Build your entire liturgy around music from Jesus Christ Superstar. Since this was the first time I’d had off on a Sunday morning in months, I wasn’t inclined to spend my first church service in ages subjecting myself to an amateur church choir’s renditions of songs I don’t really like to begin with. Apart from disdaining Andrew Lloyd Webber in general, my wife and I had specifically chosen to attend what we thought was going to be a traditional service, because that’s what we were in the mood for on Palm Sunday. After the first 90 seconds or so of “Heaven on Their Minds,” during which time my consultation of the bulletin confirmed that the entire service would be more of the same, we were outta there. I only mention this because the aesthetics of worship can be a divisive, but interesting topic. I’m not one of those who will outright condemn people who find that they are best able to worship God by participating in a staged recital of a 1970s rock opera, but I do wonder about the efficacy of it as an outreach tool and as a witness for the particular beliefs that congregations wishes to extol.
I enjoy contemporary worship services, but I also enjoy traditional liturgies and music. Striking just the right balance between the two is incredibly difficult, and I don’t envy the ministers, worship planners, and hymnal editors who undertake to strike it. At the same time, while I’m aware that I could take this opportunity to reflect on why, in particular, I wanted a traditional service on this particular day, or why I reacted with such disgust to what others might (quite validly) perceive as a creative approach to worship, I’m instead left wondering why people like me were left out in the cold by this particular congregation. It appeared that both services yesterday were the same; anyone who wanted to attend a traditional service was out of luck. In terms of the congregation styling its worship aesthetics to its own preference, that’s all perfectly fine and understandable. If they all want to let Tim Rice (that august Christian poet) govern their expressions of praise, that’s certainly up to them. But beyond catering to its members, I feel that the mission of a Christian congregation is also to reach out to others in the larger community and provide opportunities for them to honor Christ and receive spiritual nourishment in the smaller church community.
While I would not ask a congregation to sacrifice its theological principles for the sake of attracting strangers, it does seem odd to me that, at a time of year that is so strongly intertwined with church tradition, and on such a particularly noted church holiday, a congregation would be so willing — by design or by lack of forethought — to alienate potential worshippers who simply might not care for such an indissoluble blend of secular aesthetics with religious devotion. This isn’t about doctrine so much as mindset. I come from a very insular, conservative faith community that prides itself on making as few concessions to modernity as possible, leaving little to no room for diversity of thought or personality. What I encountered on Sunday seems to be the flip side: a faith community so dedicated to a liberal embrace of modernity that “diversity” is reduced to meaning the exclusion of anything traditional. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I do know that it wasn’t for us, and both my wife and I were very disappointed when we realized that it was too late for us to attend a worship service that would satisfy us. Walking out of a church service not two minutes after it started because I had to choose between my personal aversion to glam rock as a worship device and worshipping at all was not the way I wanted to spend my Palm Sunday.
(Or am I just being a persnickety crank?)