Saturday, September 13, 2008

This Worship Malarkey (1)

Preamble (or is that pre-ramble?):

I have been intrigued by a discussion that has been taking place over on Jonny Baker's blog about worship. I find, on my travels through the blogosphere that the is a significant amount of discontent around the whole issue of worship, though I think what we are really talking about is communal worship. I can engage up to a point with this debate, as a bog-standard worshipper ... but the debate is largely based in protestant circles, and well, I'm ... a Catholic. I am very conscious of the fact that whenever I interact with blogs my comments tend to have me saying in almost apologetic tones, "I'm a Roman Catholic". No, I'm not embarrassed about it, I have had many opportunities to jump ship, I've even had invitations to do just that, but in spite of my own personal frustrations I remain, for the time at least, at home. I'm also aware that I started this blog to share the trials and tribulations of being an average worshipper in the Catholic church and I rarely, if ever mention it here. So today, I am going to look at 'The State of Worship in the Universal Church from an Offbeat Catholic's Perspective.

Disclaimer: I ain't no scholar and these are just rambling personal opinions, many of which are in a constant state of flux anyhow. So don't expect much in the way of wisdom here, more a working through of thoughts.

Big bones of contention 1: Singing as the main focus of worship

My exploration of the Protestant denominations will largely be based upon my forays into Anglicanism as that is where most of my journeying has taken me but brief excursions into the Methodist church and free Evangelical setups have also influenced me. I remember first attending an Anglican church in 2000. I was amazed by the use of such things as electric guitars and microphones in the service. They had songs which, OK, a fair proportion of them were embarrassingly sh*te, but some of them wouldn't have sounded out of place in the pop charts. And when I listened, they were like love songs - WOW! love songs to God, now there's a novelty. These are now spoken of somewhat disparagingly as 'Jesus is my boyfriend' songs, but for someone like me who had spent all her teen years listening to soppy soul classics in her bedroom, yearning for something other than unrequited love from the spotty lad on the No. 11 bus, it seriously spoke my language. And as an added bonus, it added a more spiritual flavour to my shower repertoire of Memories (Gladys Knight) and the theme from Mahogany (Diana Ross). But it seems that the church's reliance upon the sugary worship song is beginning to wear a bit and some folk (good Anglican word) are becoming quite vocal in their desire for a change in direction, worship-wise. Charges of cosiness and lack of engagement with pain abound.

The Catholic church can be categorised into 3 main types: The real progressives who sing 'modern' folk hymns from such recent times as the 1970s, though a rogue one or two Graham Kendrick numbers may have crept in there; the traditional hymn lovers to whom the accoustic guitar is anathema and only the good ole organ will do; those who don't like any music at all. These three groups can be accommodated in most parishes by just having a mass in each of the styles. The mass is the mass, that is a non-negotiable but we can mess about with the music bit. As we can be a bit insular, we haven't yet discovered modern worship songs so haven't had the opportunity to tire of them. Perhaps I am being a little unfair - I gather there are one or two Catholic churches in the country where the modern worship genre is the way but I have yet to encounter one myself. They are the stuff of legend, like the unicorn and the Holy Grail. If there is one thing that bugs me, it's that we have some really fantastic stuff going on in our Catholic secondary schools and yet none of it filters through to the churches. And we wonder why the teens lose interest. A lot of the adults lost interest long ago but are too set in their ways to do anything about it.

11 comments:

Khera Kamile Missen said...

Exactly - there IS some great stuff happening in schools...but surely you don't think that can be as meaningful as what happens in a cold building once a week!

It used to make me laugh (and fume) when I'd speak to a priest about how DoSY could help work in the parish with young people and they would reply 'we don't have any young people in this parish' (meaning why would they need our help)...

Grrr...aren't we supposed to take the Good News to the street instead of waiting for them to come to us?

Holy Famoley said...

To be honest, Khera, I think there has always been good stuff going on in schools, even when I was at school. We used to have Franciscan missions and others come in to us for a whole week and we would have a great time (OK, at the time I eyed them suspiciously thinking they were on a recruitment drive!). But there is this duallism that says fun is for the world, miserable and boring is for church.

What really scares me is that evangelism of any kind is not a priority for so many priests, so it is no wonder that this attitude filters down to the parishioners. That just turns church into an exclusive club.

Stumpy said...

I think what i missed most when I attended church was a degree of spontaneity in the worship (I was a Baptist). I always felt that reading a worship from a set text book/script was dead and meaningless to me (not meaning to offend anyone's faith/religion here, just a personal thought). The introduction of guitars and heaven forbid, drums was a good step, but just as quickly became as set in its ways. Its very difficult when a church meets to worship, as it cant be chaotically anarchic for all sorts of reasons. there are no easy answers at all. Maybe its the whole institutionalization of the 'church' that I disliked. Perhaps having a leaderless community, where all are equal and all contribute equally is a utopia that cant ever be reached.
Maybe its time to start one myself!

Holy Famoley said...

Yeah, Stumpy, I think you're right - we limp from one rut to another. I'm a great one for little sayings and one of my faves is 'variety is the spice of life'. if we were even to just have a variety of different styles/activities and shuffle the programme from time to time, we couldn't complain of boredom.

The problem with the Utopian vision of a leaderless community is that you would never actually do anything. In my experience most people want to be part of something but don't want to contribute. Maybe we need 'light touch' leaders.

Stumpy said...

re leadership- it would be good to experiment I think though. i think some people (it usually is the same people IME) would naturally find 'housekeeping' things that needed doing, some would naturally 'lead ' the worship, or at least integrate it. I know what I would like is really contrary to human nature and instinct, but I would love to get rid of the 'religion' and just allow the doing, the worship, the getting out there and living on what God equips us with, and not find excuses for the hierarchy, the bureaucracy, the money making, the politics.....

Holy Famoley said...

Yes, sad to say the politics invariably finds its way into all churches. And for some, the need to be wanted, to have a role is paramount. Trouble is it all gets very territorial.

Anonymous said...

I like your insight Carole. We don't tend to do much singing in sanctuary, see worship more as the words we say, read, the things we look at, the smells and tastes as well as the sounds.
sonia

changingworship said...

I can confirm that there are some charismatic Roman Catholic goings on. At one seminary they used to have what can only be described as "Spring Harvest with Benediction". The monstrance would be processed in, and off goes the charismania. At the end the monstrance was processed out.

In the RC school I worked in what you describe is going on. Relevant mass for the pupils using worship music that speaks to them. Back in parish, back to the "speed mass" (see 1min 28s).

You will have to live with my rather unfair caricature - I am putting it as it is perceived!

The problem isn't limited to the RC church however. Essentially all churches dress church up for their youth and loose them as teenagers. We dress it up as "church that you will like" with "music you like" and "readings you can take" and "candles you can light". Then they get to be teenagers and we rather unceremoniously dump them in a church where all of those things it turns out were a lie - and a big fat hairy one at that. Church is actually a place where old women tell you off for your clothes and your hair and your music and the way you walked in and the way you sat down and the way you didn't move in the right manner at the right time. They also tell you off for not singing the song you don't know or want to know as it was warbled at you because it sounds like it came straight out of your grans collection of strange plastic discs that you lay flat before scraping them with a needle.

The reason our kids don't stay is because we try to sell them a lie. Church isn't hip and trendy and wont be for a good few years until the people who are in charge aren't. People will never trust the young people to plan and be in charge because they are the "church of the future" rather than the "church of today"... and if we don't change that we wont have a church of the future...

BTW, I'm not all doom and gloom, I just think that when we recognise this we will be in a much better position to make a difference to the "church of the future".

changingworship said...

Ironically I was summoned to a diosan meeting last night where they reported one interesting fact that passed under the radar of most people there. In their research that they carried out in the last year, children feel that they have a voice in all of their communities. They feel that their opinions are valued and respected (by and large) in the home, school and other organisations that they belong to. They believe that what they say is often used to shape their communities...

...except in the church!!

And we wonder why they leave as soon as they are able to vote with their feet :/

Mike said...

Worship...just let it happen.

changingworship said...

From my experience as an RE techer in a Catholic school, what you say is true. All sorts goes on in school but the wider church doesn't support this kind of activity in the 'Church' (bad distinction I know but you know what I mean).

BTW, the Anglican church you describe is a bit alien to me (and I have been around the charismatic anglican block a few times). Mostly the Catholic church experience you describe is my experience of anglicanism.

"The real progressives who sing 'modern' folk hymns from such recent times as the 1970s, though a rogue one or two Graham Kendrick numbers may have crept in there; the traditional hymn lovers to whom the accoustic guitar is anathema and only the good ole organ will do; those who don't like any music at all".