Musicians Welcome in Unprogrammed Worship

Somewhere on some blog which I can't find anymore, Allison, a new attender at our meeting, commented about missing music in meeting for worship and wondering if artists were or felt excluded from our worship.

I mused on that for a while. Here is my answer:

It is my understanding that it is perfectly acceptable to make music in meeting for worship - what is usually frowned upon is pre-arrangement.

The point of our form of worship is to come in open to the leadings of the Holy Spirit, without having planned what God will ask us to do or say or sing. I don't know if it's happened on a week when you were in meeting for worship, but people do sing - old hymns, familiar songs, once I sang a U2 song.

Some Friends with musical gifts are often called upon to sing in worship. Called upon, not by a person, but by our worship leader: the Holy Spirit.

It is less common to hear someone play an instrument, just because it's less common that people are walking around with their trumpets, for example. But I don't think that would be wrong, any more than people bringing their Bibles just in case they might feel called to read something from it, either to themselves or out loud. You see that pretty often.

Since our worship is unprogrammed, it means that if we want to practice something together, like reading the Bible or singing, or a string quartet, we do that outside of worship. Bible study is on first and third Sundays, hymn singing on second and fourth, and other groups by arrangement. I haven't seen a spiritual string quartet (or drum and bugle corps, for that matter) at our meeting but that doesn't mean it can't happen.

The last thing I wanted to say is that in other places among Friends, there is lots of music, all by pre-arrangement and rehearsal. One time I went to the Berkeley Friends Church there was an acoustic guitar solo. The time I went to Newberg Friends Church in Oregon, there were traditional hymns and contemporary praise music, led by a vocalist with a band including piano, electric guitar and accordion, if I remember correctly.

Some African Friends churches have several choirs that all sing at every meeting for worship. There's drumming and dancing and singing, and it is part of their worship service. I've never been to Africa, but I've read and heard about it. If you read back through Peggy Senger Parson's blog, A Silly Poor Gospel, you'll find descriptions of her time in Burundi, mostly, and of their highly scripted, highly musical worship.

I hope that this helps you understand more. We need artists among us, and plumbers, social workers and librarians, bankers and people with no apparent means of support. Each may have professional skills - and other gifts they don't get to use in their work life that can come forth in the meeting community. But that's another story.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I attend an unprogrammed Meeting on the east coast and we sing after First Day school. There isn't a choir director or anything, someone will just sit down at the piano and people will call out hymns as they feel moved. Often, one of the high schoolers will bring along a violin and play, too.

2/06/2008 8:11 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

That's pretty much how the hymn singing works here too. Although we usually have the same person playing the piano. But they/we just sing whatever somebody suggests next. I am a sporadic participant in hymn singing because it requires that my family and I arrive early...

2/07/2008 1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Pittsburgh, we have a 20 minute music and singing session every Sunday, in between when the early worship ends and the 10:30 worship begins.

2/10/2008 6:12 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've been moved to sing in meeting for worship more often than I've been moved to speak (though I haven't been moved to do either really often).

2/11/2008 10:07 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

It's good to hear how other meetings have incorporated music into their practice. And that our practices are more than one hour of unprogrammed worship each week.

2/11/2008 12:22 PM  
Blogger Laurie Chase Kruczek said...

My kids have some Little Golden Book about God and I almost started reciting the words in meeting, though I did stop myself. I'm not sure if I was being led or if the book was just driving me insane from reading 8 thousand times :)

I like the idea of singing before meeting, but I'm sure the others in my meeting would find that off-putting, unfortunately.


2/11/2008 9:57 PM  
Blogger David Carl said...

As much as I treasure the whole concept of unprogrammed worship,
the expectation of spirit-led spontaneity doesn't necessarily fit with the realities of musical performance.

In my Unitarian days, I performed in Church regularly. I knew when I was going to play, and it motivated me to learn a new tune, practice it, come up with interesting guitar parts, perhaps rehearse with a musical partner, etc. But other than that I'm not a regular performer. So I don't have a "stock" of songs just ready to "spontaneously" burst into when led by the spirit. If I were going to pick up my guitar and sing or play something, it would have to have been pretty intentionally planned and prepared before hand.

I suppose one solution to that dilemma is to prepare (but is that even kosher?) and then see if the spirit leads me to actually follow through. But the cards would be pretty stacked by that time, I think. "If the flesh is ready, the spirit will be willing?"

2/13/2008 5:42 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Music is the thing I miss most in unprogrammed worship. At home I worship in a programmed meeting usually, although the ones I've been at the last few years have had an unprogrammed worship service as well that I sometimes attend. Right now I'm attending an unprogrammed meeting, which is good, but I don't think we've ever had music there. I think they do have singing times once a month on Sunday evenings, but it's not the same for me--it's not something that's expected to gather people in to worship, to focus on the Spirit together, and to become a community through the blending of our voices (and other instruments). I think maybe semi-programmed would be a good way to go, but I haven't seen this successfully done with adults on a regular basis (although it would definitely be possible and probably fairly easy).

2/14/2008 11:26 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I think that preparing in advance and then waiting to see if you're led to give ministry, musical or verbal, is poor practice.

When I sing in worship, it's because a particular song has come to me - sometimes I know all of it, sometimes I can only sing the chorus, I suppose I might just hum if that was where I was led. When I was playing instrumental music regularly, I had a repertoire of songs I knew by heart. I would expect that a serious musician would know more, and could discern that a particular melody, a mood, was requested by the Holy Spirit. It's not the same as a practiced performance, any more than usual vocal ministry is the same as a written and practiced sermon.

I have often thought about semi-programmed worship, with about five minutes of music and/or a reading and about an hour and a half of open worship. That may become the format for the San Mateo County worship group...

2/14/2008 11:41 PM  
Blogger David Carl said...

As I feared, Robin M. The amateur chef who prepares pastry for the social hour may lovingly give play to her creativity, as may the poet who contributes to the newsletter, while the hapless amateur instrumentalist hath no place to lay his weary head. Perhaps those Unity folks down the street will take him in.... [queue very small but plaintive violin]

2/15/2008 11:32 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

David, I think you're missing the point. Bringing pastries to share in meeting for worship would be less appropriate than contributing to the potluck. I know that in my meeting, people have been admonished for blatantly bringing their own or others' poetry to read in worship. Preparing music to play outside of worship, say during the potluck or a poetry reading, is not unwelcome. However, the surreptitious advance planning of unprogrammed worship is.

My meeting in fact has a talent show at our annual retreat. It showcases the many musicians and poets among us.

2/15/2008 3:31 PM  
Blogger David Carl said...

I do understand your point completely Robin. But what you are saying is that in your meeting my art would be welcome once a year. I understand that meeting for worship isn't a musical revue or an art show. I just miss the opportunities I used to have to share my art in the way I know how to do it. There is scriptural support for making a joyful noise unto the Lord. And does it also say, "so long as thou dost not rehearse?" Is God not worthy of preparation? This reminds me of Wilmer Cooper's description in Growing Up Plain of his conservative Quaker father driving up to the tent revival meetings and parking outside, just trying to catch the preaching and music wafting out... what longing that must have been.



2/15/2008 8:15 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

David, I'm going to keep arguing this point. If you want to prepare your words or your music for worship, then yes, there are lots of other churches that do that. But unprogrammed waiting worship is designed to let us respond to the Holy Spirit in the moment - more improvisation than composition, in words or music. We put less emphasis on polished performance and more on direct revelation - and I think that can happen in music as well as words.

I do think that there is room for preparation for Friends: reading scripture, practicing your scales, learning to play songs, studying other writers, playing with other musicians, knowing the needs and gifts of the community. But when we sit down in worship, we hold that lightly, and wait for what God might send us. Or ask us to do.

2/19/2008 1:02 PM  
Blogger David Carl said...

You argue it well, Robin. May your revelations be many.


2/19/2008 6:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree that unprogrammed worship is designed to be Spirit-led in that moment, but at the same time, I wonder why we insist that it has to be inspired in that moment. Well, let me rephrase that. I think it's important that no matter where we're in worship, even if we're in a programmed worship service (be it Quaker or otherwise), we should listen in that moment to make sure that what we're feeling led to share is truly from God, whether it is something we've prepared or not. In programed services this gets tricky because everyone comes expecting that someone will preach and someone will lead music, etc. But what if once you get there you don't feel led to do those things? I think it should be more "allowed" in programmed services to not do what was planned.

The same (or the opposite) goes for unprogrammed services, however. How do we know the Spirit won't lead one of us to prepare something for some specific worship time? It is important if someone feels led throughout the week to prepare something that they don't just come in and do it without making sure it still feels right when the time comes, but I think it's rather limiting to say that the Spirit will never lead us ahead of time to prepare something for unprogrammed worship.

It seems like in the days of the earliest Friends, often a person known for their vocal ministry would come with a several-hour sermon prepared. Sometimes they would give it, sometimes not. Sometimes Fox would wait for minutes or hours until he felt like everyone was prepared to hear the message he was led to give, but those sermons were often prepared in advance (if not written down, at least thought through). So it seems to me like a "ritual" or "form" that now we say one cannot prepare something in advance.

2/19/2008 8:04 PM  

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