It is good to see old friends and to greet new faces. I’m particularly glad to be able to welcome Mr Lindsay Gray, Director of the RSCM, not only to Bishopscourt but also to South Africa. May God bless your time here. We hold you in our prayers as you meet, asking that God will bless your time together, and guide you in taking forward the conclusions that you reach here today.
‘Be filled with the Spirit’ writes St Paul to the Ephesians, ‘as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph 5:18,19).
The RSCM is certainly something for which many of us give great thanks, for all that you have contributed to the worshipping life of Christian people round the world, as you have grown and developed since your foundation in 1927. Good music, well-integrated with good liturgy, has the capacity greatly to enhance the mission and ministry of God’s people in God’s world.
Yet it is no secret that this is not always easy to achieve, and, if achieved, to sustain. The context of South Africa – indeed, Southern Africa, for many of our churches – provides more challenges than I suspect are faced in most areas of the world. Diversity is the codeword for our greatly differing languages, cultures, traditions, theological emphases, ecclesiological styles, resources, educational levels, and more besides.
Images of harmonies and symphonies come to mind!
Within Anglicanism we have everything from imposing cathedrals to tiny rural chapelries, from considerable affluence to great poverty, and spanning 7 nations and 13 languages. Others here today may have similar breadth. Addressing all these situations is no mean feat.
Yet they all have their strengths, and all can be sources of great enrichment and dynamic and stimulating cross-fertilisation – not least when we come together.
I like to hope that my own service of Installation as Archbishop, managed appropriately to draw on sources as diverse as Schubert and Kudu horns. David Orr, organist and Director of Music at St George’s Cathedral, participating in this Indaba, is one of those who composed some pieces especially for the service, including a particularly lovely rendering of the gospel, read in various languages and interspersed with choral responses – for which I remain grateful. Those of you who were there, indeed, who contributed music to the occasion, will be better judges than I of what does and doesn’t work on such occasions.
Within the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, one of the ten priority areas we have identified for the Province as a whole, as part of renewing our vision through to 2020, is ‘Liturgical renewal for transformative worship’. As we unpack what we mean by this, we have given ourselves various touchstones.
The first is our desire for worship that is ‘vibrant, inclusive, contextual and life-changing, while remaining in touch with our liturgical inheritance’. As if this were not enough of a challenge, we have said that inter-generational issues and the perspectives of young people need to be taken into account. We have also looked at the wider picture, and identified the imperatives of justice and reconciliation, as well as of gender equality and poverty, as further matters that must be kept before us.
It’s a tall order – and of course, music plays no small part in this. I’m glad there are those among you today who would call yourselves primarily liturgists rather than musicians. Both are needed, working together in the service of the Church and its people, in the life to which God calls us.
Again, images of harmonies and symphonies come to mind.
And as you look at all the different options on which to draw, the different contexts for operating, the different needs to be met, you will know better than I, what these analogies might mean in practice – whether in terms of the harmonies of similar voices singing different tunes; or the glorious breadth of sound and texture that can be achieved with a full orchestra of different instruments, each contributing parts best suited to their own particular distinctive qualities.
Perhaps too our understanding of the Godhead as Trinity can help us here: God the Father, creator, as the great composer; God the Son, incarnate, as both conductor and leader of the orchestra that is humanity; God the Spirit, breathing life into the notes on the page, and animating us all in our performance.
Ah yes, reflecting on the Trinity brings me to a final point, perhaps the most important of all. For, no matter how carefully crafted are the words of our liturgies; no matter how precisely the liturgy is put together and choreographed; no matter how technically excellent the music – worship is actually not a ‘performance’. It is about our humble encounter with the living God. And as the Psalmist says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, their labour is but lost that build it’ (to quote the version of Ps 127:1 in our Psalter).
Our worship must all be rooted and grounded in a living relationship with our living Lord – open to him, for him to meet us in and through it, and to use it as he wills. So, though we strive for excellence in our music, our liturgy, our worship – and though we bring our professional best to all our planning and preparation and execution – we must do so conscious of seeking his guiding and direction, and also his joyous inspiring and encouraging, every step of the way. For surely this is what it means to worship ‘in spirit and in truth’.
So, to conclude, I hope to hear you ‘making a joyful noise unto the Lord’ as you continue your work. May God bless you in your debating and discussing. And may he make you a blessing to others, through all you decide here, and take forward in the days and months and years ahead.
And to God be the glory, now and for always. Amen.