Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Double Entendre

First off, I want to say thanks to all of you, especially David Belcher, who have kept this little flicker of a blog from going out altogether. I am encouraged by the interest this blog continues to generate within our little corner of the denomination, and what's more, I keep meeting people who affirm my instincts that there is indeed a move toward, a need for, and certainly room for these kinds of conversations about liturgy and sacrament - the theology of our practice(s), and the practice of our theology.

Second, a quick update on me - Gloria and Andrew (who, good grief, is about to be ONE!) and I moved to the bustling metropolis (sarcasm drips) of Xenia, OH in early December. I joined the staff of Xenia Naz (officially First Church of the Nazarene) as Worship Pastor - although my role and job title has generated some discussion about whether I am or should be simply the "Worship Pastor," or the "Music Pastor," the "Worship and Music Pastor," or the "Worship and Arts Pastor" (the latter seems to be the trend right now, which makes me suspicious of it). I only half-jokingly suggested that I'd prefer "Liturgist" or perhaps "Work of the People Pastor" (a moniker borrowed from Pastor Brian Niece), but (big surprise) that didn't fly. Things are going well. It's a fantastic church, and we have a great pastoral team (sr. pastor and 4 full-time associates - worship, children, youth, and young adult - plus part-time sr. adult pastor and "outreach" pastor) that seems to really share a common vision for our ministry to this small, largely blue-collar/agricultural community 20 miles east of Dayton. We all have very different styles and personalities and approaches, but it's a good kind of diversity that thus far seems to work.

I've come into a situation musically that is a bit interesting: my predecessor, who is a long-time friend and former mentor (he was my TN district Impact director when I was in 10th grade), was here for about 10 years, and really took the church from singing very traditional holiness/campmeeting-style music out of the hymnal to singing mostly contemporary praise and worship music using video screens, a full band and praise team, etc, know the "progression" (if it indeed should be called that). Although we have 2 services, they have managed to avoid having a traditional vs. contemporary service paradigm - we do what is for the most part the same service twice. I'm getting a crash course in all the trendy songs from the past couple of years, which I missed while I was off singing centuries-old sacred music at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland. Some are really okay; a few a great, and I love leading them; a few are terrible and should never have been passed off as "worship music" - a phrase that, I realize, more and more sounds like a redundancy to the younger generation..."Worship IS music, isn't it?" (

But as most of you would know, or at least assume, I'm not willing to give up our hymnody. So what we're doing right now is probably what most folks would label "blended" - a label I'm not crazy about, because in my experience, most churches that call their worship blended aren't doing any of it, contemporary or traditional, very well. It's kind of a lowest-common-denominator approach in some cases - "we'll do some hymns, but we'll do them upbeat, and we'll do contemporary stuff, but nothing TOO rockin'..." which in practice doesn't often do justice to either the traditional or the contemporary. Or else it's a all-things-to-all-people kind of approach in other cases - "well, we have to make sure we have something for everybody..." which often leads to a kind of stylistic incoherence, I've found. I take it as a compliment when people tell me they appreciate the "blend" (although I like it better when they say "variety" or "diversity," but that's just semantics to most people - I, on the other hand, care about the words people use). It's been an adjustment for everybody - those who have been involved in the music program under the previous pastor are having to get used to singing more hymns, and I am continually amazed when I want to do something like "The Love of God" or "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" and about half of my band and praise team confess that they've never heard it. And I am getting used to putting a few ultra-current songs into the mix (anything older than about (c) 2004 is perceived as being a little dated by some of my folks), as well as resigning myself to the fact that we'll probably never sing the Magnificat or the Nunc Dimittis or Adoro Te Devote, at least in our regular Sunday worship services. (I did try to sing the Lenten Prose with my choir at our rehearsal on Ash Wednesday, and they cooperated but I don't think many were eager to do it every week.) But these are not complaints - it's a great church and a great place to serve, and like every church, it simply presents a unique set of circumstances and challenges.

Also, we bought our first house in the area, about 3 miles from the church - cycling distance once the weather's better (we were under 14 inches of snow this past weekend). We're near enough to both Dayton and Cincinnati that we don't feel starved for the kinds of cultural events that larger cities provide, but we're enjoying the small-town vibe for now. We're also about 7 miles from an even smaller community - Dave Chapelle fans might be familiar with it - called Yellow Springs, which in this very conservative area is a weird little haven of artists, free-thinkers, LGBTs, and liberals of all sorts. So whenever we want to attend a poetry reading, or visit a coffee shop with some folkie strumming live music in the corner, or shop for beaded jewelry or new age books, or, I dunno, attend a peace rally or hug a gay person, we go to Yellow Springs. We're glad we bought in Xenia, since that's where we're ministering, but knowing Yellow Springs is right there keeps us sane at times. It's also home to a family-owned dairy that makes amazing ice cream and a great little pizza joint called "Ha-Ha Pizza" which I'm guessing is a hit with the local "herb heads."

Anyway, that's four times more update than I intended to give. I have choir rehearsal in just over an hour - frantic preparations for our Easter musical. It's my first time directing anything this full-scale, with choir, live band, actors, lots of tech and mulit-media, etc. A bit overwhelming, but it's not as "big" as it probably could be, and I think it'll come off fine.

Now, to finally refer to the title of this post ("double entendre"), I was initially inspired to post my first blog in months by an ad I received at the church (you'd be disgusted by how much junk mail and promotional stuff I receive each week) from our denominational music publishing house. Nazarene Publishing House/Lillenas are now pushing a new brand-image called Comsuming Worship. I just wondered if they aware of any hint of irony about this name. Your thoughts?

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