Rob Passow is a member of the Virtual Abbey’s worship team and in his eighth year as Music director at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC. He sings in several DC area choruses and, in his spare time, works for a major government contractor. Twitter : @PilgrimsMusicDC
Although this post is about music, I believe it relates to our ongoing discussion about inclusive language in prayer.
Honestly, I initially felt uncomfortable about the thought of substituting she for he in our prayers. I know substitutions may make our worship more accessible to some, but I also wondered how it might affect me, as well as other worshipers.
“It is important to learn to sing songs I may not like for the sake of the community…By such willingness the whole community learns to appreciate a wider diversity of musical styles for the sake of caring for each other in the Body.” (Marva J. Dawn, A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time).
I share this quote to shed a little light on my own worship experiences and how they affect my music ministry. At Church of the Pilgrims, worship includes music from a wide variety of sources. In the past, I made a deliberate effort, but now it’s second nature to select music of many lands and times and peoples ─ music that faithfully reflects lessons and themes of our Sunday Liturgy.
A few years ago, I attended a worship service with a friend. We were greeted at the door, given a hymnal and a bulletin, and escorted to a seat. We settled in, listened to the organ prelude, and bookmarked the first hymn. Scanning the bulletin, I noticed there was a hymn coming up that I really disliked. In fact, I hated it. At that moment, my friend pointed to the same hymn and whispered, “Oh good! I really love that.”
Well, I didn’t even really sing the opening hymn because I was so cranky about the hymn I hated.
As worship continued, I recalled reading Marva Dawn earlier that week and thought, “If my friend and others in the congregation would be fed spiritually by this song, the least I could do is grit my teeth and sing it with them.” So, I gritted my teeth and sang. And amazingly, as I lifted my voice with others, I felt transformed by the music. As we moved to the front of the church for communion, the music drew us closer together. That hymn not only fed those around me, it fed me!
I’m still not fond of that hymn (though it now moves me each time I sing or play it), yet I realize it provides spiritual nourishment for many of my sisters and brothers. I also know it clearly expresses God’s love for us through Jesus Christ.
It doesn’t matter whether or not I like a song. It’s a question of whether music and text reveal the character and interventions of God; whether the hymn expresses the reign of God with all its truth, beauty and goodness; whether words and music help the community to participate more fully in worship. And when they are, and when they do, then we sing. Amen!
Image: Six of Hearts: no. 1 Opus 16, collage and ink, 1991.