Toward a More Profound Alleluia!
Thoughts About Music and Liturgy at St. Paul's
Janette Fishell, Director of Music/Organist
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Greenville, NC
Over the summer I read a book so profound and moving that it struck to the very heart of my being as a church musician and Christian. It put into words concepts and beliefs that I firmly held, yet lacked insight or
perspective to articulate in a clear fashion. Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint (second edition, Hendrickson Publishers) by Calvin M. Johansson, explores the role that music plays in our communal worship
of God. Over the coming months I wish to share some of its most important observations in an effort to heighten our awareness of what music in worship is all about and deepen our understanding of the Biblical
foundations that shape music and liturgy at St. Paul's.
On what do we base our philosophy of Music in Worship: Aestheticism, Pragmatism, or Biblical Truth?
If music in the divine service of God reflects the philosophy of the music directors and clergy who plan it, what are prevalent philosophies that shape music in the Church today?
Aestheticism: Hopefully, none of us would deny that a concern for the beauty and compositional quality of music used in worship is an important issue. We have been taught to give God our best, whatever that best may
be, and shoddy music should be as abhorrent to us as plastic flowers on the altar or bad theology from the pulpit. However, when one makes the aesthetic quality of music the primary driving force that determines what
is appropriate we are in danger of worshipping not God, but Art.
Pragmatism: This philosophy believes that the "ends justify the means" and is a dominant force in today's society. In this philosophy, music is a tool or contrivance that is used to achieve an end and all other factors are subjugated to justifying this end. The minister of music with this philosophy will do "anything to get the message across." While the goal may be noble, this approach has several flaws. It often presents a dichotomy or "dissonance" between what is being proclaimed and how it is being proclaimed. Further, it obviates objective artistic standards; they are no longer a valid concern since anything is acceptable in order to reach one's goal.
If these are rejected, then to what should we turn?
Biblical Truth: When God's word is the compass that guides our philosophy then the value we place upon Art will not replace God as the centerpiece of praise but will take its rightful place as the window through which we glimpse God. When we look to God's revelation in scripture, our focus will not be upon earthly success with its financial "bottom lines" or membership "quotas"; there will be no conflict between the spiritual message and its musical vehicle.
We understand God amid many paradoxes: Jesus was fully human yet fully divine; the weak shall inherit the earth; only in giving do we receive. These paradoxes form a theological counterpoint ~ a dynamic relationship
in which there is creative tension. In the following months I will explore various Biblical models for creative music ministry, each of which is like a shard of glass in a stained glass window. Separately they shine with one color, but together they reveal the fuller truth that should be the foundation for music ministry.
copyright Janette Fishell