At the end of last year, I asked the PCC to look at ways of refreshing our worship, including the range of music that we sing.
And we began to consider afresh just what our own “expectations” are of our shared worship.
Do we expect to encounter the living God in all his wonder?
Or are we more focussed on meeting our neighbours?
(Both are important but they are not alternatives!)
Do we expect to be challenged and inspired by worship?
Or are we happy just to settle for the comforting and “safe”?
I expressed my own feeling that our worship was in danger of becoming rather “stale” – due in no small part to the rather restrictive nature of our hymn books. And while it may seem an odd to think about changing hymn books at a time when money is tight, unless we are going to settle for the safe and uninspiring there is a pressing need for something better.
So what exactly is the problem? On the one hand our hymn books contain only a narrow choice of hymns—new or old – with only about half the number of hymns that most other books include. IT was impossible, for example, to get through the four Sundays of Advent without repeating at least a couple of hymns —there simply aren’t enough to choose from.
Secondly, having been published more than a quarter of a century ago, “Songs of Praise” contains nothing from the wealth of new hymns that have appeared during that time.
Consequently, not only are we failing to benefit from the fresh inspiration that has produced those hymns, but we are becoming further and further removed from what most Anglican congregations around us would regard as “normal”!
Of course, all of us have our favourites – hymns that speak deeply to us in various ways – and we certainly don’t want to lose those.
But, to confine ourselves only to a narrow pool of the safe and familiar IS to risk growing stale and predictable in our worship – instead of expecting to be inspired by it to live out the “good news” we are called to proclaim.
Just as the combination of people who make up our congregations has changed beyond recognition over the past few years, so our worship needs to keep evolving — to recognise the arrival of new experience and new perspectives among us and to enable all of us to feel caught up in our “common worship”.
In our singing, as with everything else, we need to look beyond what we already have and refuse to settle for less that the best we can offer.
St Catherine’s have already benefitted from a “new” set of hymn books – donated by the congregation of St Mary’s Gillingham, who have recently replaced theirs.
At the Parish Church we would hope to be able to purchase a set of “Ancient and Modern” – the latest (2014) version of the classic Anglican hymn book that many of us remember in the dark purple 1950s version!
Our aim is to raise sufficient funds to purchase a whole set in one batch so that we will benefit from a 25% discount on the total.
The newest tome includes many traditional hymns that are not in our current book, as well as newer music – new words to familiar tunes, Taizé chants as well as completely new compositions.
Having risen to the huge challenge of last year’s Sound Appeal this new goal (a little under £3000 would be needed) seems relatively modest. If we can do it, however, the impact on our worship would be just as great.
The PCC have suggested a number of events targeted at raising these specific funds with the aim of having them in place for this year’s Harvest. Let’s see what we can do!