Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A excerpt from John Burwell:

"While I was in seminary, 'renewal' was the current buzzword used by all. 'Renewal parishes' were springing up all over the country, and we were told that the key to the future of the church lay in renewing congregations. We were also told that in order for renewal to happen, the traditional hymns needed to be replaced with praise music from guitars and pianos (keyboards were not yet mainstream) and above all, the staid, old, worn-our Rite One liturgy had to go. rite One was seen to bee too penitential. We were being told that no young person could ever identify with it.

"I didn't buy that. Just five years before seminary, I had rediscovered my Lord in the middle of a Rite One Eucharist, and I was 25 years old at the time. And a couple of years after that rediscovery, I heard my call to ordained ministry during a Rite One Morning Prayer service! Somehow, in spite of antiquated prayers with 'thees and thous' and in spite of an organ playing hymns -- somehow, God spoke to me anyway. I wondered -- could the people pushing renewal be missing the mark, at least a little? I began to attend renewal churches, to analyse what they had that the un-renewed parishes didn't. I came to the conclusion that it wasn't simply modern music or contemporary language. There was a sense of joy and a sense of belonging -- a feeling of community and a sense of purpose. In these renewed parishes, worship seemed to be fun -- and there was a feeling that the people wanted to share the joy they had with others. It seemed to me that the rite being used or the music being sung was of a secondary importance.

"So why did everyone insist on Rite Two with 'renewal' music? I theorized the insistence was circumstantial. After a person got 'turned on' they identified with the rite and the setting in which their renewal first occured. Since they got their 'happy feeling' in a Rite Two setting with guitars and praise music, and since they didn't have that feeling back when they went back to a church with rite one and organ hymns, they assumed it was the style of worship. And since being around non-renewed, joy-less people robbed them of their warm fuzzy feeling, they cam to believe that renewal could only occur in a contemporary setting.

"While still in seminary I heard a call from the Lord to renew a traditional parish. I felt called to take the joy and sense of community (i.e., low-church sensibilities) and apply it in a traditional setting. It seemed to me that God was calling me to renew, and to do it using Rite One and traditional surroundings. My fellow classmates thought I was crazy. They said I wasn't being realistic, and all I would be doing is tying God's hands. They said it would never work. Church of the Holy Cross provided me with the opportunity to test that call from the Lord. They were wrong. It worked."


mike burton said...

That's interesting. I'm glad that it worked for John Burwell.

But, everyone knows that the Prayer Book and the old hymns are just "out of date".

I mean, really, all that talk about sin and forgiveness and human frailty and stuff like that, that just doesn't connect with people anymore.

My hat's off to him, though, for finding a way to keep people interested with all of that antiquated stuff.

In my opinion, if you take away the rythym section, you may as well shut the church doors. Isn't that why people come to church?

It surely couldn't be for comfort or grace orbecause their lives are a huge mess and they need...Jesus.

AMvL said...

All this talk worries me, as I have played in contemporary worship bands for years, and now I feel I may not have a role in the church if people are just coming in for "comfort or grace". I mean, a good deal of the songs that I played didn't really talk about real comfort or grace. No we were singing about finally really fully committing ourselves to Jesus (again) and how we had decisively gotten ourselves to a place where we were ready to use sing serious action verbs.

Tim Galebach said...


mike burton said...

I don't think what we're dealing with here is primarily about worship styles.
I think it 's more about the spirit in which we worship. I'm almost completely convinced that hymns are so damn hard to sing, not because someone arbitrarily decided that it would be really neat to expect a congregation to have an eight octave range to sing them, but that we wouldn't get overly proud of the excercise and focus more on the subject matter.
I attend rite I sevices and contemperorary services, and I can say that it's easier for me to sing louder and sway more and put more gusto into the praise music than I can when I'm singing some hymn from the 18th Century with an impossible melody.
I mean, it's just easier.
It's also easier for me to forget why I'm singing, to Whom I'm singing and what the point of my singing is.
I love drums, though. If you get a good drummer in the Worship band, you've really got something. You know how that bass gets in your chest. It could almost pass as a real encounter with the living God.

bpzahl said...


I also played and sang, for a very long time, in a contemporary worship band. I agree with you that lots of those songs are about fully committing ourselves to Jesus, and the music was an emotional and verbal proclamation of that commitment. I loved the music, I loved the folks in my band, and I loved worshipping God with it.

But I think the problem here is not (like Mike said) worship style, but about the content or worship. I've come to think that using action verbs is not enough when, for much of the week, I don't really feel like doing those actions that speak of my commitment to God. It becomes an easy substitute to sing those words and think it's enough, because so much of oneself (body and emotions) are involved in that sort of worship. It's easy to really mean it surrendering or being a "history maker" when the music makes you really feel like you are a part of it.

Please don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that you or your congregation are doing that. I think it's awesome that you love to lead others into worship of God. I just think contemporary worship songs often (but not always) lack substantial or solid theological grounding. For example, the song "Draw Me Close To You" doesn't hardly mention Jesus in it; the song "I sing a simple song of love" is a totally different song if you replace "Jesus" with the name of your lover. I don't think there's anything wrong with expressing love for God, but none of these song speak of why we do love Jesus. If worship is to remember and praise what Jesus has done inspite of our sin, then why do many contemporary worship songs neglect this very important aspect of worship?

I once went to a church in Colorado that had this beatbox in the worship set and it was awesome. I also forgot what songs we sang that night because I was so focused on how great the music was!

I think there is a danger with any sort of worship that over emphasizes OUR expression, OUR commitment, OUR response, and changes in OUR lives. Those are important, but they are fruit. We really should be worshipping the cause - the gracious Lamb of God who overlooks our offense and gives us life instead of the death that we deserve. When we worship him (rather than our response to him), the full commitment and serious life changes that you speak of will come naturally and we will celebrate them, but they will never be the focus of our worship.


P.S. Two of my favourite worship songs that have contemporary versions are "In Christ Alone" and "Before the throne of God above". Two that are really contemporary are "You led me to the Cross" and "Blessed be your name".

Dave Shaw said...

I think it's interesting to talk about Rite I in the context of renewal, because in my mind, having started out an Episcopalian using only Rite II and then discovering Rite I a few years later, the latter, I firmly believe, is the more dramatic, which in a very real sense is more oriented toward "renewal". If you examine the structure even cursorily, you see a whole movement of human shrinkage or disappearance; but before it can get too bad, we are invited to take the elements of Communion. At that point, there is a great widening like the sky at sunrise, or a bird flying high. That's real drama!

bpzahl said...

i so don't understand irony.
maybe that's why i'm not episcopalian?

mike burton said...


Don't feel bad.

I'm right with you.... way over my head.


Tim Galebach said...

Bonnie don't feel badly. If I understand the Sermon on the Mount correctly, I said the same thing.