This is meant to be an encouraging post for all those who are worried about worship without no singing, or feel that it just is not church without some element of singing. After all, Methodists especially are known to be ‘Born in Song‘. As churches start to go back to the buildings, at least in part, but without being able to sing – how can that be worship?
Music, and particularly singing, have always been a big part of my life. Indeed my mum’s pearl of wisdom to my husband when we got married was, “If she’s not singing within a couple of seconds of putting her feet on the floor in a morning, you are in trouble! She’s either grumpy or ill”.
Music has always been a major element I used in leading worship. So often a song can say what you have been struggling to. Picking hymns/songs always took the longest part of preparing a service, to ensure that they carried and enhanced what was being said and offered to God.
So, I can understand the feeling of people who cannot comprehend worship without music, and cannot imagine what it will be like, and how it can be true worship at all. But, we are having to find new, meaningful ways of doing so many things – and different does not always mean worse, we can find a new worth and value.
When my illness first took hold fifteen years ago, and probably the thing that initially immediately stopped my ministry of preaching and leading worship, I lost all power to my voice. As anyone who has heard me speak will know, my voice goes hoarse very quickly when I start talking, especially at any volume, and my struggle with breathing makes it very difficult to regulate even talking. If I need to talk for any length of time, even in conversation, my throat aches so much for days afterwards. Pre-recording at my pace, with lots of gaps no one else sees has become an opportunity for me to do some small parts of worship again, but it is not something I could do live, or frequently. Singing therefore is impossible.
Hence why this is, I hope, encouragement to those who are struggling with worship with no singing. At first I hated not being able to sing. It wasn’t me. Singing was how I expressed everything in my life (if we could have Pamsperambulation – the Musical, we would!), including my worship of God, and I was bereft without it. But I am here to tell you that it is possible, you can get used to it, we can find other ways to share our worship with God. It may take time and effort, but the new ways that we discover may offer a different slant to our worship, a new facet to our relationship to God.
One of the things I have found is that the less noise I can make, the more I can listen and hear God. God get’s a chance to speak, because I am quiet!
I am certain there are other people for whom singing is difficult, or uncomfortable for varying reasons, or actually it is just not their thing.
So, please don’t despair, don’t think this is the end of worship – we may yet discover a richer seam and a new encounter with God – because after all, worship is about God and not the method.
I have written this for our Circuit Daily Devotions, a subject very dear to my heart. If you would rather here the spoken version, you can find that here.
A good stuff has been shared with us in our Circuit in the last few weeks about Equality and Diversity and what that means for us in the church. It has been really good to have some theological underpinning for that, and much of it has been really powerful.
As part of the exploration I wanted to look about look at disability and accessibility. As churches begin to re-open, or think about it, these are important questions to ask. We have an opportunity to get it right (or better!) as we have to make some changes anyway.
“The Equality Act 2010 (using a definition from previous Disability Discrimination Acts from 1995 and 2006) defines a person with disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment which is substantial and has a long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Whilst this is the legal definition which offers additional legal protections to people with disabilities, it should be remembered that anyone may be temporarily disabled (for example when recovering from a serious illness or accident), which may also require them to need additional support or adjustment. Many people with disabilities consider that their impairments are not the key factor that disables them. Instead they are disabled by a built environment that is not planned with their needs in mind, or they are disabled by the attitudes of other people towards them.”
That maybe comes more alive in personal story, so I am going to tell you mine, and share some of the problems that I have in in church. That’s not saying that my problems are unique or that they’re all the problems that are possible, I’m just using my example to give an idea of some of the problems that people can face. The problem with a lot of the disability’s is that the disabilities are not necessarily visible, and you wouldn’t know that someone was dealing with them or you had to help them with them. I hope the questions I raise might give you some thoughts about the accessibility of your church building.
In Mark 2, we hear the story of the men who brought their friend who couldn’t walk to Jesus. There was such a big crowd that they couldn’t get him to the door, so they carried him up the steps to the roof and made a hole in the roof so that they could lower him down to meet Jesus. Everyone focuses on the miracle of the man walking and the big question about Jesus authority, but we overlook the man’s friends and what they were willing to do so the man could get to meet Jesus.
For those of you that don’t know me, I use two crutches to walk, mainly for stability. I suffer with a chronic inflammatory illness that effects most parts of my body. It causes dryness – pretty much everywhere there should be lubrication in a body, I have little or none. That effects way more than you might think.
None of what I’m going to say are criticisms, they are questions, pointers to make us think about our church buildings. I’m also acutely aware that my accessibility may mean someone else’s inaccessibility – something that is there to help me may be making someone else’s needs impossible to meet – and for that reason the conversation needs to go on.
The first question I asked when we moved to our new Circuit was, “which church has the comfiest seats?”! That might seem trivial, but to me it is vital, and without which physical church in a building would not be possible. But actually, when you have a disability, churchmanship, style of worship and a lot of other things go out of the door, compared with issues of accessibility in its widest sense.
But let’s go back to getting in the building. I am incredibly grateful to have a Blue Badge, but that is no help to me if there is nowhere near enough the building to park, or someone without a Blue Badge is parked in it.
Next there is getting up the path, hoping that there are no steps. Is there a drop kerb where necessary – and nothing obstructing it?
What about the entrance into the building? Is it level? You would be amazed how big an obstacle a raised door frame (there must be a technical term for that!) is when you are are wobbly, in a wheelchair, with a pushchair, or just have your hands full. Is the door too heavy? Can someone open it by themselves? Is there someone there to open it for anyone who needs it (remembering it might not be obvious who needs that help)
Can I find an appropriate seat? I really need to sit with my right leg in the aisle, preferably with a large space between rows. Pews are quite simply an impossibility. Would someone let me have the seat I need, or would I be “taking my seat”? Can I sit at the back, or the front, if that is necessary for my disability? Is the seat comfortable? Can I shuffle and change my position in it to move the pressure points? Is there a way I can raise my legs if I need to? How long I personally can sit comfortably is very limited (and yes, it’s less than an hour!)
A lot of people with disabilities are very energy limited, and cannot arrive at church half an hour early to get the seat that they need, they may need to arrive at the last minute and need to be able to have the right space.
What is the lighting like? Is it too bright – or not bright enough…! Everybody’s needs are different. Is there perhaps the possibility for some individually controlled lights?
That also applies to screens. Are they in the right place? Are they legible? Are they too bright, too dark or using the correct colour contrast? (Different colour contrasts work better or worse for different people, so it can be tricky) I actually have my own individual screen at our church, so I can set it to the setting I need. Is that a possibility in your church?
Likewise, if you use videos in worship, can they been seen and heard by all? Is there some way their point can be explained. I love a video in worship, but can rarely process them in that space.
Are there paper copies of words? Preferable in large and appropriately line spaced text?
Can someone manage to carry, or hold during the service, anything that you are asking them to. Normal hymn books are really hard to hold and turn pages if your fingers or wrists are not good.
In break-out groups, can everyone understand what you want them to do? Is everyone able to participate? Can everyone hear, process and respond in that environment? Can there be an alternative option?
How do we use language? Do we invite everyone to “stand to sing” for example? When not everyone can stand – or sing. Do we use phrases like “everyone can do this” – can they?
Is our service very singing focused? My illness means that I can’t sing. I appreciate what a great tool in worship singing is and one I always used a lot, but if someone can’t sing are they excluded from worship in a big way? I guess post-lockdown we are all going to have to think about that!
Do we speak at a speed that people can hear and process? It takes me a long time to hear what you have said, process in my mind what you have said, and then respond. That applies even to things like the Lord’s Prayer, which I have to dredge from my mind and process through my brain before I can say it – slower than most. I am usually a couple of lines behind and give up. I stand no chance of remembering a response to a phrase in a prayer that you might ask me to share in, or what the lead in is that I am meant to respond to. I’m fine with that, but please don’t be offended – and be aware!
How does celebrating communion together work? Is there a way to be a part of the body if you can’t kneel at the rail with everyone else, or even stand? Have we found a practical way around that?
And after the service? I love to share fellowship, to hear how people are and what is happening in their life, but it is incredibly hard to have that conversation in a noisy room where everyone else is eagerly doing the same. Is there a quieter space where anyone who needs that can go and talk without the aural distraction?
As I said, that’s my experience, others will each have their own story.
No church can meet all these needs, But it is good Christian living to be aware of other’s needs and do what we can to make church buildings and services as accessible as possible. Have we at least thought that they may be needs, and ways we could work around them? What is most important is to ask people what works best for them, and be willing to do all you can towards that.
I am very happy to share advice or experience. Better still ask anyone you know has needs how to make worship more accessible what would help them – don’t assume. But also, don’t forget those who won’t say. Try and think if what might be excluding somebody and try and think of an adaptation before they have to ask. Try not to assume what someone needs…
And for those who can’t access physical church at all, I have some thoughts coming in a couple of weeks…
We thank you Lord for the uniqueness we each bring, for insights, gifts and challenges that we all have.
Thank you that all are welcome, to your love, to your place of worship, to be in your presence.
Help us to be aware that our normal may be restricting someone else, or keeping them away.
Help us to be bold to ask for help, to share our needs
And help us all to listen carefully to what the needs of someone else are and seek to help.
God of love and acceptance help us to meet together in worship of you, that we may learn more of one another’s story and through that learn more of you.
There is a video version of this available for those who prefer that:
Following on from some of the underpinning theory and theology of yesterday, where I reminded us about John Wesley’s words of the whole world being his parish and how that might apply to the World Wide Web being our parish too. We were also reminded of Jesus’ commandment to go into all the world and make disciples. All the world is a bit bigger these days than were perhaps once thought it was.
In this part I wanted to move on to some of the practicalities and realities of today.
One of the major benefits of lockdown and much of church moving online, has been that those for whom church buildings and structure have been difficult, have been able to take part in all kinds of things, that they never could before, or found very difficult to before. All of a sudden they found themselves able to join in online things that they had been missing out on.
Now I have to declare an interest in this, because whilst not housebound, I am very restricted in where I can go, what I can do and how long I can do it for. So to me , this has all been an amazing revelation and given me opportunities to do things that I haven’t been able to do for ages. My greatest joy is that I have been able to take part in leading some of the Daily Devotions for our Circuit. Something that I could never have done in real time, but being able to record them, pause regularly when my voice runs out, edit them and do them in my time has made that possible – and I am incredibly grateful.
In general day to day life, online is where I live a lot of my life. It is where I have my community, where I chat with people in similar circumstances (and by chat I mean mainly ‘writing’ chat!) and it’s where I do a lot of my shopping – it is where my life is. To me it is my native land, it is a normal place to be and so it’s perfectly normal to do worship there as well.
I’m incredibly am ashamed to say that the house restricted community is something I never thought much about until I was a part of it. I guess none of us do, we are all busy leading our lives in the way that we can. But there are so many people who struggle with the physical church building, either because of health reasons, their own caring responsibilities, work commitments or myriad other reasons that make half past ten, or whatever time you meet on a Sunday, in a church building physically incredibly difficult for them. Zoom worship has opened ‘church’ back up to so many of those people. We can sit at home, where the conditions are much more conducive to us, in a chair that we find comfortable, with the things that we need around us, a drink, or whatever it is that makes life and worship more comfortable for us – and worship God together. Or if it is recorded people can access it at a time that suits them, whatever that time is or join in at a time and place that suits them, or play it in small chunks if you can only process or manage small parts at a time. Zoom worship has made all of that possible for us.
I know that personally, that if zoom worship hadn’t been a thing, if we were not in lockdown and we had still been meeting in our church buildings, I wouldn’t have made it to church my health would have kept me away from physical church the last six or seven weeks, I just haven’t been well enough. Yet I have been able to sit on my sofa and see people that I know, or on really bad days just lay on the sofa with the camera off and hear what was happening – and what a blessing that had been! Very selfishly, but on behalf of all others in that position either temporarily or permanently, I do not want to lose that.
I’ve also this year been able to be a part of Cliff Festival, as that went online – Festival at Home. I haven’t been able to go to Cliff Festival for fifteen years, just because of the physical impossibilities – and how amazing that was to be able to go to a festival like that, to hear international speakers and amazing Christian teaching that I would never have been able to encounter if that wasn’t available on the online.
I’ve also been able to go to some church meetings as well, which doesn’t sound that exciting, but when you haven’t been able to go to go to them for years and years, how amazing it’s been for me to be able to be a part of the bigger picture, to be able to sit in meetings, hear what people are saying, and maybe even be able to say something into that meeting. I never thought that the opportunity to go to a Methodist business meeting would be a thrill, but it’s been an absolute joy and a blessing to me to be able to be a part of that again in a small way.
I don’t want to stop those who can worship in buildings, how lovely it would be at the moment to actually see some people in real life! And better even to hug them – though I don’t think that is going to happen for a long time… But I think as we start to go back to our buildings, or consider going back or deciding what we are going to do, we need to consider what, how and why. What the missions of those buildings is in the place where they are, as much as we are talking about what the mission of our church is in the online world. I’d be really quite upset if online worship disappeared, but we need to work out how we are meant to be God’s people in our community physically or online. I very much long to be a part of the worshipping community – and to give and receive in that way.
We have also continued to have our house group meeting via zoom. Zoom is not just for worship! Our house group was set up specifically for those with chronic health issues or caring responsibilities. It’s very short, quiet, contemplative, and we have been able to take that online. Much as I would love to see those people and hug them, I can see that because of the situation that some of us are in, much as we love to meet in person, zoom will continue to have a use in our house group – and I’m sure in others.
What I hope is that what has been termed as ‘hybrid worship’ will become a possibility, where yes there will be things happening in buildings, but there will be things happening online as well. That we can have some kind of mixed economy where we can continue to reach, if not all, a lot of people where they are.
Obviously digital poverty is something that we need to be really aware of. Not everyone can, or wants to, access the internet. Not everyone can afford the equipment that they would need to join in online, or necessarily have the knowhow to work it. That is why I particularly like Zoom, because you can at least phone in to it, though obviously that has its drawbacks as well as people can’t see what is happening, they can only hear. If you have got hearing problems or processing problems and you need to be able to see to grasp what is happening, it is not ideal, and we need to work at overcoming. But at least it widens it out to a lot more people than just the church building. I think that there is probably a fine line between worship online and that kind of worship becoming a spectator sport, where you can still be involved in it. I think we need to think quite carefully about that, though I have to say I’d be happy to sit at home and watch worship happening much more than not being able to go at all. I’m sure we can come up with some creative ways whereby people digitally involved in worship can still contribute to the worship that is happening in a building.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that Zoom or Facebook Live is not the answer to everything for the church, but for times of isolation it can be a great help – and it can be, and is, a place where God is entirely alive, where God can be worshipped, where God can use the structures that are available and where discipleship can happen. We need to be careful that we don’t make online or Zoom or Facebook Live the idol, but we can certainly use it as a tool.
Do join the conversation. Let’s think creatively in this opportunity that has landed upon us when we least expected it, to explore how we can usefully use online for God’s mission in the world today. For ultimately it is for the glory to be to God and for people to come to know and love him.
We thank you Lord for all the opportunities that the online world brings to us, for opportunities to worship together in new ways, to worship when we would not ordinarily be able to worship, to take part in things that are happening a long way away from us or places that are inaccessible to us.
Thank you that we have been able to learn more of you in more ways than we would ever have imagined.
But we pray Lord too for our buildings. We thank you for them and all the good things that happen in them for the people that come into them during the week, for the people that see the building, and understand something of what it stands for, for the work that is done from those buildings.
Help us Lord not to overlook that work, not to think it’s no good because we have found other stuff that we can do.
Help us to treasure all that you give us, all the different ways you give to us to be your people, to be faithful, to learn and to care and to share.
We offer to you Lord everything that we do, everything that we do in concrete places, places where our feet walk and our hand touch, but also those places online.
We offer it all to you Lord, that it all may be for your glory and that people may come to know and love you.