Conversations about worship

“Why aren’t people singing?”  Darlene Ketchum, recording artist and directorof the Institute of Worship at Pacific Life Bible College in Surrey, framed an opening question at a recent forum, “Conversations about Worship.”

The forum, attended by about 50 people, was held at Pacific Life Bible College on March 1 and featured well known musicians and worship leaders Darlene Ketchum, Carolyn Arends, Roy Salmond and Lincoln Tatem as moderators.

Between plenary sessions of speaking and worship, participants met in small groups to discuss thought provoking questions and the event concluded with questions to the panel, from the audience.

Lincoln Tatem, music pastor, composer, and educator reminded those present of what God is doing while his people worship: He is present, he calls us to Himself and reveals Himself to us, while granting us thoughts and language with which to praise Him.

As we attend to Him, Tatem asks, are we just “individual silos” worshipping by ourselves simultaneously in one room or do we have more of a responsibility to each other? Consistent attendance, a commitment to worship and the giving of offerings are obligations of the worshipper.

Lincoln maintains that anonymity in worship is not an option.

On this idea of community, Roy Salmond, music producer and speaker, stated “how we perceive community, engage community and approach community affects our worship.” He read from 1 Corinthians 13, emphasizing the importance of love, and quoted Henry Ward Beecher, who said, “I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.”

We want community to shape us spiritually, rather than our faith to shape our community. But Salmond believes community should be the fruit, not the goal. “Ideals for church and worship often get in the way of our communion with God.”  He cites Thomas Merton, “ ‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.’” In church and worship, we need to drop the ideals and die to ourselves. Community will be the by-product.

Ketchum asked “Can inclusive participation and skilled artistry co-exist?”  Why even sing? She read, Psalm 33:1 which tells us to sing joyfully to the Lord. Singing expresses the things we care about, enables us to share with others. Song is a reaction, a response, bringing hope and a method of coping. The act of singing expresses truth, celebrates victory and is a way to learn and memorize.

She quoted Russian Orthodox bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald, who states that the majority of people would yearn for, “…such singing as will touch the heart, as will move us to tears of emotion; as will lift up our spirit and help us to pray.”

To encourage inclusive participation, Ketchum argued, we need to focus on communion with God, to know the song and make sure others know the song in order to participate. Are we inviting the congregration to sing?

What about participatory listening and contemplation in the worship service? A  time for listening, pondering, reflection and processing, “where the aim is not vocal participation, but contemplative spiritual listening… where a skilled musician expresses…God’s hope, his presence, his Word, His truth.”

Ketchum wonders, if when we tried to mix participation and skilled artistry in the current worship style, we have ended up with neither one. She concludes there are times for listening to skilled artistry and times for participation.

Carolyn Arends, singer/ songwriter, speaker and writer, noticed in her many travels, that where worship seemed to be alive, in churches across the spectrum, three things stood out.

 First of all worship was Christ-centred and focused on the person of Jesus Christ.  Next, a sense of reverent, but joyful worship with the attitude of “this is a preposterously amazing thing that we are invited to… to commune with God…” permeated the services. The third quality of engaged worship was hospitality. It was intentional, and inclusive; people knew where they fit into the order of things.

She quoted Marva Dawn, “I have found that any kind of music or style… both new and old can be hospitable if the persons who participate in it welcome the strangers, if the leaders give gentle and invitational explanations of what we do.”

 “We have an incredibly hospitable God,” states Arends, “when we worship together, it’s not just us, it’s us and every believer around the world… every person who ever lived who loves Jesus and the creatures around the throne in Revelation 4, who sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb, who was and is and is to come.’”

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