucharist. “Liturgical composer and acclaimed folk mass historian Ken Canedo” – acclaimed by the OCP set, I find his masses to be embarrassing, asking me musically to feel things I don’t feel, and would never express, particularly in a public setting. My feelings aren’t important, what God is and what God does are important. “the folk mass…received the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican II.” – Vatican II said that Gregorian Chant must have pride of place in the liturgy, that the pipe organ is the instrument suited for liturgy and for singing, and directed that books of simpler chants (the Graduale Simplex) be compiled and given to parishes to learn so that the whole Church would be able to do it well. What happened in the Anglophone sphere was a complete overreaction to Vatican II and countless works of art were stripped from churches, pipe organs literally thrown into the dumpster, shag carpet tacked over marble and hardwood, burlap and polyester replacing silk and cloth of gold, choirs and choral programs dismantled, musicians displaced, and all for what? Now, people see the old pictures and lament the losses. Now, cheap missalettes with the latest faux folksy music replace the same thing from 20 years ago, and music is a replaceable throwaway instead of an inheritance to be cultivated and taught. The rest of the article is fluff, about being open to change and new things. What about being open to timelessness and new things that add to the tradition instead of silencing it?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *