Friday, October 09, 2009

Some thoughts on Worship (v): Greenbelt 09

OK, having cleared my throat, here are some further specific thoughts about the Sunday morning service at Greenbelt this year.

- structure - I thought the structure was pretty good. I can't recall if it began with an invocation of Christ but, on paper, there was a good balance of word and sacrament, the hymns were appropriate to the theme and on the whole it was pretty solid. The service didn't fall down because of the structure, although there was room to quibble about some bits (eg no Lord's Prayer);
- the Word - this was the first serious problem with the service, in that the Scriptures were not read out in English. Sure, if you had a Bible with you (or if you had a good memory for Scripture) then you could tell what was going on, if not, you were alienated from what is (probably) the single most important element of Christian worship. Also, the 'sermons' were read out (and people had the text in the service sheets), this too was a mistake, although not so serious;
- the music - this was diabolical. The hymns chosen were good-to-excellent (new words to old and familiar tunes) but the implementation was a disaster and the best example conceivable of how not to enable worship. In the environment of Greenbelt on a Sunday morning - when there were some 15,000 people gathered together in a field - then the onus is on those preparing the worship to ensure that some sense of solidarity is generated amongst the diverse people present. This is most readily achieved by singing in unison - so, a familiar hymn which all could join in with easily. Sadly, the way in which the music was played (technical people can describe the details) achieved nothing but alienation amongst most of the people gathered together (certainly all the people around me; it may have been different in other areas). There was a strong sense of wanting to join in and sing, but being prevented from doing so, and this compounded the error of not having the Scriptures read out in English. In sum - there were some people doing things on stage but it didn't have much integration with what the people were able to join in with;
- the politics - I'm probably more pro-Israel than the average Greenbelt attender, so the pro-Palestine theme was a bit jarring for me, but even taking that into account I felt that it was too specific and one-sided to work well as the theme for this service. The principal occasion for fostering unity amongst the people gathered was probably not the best time to pursue a politically divisive issue (the same could probably be said about criticising Tesco). It raises the question of what the worship was for...;
- the sacrament - this was the best bit of the official service. I thought that the 'elbow bump of peace' was creative (although, in the context of a lot of people alienated from the worship, laughing and bemused, it didn't increase a sense of transcendence!) and the use of oil for anointing was excellent and moving, and I was fairly happy that this had replaced communion (which left people the option of a supplementary communion amongst themselves at the end, which we did). Also, the giving out of an olive seed at the end was a good, incarnational idea.

So, on the whole, some good ideas at the planning stage, which were only partly successful in implementation, but as a service of worship the music in particular killed it nearly stone dead. What makes it most bizarre is that the 'Beer and Hymns' is an excellent demonstration of what might be possible. The service could have been mind-blowingly wonderful. It wasn't, and that is a shame.

For the record, given the comments made at the Greenbelt site, I am not a conservative evangelical (!!) and I have no idea who Tim Hughes is.

Previous posts in this series:
Intro
What makes worship distinctively Christian
Participation and Performance
Worship is Useless

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