The Feast of the Conversion of St Paul on 25 January 2019 provided the opportunity for a music-filled evening led by a worship band formed by uniting musicians from different Christian denominations. Part of our efforts, spurred on by the support of Heritage Lottery Funding, has been to spread the net out and invite new people into our church to experience its beauty, its candlelit atmosphere and the wonderful acoustic that it has. The attendees included representatives from Christian communities from across Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth. Promotional packs and invite letters were hand delivered to each of the 40+ Christian churches across our locality, followed by an email the week before the event. The band consisted of a mix of musicians from St Thomas’s Lancaster (Anglican), Carnforth Free Methodist, Lancaster University Chaplaincy and St Joseph’s RC Church.
Here, the organiser, Lisa Vallente-Osbourne writes of the night:
Tonight we did something very special. With the grace and trust of God, we opened the doors of our catholic church as widely as possible and invited all Christian communities of Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth in. We asked them to have faith in us, and come and worship and pray with us. Using music as a common medium, we effectively met each and everyone of our fellow brothers and sisters halfway, using worship music as our language; a common denominator in which we unite in faith. It’s always been easy for us to compare ourselves against other denominations/religions and see our differences. These are the characteristics that have divided us for so long. Tonight’s challenge was to focus us on contemplating on what unites us- Our Lord and Saviour.
He who sings, prays twice- is a famous saying from St Augustine. What did he mean? That our voices are gifts from God, which we can give back by making music for the Lord! Yes- He, Our Lord wants to hear our voices; not just the words of our mind!
Singing has been a prayer of the generations. The bible is filled with joy or even angry songs of prayer, just open to book of psalms, or read a canticle! Even Mary Our Mother had a song in her heart the moment she gave her ‘fiat’ to the Angel Gabriel. ‘My soul praises the Lord- he has looked in his lowly servant’...
Why choose worship music? Well for a start it’s the language of our fellow Christians. But also, worship music is moving more into the catholic realms. Over the years, it’s changed from the old ‘kum-by-yah’ and moved into the realms or Hillsong, Bethel, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad- music.
In his divine renovation book- Fr James Mallon - asks us to consider incorporating worship music; once it’s past the ‘Brenda’ test! But worship music has changed from simply praising the Lord, and now includes depths of scripture, and dialogue.
Worship songs are lyrically driven; repetitive and easy to learn. Whilst they may be considered by some as inferior to traditional hymns, they speak the language of today. When you listen to worship music, something miraculous happens. Like a lot of contemporary music, it gets stuck in your head and plays its catchy-tunes over and over. With worship music, this becomes a grace filled prayer! Yes- the ear worm singing to you over an over sings you a prayer; reminding you of the love our Lord has for you when you are doing the mundane in life.. washing up, running the kids to school.. in your dreams!!
In a world where people are turning away from religion because ‘it’s not relevant’ or ‘it’s boring’; worship music bridges a the gap and speaks to people at their level. Music once again gets the freedom to become a living and breathing soul-felt prayer, and what a beautiful one it truly can be!
Look where the youth of today are, look at the youth rallies, World Youth Day and Youth 2000 - here you find thousands upon thousands of believers newly budding in their faith. Here you also find worship music- a way for them to express themselves when may simply can’t find their own words. Worship music in its essence teaches us to pray; when we are unsure, or simply just a bit lost.
I’m not suggesting we throw the traditional music out. Instead, consider a unity of old and new. Worship music incorporates seamlessly into Mass; providing words and hope when we can’t pray. It nestles well with traditional hymns, and gives these an injection of new life and energy. We love rocking up, or ‘going gospel’ on ‘’Be thou my vision’ and ‘Amazing Grace’.
It’s energy is infectious. It’s revitalising and driven by grace and hope. It’s gives the congregation a diverse array of music language to speak, and encourages all generations to join in - yes I said join in; and find your voice!
Tonight we used music as a medium to reflect on the life of St. Paul- since today was his feast day. Saul, the fervent persecutor of the early Christian church has a direct encounter with God. A man, so far from Christianity, becomes one of the the most vocal and inspiring Christian’s of the bible.. Saul- becomes Paul- the Apostle.
We considered the stages of St Paul’s life, the stoning of St Stephen, the conversation on the road to Damascus, the desert years and finally his preaching and martyrdom. Structuring the music around these times, we built a tapestry of mediations considering what would Paul be feeling at this time? What might God be saying to Him? How might he approach this?
We used the life of St Paul and his scriptural teachings to speak to our hearts. How did St. Paul react to God’s message; how are we expected to react.
Bishop Paul explained that grace is a gift from God. It’s a gift quite unique in that it’s not one we keep and hold onto, own and posses; but instead it’s something that we share to our fellow brothers and sisters, families and communities. It’s in this sharing that Grace and love increases..
I must admit, the night before the event , rehearsing in the colour changing stage lights, or during fully kitted our sound checks; with our sound engineer , I feared we may have pushed the boundaries too far. The devil certainly has his work cut out, as we gained and lost a handful of key musicians ten days before the event. Even on the night, the laptops refused to work for the big screen projector, and two of the student band members got a late lock in, in a lab of which they weren’t permitted to leave till their practical complete. They got to sound check 10 minutes before we kicked off the event! But all went well, and we loved being of this.
We were all so grateful to have the company of Bishop Paul Swarbrick. He joined us for this event, opening and closing with spoken prayers and blessings. He talked hopefully about the healing an event like this provides. Together as local neighboourhood of Christians we stood, together as Christians we sang, prayed and shook hands! Together united as parts of that one body as Christians we prayed Our Lord’s Prayer. Together as Christians we began a dialogue of curiosity looking as each others ways of faith and understanding them more.