Catechesis Through Song Or “What’s A Gretsch Have To Do With The Trinity?”
“The Holy Spirit sees how much difficulty mankind has in loving virtue, and how we prefer the lure of pleasure to the straight and narrow path. What does He do? He adds the grace of music to the truth of doctrine. Charmed by what we hear, we pluck the fruit of the words without realizing it.”
We’ve arrived at the question “how do we connect Catechesis and music [insert AGNST, UPSET, SHOUTING, CUSS WORDS]?” Andy Piercy, former Worship Leader at Holy Trinity Brompton in London and hit song smith (remember Der Kommissar), is leading us through the path that Holy Trinity has traveled during his thirty years as a worship leader; a case study of a particular community.
Andy watched his faith community shift musically from a top-flight professional choir with a full and vibrant traditional service to a sparsely attended traditional service. Out of that grew an evening service with youth who on their own decided to begin to incorporate more modern musical styles; not out of rebellion (more normative in the America…imagine that…Colonials being rebellious) but out of a sincere desire to offer worship in their own voice. Eventually, out of a sincere desire to see youth on Sunday morning the Rector went to those attending the traditional service and asked “do you want to see young folks on Sunday morning? Then we need to invite them in and make a few changes.” From there the contemporary service grew exponentially on Sunday morning (they retained the traditional service at an earlier time Sunday morning).
What I found most intriguing was Andy’s statement that England is a thoroughly secular society. They aren’t putting contemporary music into the church to attract youth. They don’t have a “church culture” like America. Contemporary music won’t attract youth in England, “I could give money away and people still wouldn’t see any reason to come.” Unlike what we tend to do in America, i.e. include contemporary music as part of marketing strategy, contemporary songs tend to be the result of an organic response of the local community. These younger English worshippers don’t want to be sung at and they’re not looking for a show. They want to join in the worship of heaven as a community and have their own voice.
There is a tendency to get hung up on style and assume that because a style of music may not be to our liking the content must naturally be thin at best and heretical at worse. While I agree that there are many songs currently being sung that are thin on theology and (a personally distressing issue) thin sonically that doesn’t mean that the old stuff from generations past are good. There are plenty of awful hymns. The good ole’ days weren’t always good (just ask Billy Joel). We need to retain the frame while changing the picture. We need to put complicated theological concepts into easy language set to song. We need to work together as a community to contextualize the language and style of the songs we sing while keeping our eyes focused heavenward remembering that it is not about us as we seek to offer right sacrifice and rejoice in our covenant with the Creator of All Things. We can in fact rejoice in song through a Vox AC30 while proclaiming the truth of the Hypostatic Union. We can sing to teach and train the next generation with music that is relevant while teaching and reinforcing timeless abiding truths. The next generation may even want to sing a hymn or two and maybe even skip the guitar altogether (gasp!).
 St. Basil the Great