this is a pdf of the keynote presentation i used in the alt worship workshop over the last few days at wisdom’s feast. it’s a 6mb file and there are a few things that won’t make sense from the pdf – images that turned into movies, etc.
it also doesn’t have explanatory notes – i don’t do notes, i just go from the slides.
the workshops went OK, i think. i felt a bit out of place, going back to working with a group of [largely] ordained people, and an older group than what i’ve been working with recently, but i really enjoyed it. i really love that my pre-conceptions about who in the group will ‘get it’ are always shattered. [i have a theory about people over 70 that keeps bearing out in reality… about their willingness to explore the new, and their longing for a different kind of worship…]
the big sticking points, one of which almost led to a revolt, were reframing our concepts of community and rethinking our use of music. i mentioned at one point that i hadn’t used singing in worship for years now, and for a moment thought everyone would walk out…
At the beginning of alt worship workshops i normally throw some quotes around – including one from steve collins about planning for alt worship begins with a blank sheet of paper. in the ensuing conversation i ask people what they would find hardest to leave off the blank sheet of paper. singing is the only thing that is always mentioned [in all the workshops i’ve run, i’ve never had an exception to that]. yet when i curate alt worship spaces for those same people, they never mention that they missed the singing. ever.
but no matter how often i say ‘this is alternative, not mainstream… i’m not saying we should ditch singing from worship’, or ‘i’m not saying we should never use singing, i’m just saying we shouldn’t assume we’ll have singing’, people still get quite disconcerted.
these are the reasons why i rarely use singing
– a large part of alt worship is getting people beyond the purely cerebral – moving from the head to body – but most of our songs gets people out of their bodies and back into the cerebral realm… unless we use songs that are really repetitive, songs we know almost by heart.*
– lyrics have an agenda and a message. by inviting people to sing along to something, we’re assuming we know what will be happening in peoples heads at that moment. that seems antithetical to what we do in most of the worship i’m involved with.
– when we begin planning alternative worship the process doesn’t normally begin with asking what the prayer of confession should be, what form the sermon should take, or what hymns we should use. it asks the question ‘how do we create a context for people to encounter God through this story?’. communal singing rarely seems to be emerge as a way of encounter. someone asked whether it was because that was my preference. i honestly don’t think it is. it just doesn’t emerge organically within the context of everything we’re doing.
[of course, given that john bell was in the next room running a workshop that included – as always – beautiful singing, my point was somewhat diluted…]
community is a whole other conversation… how do we define community? do we need to change our language so we don’t talk about community, but we focus more on resonance?
*someone mentioned, which talking about singing and liminality, that in much mainstream worship, the singing is the liminal moment… i wonder whether that’s why people want the same old hymns in worship. it’s not for nostalgia, it’s to have a ‘thin’ moment, to lose yourself… something you can only do in a song which you know as well as you know your own name…