How do you plan your Sunday service?

For the past few years, Becky and myself have been fulfilling the role of “music team co-ordinator” for our church. Essentially this means that we are responsible for the organisation and implementation of musical worship, including sorting out rotas, calling and leading practices and, in my case, leading the music during Sunday services.

It looks like I know what I'm doing...

Me, in action.

At the moment we’re taking a sabbatical from this role, partly to re-charge, and partly to work with the church leadership in re-defining our role.

As part of the latter, we have emailed selected family and friends of ours involved in music in other churches to ask the following questions;

  • Describe the process of how your Sunday service is put together. (Who starts the process week by week, who chooses the songs, who leads the service in the morning, etc…)
  • Who is responsible for the musicians; Musically? Pastorally?
  • Describe the position of the Worship Leader /  Director of Music in context of the leadership of the church. (Are they part of the church leadership? Who are they accountable to, if anyone?)

Hopefully, this will give us an idea of how to proceed with our positions once our sabbatical is over.

If you’re involved in church leadership in any way (or even if you’re not), how would you answer these questions?

You vs. Thou

Recently, I came across the album “Homemade Worship by Handmade People” by Rend Collective Experiment. (You can see more about it here or here.)

On first glance, I didn’t recognise any of the songs listed, which was promising, and it wasn’t until I listened to the album that I recognised the second track; “You Are My Vision”. Usually, when we sing this at our church, it’s called “Be Thou My Vision”, and is one of my favourite hymns. As I was planning on including this hymn in a service, we practiced it during our weekly music team rehearsal, and, as an experiment, I played the R.C.E. version to the team first. It went down very well, with positive comments regarding the main difference between the two.

This difference (other than the Fleet Foxes / Mumford & Sons styling of R.C.E. which we can’t quite pull off) is the modernisation of the lyrics. What R.C.E. have done is adapt the traditional lyrics for a modern audience. Here’s a comparison between the first verses;

1912 version;

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Rend Collective Experiment version;

You are my vision, O King of my heart
Nothing else satisfies, only You Lord
You are my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Your presence my light.

The hymn continues along these lines, replacing “Thou” with “You”, “Thy” with “Your” etc., and amending syntax where necessary.

Initially, my response was “What have they done? What was wrong with the old lyrics?”. However, the more I listened, and the more we discussed the change at church, I came to the conclusion that it was a useful change.

One of the points raised at the music practice was the fact that this new version removed all the archaisms that, in day-to-day English, we haven’t used for decades, and made the hymn more accessible to new people. For a person new to church, it can often be intimidating enough without having to make sense of early 20th century lyrics.

On the other hand, when changing lyrics to an updated version, you do have to be careful to keep the meaning. It’s entirely possible, in the attempt to be completely free of archaisms, to dilute the meaning or change the words, especially if you’re keeping the original, familiar tune. The theology in those hymns that have lasted the centuries is so sound (for the most part), and so ingrained in the minds of the church, that any change could be detrimental to the act of worship, where people are unwilling to sing unfamiliar words in case they contain a sentiment that they cannot agree with.

However, that last point can be said of any new song introduced to the congregation, with the added bonus of new words making a singer look at the content of the hymn afresh, or perhaps leading to a new understanding of a song that may now be sung purely on auto-pilot.

Personally, I’m still on the fence. I enjoy R.C.E.’s version of “Be Thou My Vision”, almost as much as I enjoy the 1912 version, and I would quite happily lead a congregation in either. Other hymns don’t work quite so well with contemporary language, as it waters down or amends the theology, and for a rousing start or end of a service, it’s great to hear the whole church ring in praise with a tried and tested hymn.

I’ll keep listening for new versions of the classics, I may even have a go at re-writing some myself, but at the moment, I’m quite happy to use the traditional words for traditional hymns, with occasional dalliances with modern English when the occasion suits.

Why dedicate?

William's Dedication cake

On August 18th, 2011, Becky and I levelled up.

At some time after 11pm, with only a few minutes to go before the end of the day, my son William Robert Kelly was born, on his due date, and we became parents.

Yikes.

6 months later, we are still parents, and, despite the sleepless nights (more for Becky than me I’m sad to say), I’m grateful for it every day.

On Sunday 19th February, we were joined by family and friends at our church for a service of dedication for William, but why a dedication service, rather than a Christening or baptism?

In a lot of churches, children are baptised. In our church, while we do practice baptism in water, we reserve it for later in life, when people can decide for themselves whether to be baptised. Instead, we dedicate infants, formally welcoming them into the church family, and, as parents, we promise to bring them up in a Christian household. If there are Godparents present, and in our case, praise God, there were, they promise to be a support to the new family. The church too, as part of the service, pledges support to the child and parents.

The parents are then presented with a certificate, which includes a specially selected Bible verse for the child; William’s verse is Romans 15 v. 13.

For some traditionalists in the wider church, this non-baptismal service can seem odd, especially as so many non-church goers will request a baptism or Christening from their local church. For us, it’s part of our church life, and our way of demonstrating our thanks to God for providing us with a child, and to welcome him into the start of his Christian life. We can save baptism for a later date, and celebrate with William then too!

It’ll be up to William, when he’s older, to make the decision as to whether he wants to be baptised or not, and I pray that, as parents, Godparents and church family, we’ll be there to guide him in the right direction and help him know the same loving God that we do.

Why “Repeat until blessed…”?

Now there’s a question.

The first, and obvious, answer is simply because it’s my approach to blogging. Keep plugging away at it, and one day, someone other than your friends and cyber stalker will read it.

The second answer deals with an area of interest that I hope to address occasionally here; contemporary Christian worship music. In that context, “Repeat until blessed…” becomes less a motto, and more of a musical instruction, one which is increasingly popular – keep going round the chorus until a) we remember the link passage to the next song, b) the keyboard player finds the next song, c) people start to sit down/leave or d) the preacher starts the sermon.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. In the right service, with the right song and the right band, this can be a wonderful, worshipful experience. As a musician, I enjoy this opportunity to stretch out a bit, flexing my bass muscles (less enjoyable on trumpet), and concentrating less on what comes next and more on who we’re worshipping.

On the other hand, not everyone appreciates the space. Some people, myself included if I’m not playing in the band, can find these extended vamps wearing, and an initial feeling of worshipfulness can soon evaporate into boredom, distraction and frustration.

So, where do you stand on “repeating until blessed”?