London Calling (part II)

I’m sat in the basement flat of my dear friend Jay. He is currently working as Worship Pastor of St Luke’s, Redcliffe Gardens. He’s working on some new worship songs, singing praise and getting lost in melodies. He is carefully constructing phrasings and chord progressions to communicate, to the best of his ability, his love and praise of God.

I met him two years ago when we both worked for St Stephen’s, East Twickenham, he as the Worship Intern and me as a Pastoral Assistant. Our friendship was one that was both a blessing to me and a source of real inspiration. Jay’s major strength, amongst many, is his unflinching love of God and, despite struggles and frustrations he feels, when he approaches the throne room of God he is freed, releasing his infectious, childlike excitement for his God.

As I watch and listen to him constructing songs of praise I got to thinking about the creative process and how we remain in the tension between spontaneity and polished performance. How do you capture the moment of inspiration, work it through to a concrete idea and not lose the power of the original emotion?

Peter Brook comments,

Here, the French word for performance – représentation – contains an answer. A representation is the occasion when something is re-presented, when something from the past is shown again… It takes yesterday’s action and makes it live again in every one of its aspects – including its immediacy…the more we study this the more we see that for a repetition to evolve into a representation, something further is called for. The making present will not happen by itself, help is needed…We wonder what this necessary ingredient could be, and we look at a rehearsal, watching the actors toiling away at their painful repetitions. We realize that in a vacuum their work would be meaningless. Here we find a clue. It leads us naturally to the idea of an audience; we see that without an audience there is no goal, no sense. What is an audience? In the French language amongst the different terms for those who watch, for public, for spectator, one word stands out, is different in quality from the rest. Assistance – I watch a play: j’assiste à une pièce… An actor prepares, he enters into a process that can turn lifeless at any point. He sets out to capture something, to make it incarnate…When the actor goes in front of an audience, he finds…an audience that by chance brings an active interest and life to its watching role – the audience assists… Then the word representation no longer separates actor and audience, show and public: it envelops them: what is present for one is present for the other.

For the person who leads worship there is a need for the corporate worship to assist them, it can’t be just them trying to repeat a song. The problem with this, however, is that the personal relationship with God remains (or should remain) constant and so the re-presenting of worship is not as clinical as the performance put forward by Brook. For the actor, also, there needs to be a personal response to the action, an internal memory of the original emotion. The issue, I think, is when you no longer feel the same way; in Christian worship terms, when you’re not in a ‘praisey’ mood but rather struggling through the mire.

Here is the point at which corporate worship helps. Jay admits

Seeing one other person responding to God reminds me that God is bigger than I know.

The importance of corporate worship is to witness God moving in other peoples lives. This reminder drives us to respond afresh to Him and re-present our worship. For the worship leader, in particular, an initial inspiration for a worship song may be long forgotten as (s)he repeats it in order to perfect it but when they see God moving through other people in worship then this will assist them to engage with the original emotion, reminding them of who it is they worship.

This quote also helps us to understand how we engage in worship. It is easy to blame the worship leader, the preacher or whoever on our lack of engagement and, at times these have some validity, but we come to encourage each other, to remind each other of God and thus it is our responsibility to ‘assist’ the saints in worship.

A word from Steven Croft (whose book, Jesus’ People, I still recommend)

Intercession and individual prayer are important but…Again Luke is referring to something the Church does together: the evolving rhythm of worship and common prayer, which has always been at the heart of the Christian community… You might think it would be normal for any Christian team or group or church to give careful and regular thought to the way in which it prays together. In reality it is surprisingly rare…

St Luke’s needs to hold onto their passion to pray and worship together, that it is the heart beat of all they do. For, as Steven Croft continues,

The road for renewal for many congregations does not lie in doing more but in reconnecting again with Jesus, the source of the Church’s life: through retreat, word and sacrament, and the fellowship and the prayers.