I’m playing tomorrow for a Harvest Festival at my church. It’s a traditional affair with the usual harvest hymns, but I’m a bit stuck because of several limiting factors:
1. The hymns are old. They’re organ pieces. I can do a bit of country and west-midlands on them if I’m playing piano, but that’s difficult without a guitarist. I can spice them up or change the key, or go full retro and play the organ, but it’s really a case of using the same stuff we always do. We’re in the same hole we make for ourselves at Christmas with carols vs regular worship material – why do we play “modern” worship 47 weeks a year, and “traditional” for advent and epiphany? Add Harvest to the list of exceptions.
2. The act of playing in worship for a morning service means I’m not corralling my three young children and keeping them under my watchful eye. In all probability, my wife won’t want to come to church and play zookeeper until the kids go out to their Sunday classes. So by contributing I curtail the involvement of my own children in church. I don’t mind the occasional sacrifice like this, but I’m aware of the cost.
3. We’re playing songs in the service which are “modern”, but most of them were being playing in 1997 when I started playing the piano in this church. We have a range of worship leaders who pick their preferred balance of music, and variety can be the spice of life, but occasionally I feel like I’m drowning in the 1980s.
4. It’s communion. I grew up in a church where absolute silence was the norm in communion. I’ll be expected to play music. That’s something I’m not 100% comfortable with, but it’s not a discussion I feel able to have with the leaders of services because the “way we do it” is quite established. (edit – it wasn’t communion in the event, I got that wrong, although the point I want to make still stands)
5. The PA will likely be set a little too loud. I actually saw the woman in front of me last week put her fingers in her ears. I’m hoping it wasn’t my singing, but I suspect it may have been, because I was singing up to be heard over the band. I don’t enjoy people complaining to me after the service about the noise I was making when I don’t have much control over the amplification.
So, what do I do about all of these things? Complain loudly to the church leadership? Whinge on my blog and hope a couple of people will read it and act on it? Nothing of the sort. I’m admitting to the limitations I see, and letting the reader know that the guy at the piano is aware of some of the criticisms that can be levelled. He’s working on some of them and despairs at others, and has his own agenda for sung worship but he’s not able to do everything he wants to. I’ll change what I can, and engage in discussion about those things I feel are really important.
If you really want to change things, get yourself a guitar, or a piano, or a trumpet, and join up. If the same people do the same stuff week after week, shake it up a bit. And if you’re not a musician, write poetry for liturgical use and find someone at your church who leads worship and is open to spoken word. Write, paint, move, create, do whatever you find to do to God’s glory. Delve into the Bible and share what you find.
And above all, be careful of what you criticise. There is a specific direction to Christians to be very careful about how we go about testing things.
For example, the same person may stand up every week with a scripture, picture or word from God. The description could be so vague that it’s almost guaranteed to mean something to someone and over time the cynical congregation members will draw their own conclusions, but that doesn’t mean this contribution is not from God. The service leader needs to test it and determine whether to present it to the congregation.
So there you have it: rant complete. I’m not satisfied with everything I’m being asked to do or how I’m being asked to do it, but I accept that things are not tailored to suit me but to compromise for the whole church. If you feel you want to engage and change things, get involved. It’s the only way to have a valid voice.