(Photos by Paul Adams)
This past Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to join hands with other churches in our neighborhood for a unique experience. Our band was invited to participate in an Evensong service at St. Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Church here in Denver. Rector Chris Ditzenberger and I are friends and brothers through a small group of local clergy that gather for prayer and sharing once a month, and Chris asked us to come and be a part of their beautiful Anglican liturgy. Friends like Chris and experiences like these give me great hope for the mainline Episcopal church. They’re going through so much right now. Great renewal movements, like Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA), are doing a marvelous work, but I’m thankful as well for people who stick it out in the mainline and fight the good fight in hopes of a brighter day.
We put together an acoustic ensemble (guitar, mandolin, upright bass, and percussion), stripped down our rock-ness and re-arranged our songs for a more intimate folk feel. We played our songs as special music, largely to cap off the season of Epiphany as it comes to a close this Tuesday.
The acoustic space was magnificent…not a soft surface in the room. Wood pews, brick and wood floors, and a vaulted ceiling. We played from the back upper balcony alongside a beautiful multi-racial children’s choir, dressed in full purple robes, from St. Elizabeth’s School in Denver. As it relates to worship theology and philosophy, I want to recount in brief some of the things that stood out, refreshed my soul, and blessed me:
1. It’s good to get out of the “hype” of the typical up-front worship leading environment.
Most who attend our church would consider our normal modern-styled services as pretty tame. We aren’t on our “stage” (we call it a chancel). We lead from slightly below and off-center from that point. We don’t have a particularly kickin’ sound system. We’re not exceptionally showy in the way that we lead. Even still, the week-in and week-out grind of standing up in front of people as a rock band wears on the soul, and it was great to be leading from a spot where no one (except God) was looking at me. There’s something humbling about that and reaffirming about my place as a worship leader.
2. It’s great to be awash in the Book of Common Prayer.
Anglican worship is so beautiful because of its structure and thorough thought from beginning to end. Though I find myself most often in a free-church-meets-high-church worship environment, to return to the purity of the thorough Anglican liturgy from time to time is refreshing for the soul. The Book of Common Prayer has so much to offer and inform us in our worship. And it’s true that the thinkers behind the original Book of Common Prayer (e.g. Thomas Cranmer) most closely aligned themselves with the thought and traditions of Reformed Christianity…therefore, I’m not surprised that I personally resonate with the theological and pragmatic angles uniquely expressed in traditional Anglican worship.
3. It’s great to be in a diverse musical environment, housed in one service.
In my previous ministry, we strove for a blended worship environment. Currently at Cherry Creek, we have a “traditional” and “contemporary” service. I am definitely on board with the philosophical and missional reasons why we’ve chosen two services, but my heart aches for times and seasons where we come together and express a bit more stylistic diversity. This evening was one of those evenings. St. Gabriel’s choir sang some beautiful chant-and-response settings by Fritz Anders, their director. He played their organ with beauty and passion. St. Catherine’s children’s choir sang “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” with a heart-melting simplicity. We led our music. The congregation sang with a strong voice.
4. Our old hymns to new music were received positively.
Our music attempts to bridge old hymnody with an intentionally modern-styled music. In doing so, I sometimes get the feeling that we cause both sides anxiety. The old adage goes, “When you aim at everyone, you hit no one.” Still, we played six of our hymn-settings from The Glad Sound and received positive feedback from people of a variety of ages. This was comforting and encouraging, especially because there are seasons where it feels like our musical vision is a steep, uphill battle.
5. It’s great to be part of a worship service that is not dominated by a few personalities.
Evangelical worship, in its most basic form, lends itself to being two-person led. The worship leader leads the music, and the pastor preaches the sermon. Our second service (which I lead), though a lot more liturgically nuanced, can feel like this from time to time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and I’m convinced that everything boils down to the heart of the individual. Nevertheless, I wrestle with seeking a Christ-centered humility when I am consistently in front of people and believe that there’s something good for the soul to be a part of a worship service where lots of people have key roles. In that format it does run the risk of feeling disjointed and athematic (the Book of Common Prayer becomes much of the glue for Anglicans), but I found it comforting and powerful to be laboring in the midst of many others to pull off this service.
Hats off to the Anglicans! I look forward to more joint efforts like this.