material from my earlier blogs

Foreword: Why English?

Vestbygd Church

Vestbygd Church earlier this Autumn

Welcome to The Worship Group. This is a blog for all of us who lead worship within the Norwegian Church. I would like to write a foreword first, explaining and detailing my reasons for using English.

The Norwegian Church is in the middle of a major reform of its worship. Regardless of the outcome of that reform, our worship is being influenced by the contemporary culture of the English speaking world. If you prefer, it is being influenced by an international culture where English happens to be the main language.

However, I am not referring simply to the use of English. Indeed, as a naturalised citizen of this beautiful country, I can truthfully claim to have championed Norwegian.

That young people have a tendency to prefer English worship songs is something that concerns me. It should do too. There is a real danger of the native language and culture losing ground: in one parish where I worked, the youth worker (who disagreed with my concerns) claimed that English was now the language of the young people. Thus without realising it, she actually confirmed my very point.

No, let me state categorically that I am not referring to this increasing use of the English language itself; I am referring to the mindset behind it. Just as our worship is set to continue being influenced by developments from outside Norway, so we who work in church music must necessarily relate to the ideas that – whether we like it or not – already have a very firm anchor among those with whom we work.

You do not have to like it at all. Yet the fact is that if we church musicians take the line that we have had a solid education in how things should be done (which may of course be true), and that music in church should be done in a certain ways – let’s not get too detailed here – the priests, the catechists, youth workers and pretty much every one else with whom we are working are already speaking, so to speak, a different language from the academic tone that we are using. Consequently we are finding the paradox that whereas the Law requires proper competence of church musicians, the responsibility for many “song groups” (as they are called) is increasingly being given to a member of staff other than the church musician.

My point is not that we have to agree with everything we see, but that we must see what is happening. Is it not the case that those with whom we work in the parishes across this country clearly have different expectations that we do, that the responsibility for getting people to sing is de facto being transferred to other positions? The net result is to diminish church musicians’ responsibility to mere accompaniment on the organ.

In launching this blog, I hope to get us church musicians talking about the issues that are changing the way we are worshipping. I have not excluded Norwegian. We live in a bi-lingual country, so if you want to write a post in Norwegian you will be able to do so. Nevertheless, some of the things I hope we shall be discussing are influenced by what people are doing in other countries, and by other churches and religious movements.

If you still say that, well we are in Norway, and I refuse to discuss what others do, you are not seeing my point at all. We in the Norwegian Church have relations with various organisations, like Normisjon, like “Ungdom i Oppdrag”, and many others. People do come from outside both our church and our country, and whether we realize it or not (I would like to think that we are not so blind as not to be able to see at least this) the theology, music, and language of these people – the way that is these people “tick” – is not necessarily the one we have learnt in some university here in Norway.

Assuming this is accepted, if we are going to influence the direction our worship is going, then this discussion needs to include not only the foreign Christian workers and missionaries who are among us from time to time – whom your colleagues are influenced by if you as a church musician do not think you are yourself – but also people outside Norway. That is why this blog needs to use English.

Why should we write for people outside Norway? It is here I have an anticipated question that brings with it a bit of depression. If that is not obvious from what I have written above, then in fact I have already utterly failed in my foreword.

Nevertheless, what are these influences I keep going on about if not ALPHA (just to take one concrete example)? Do we not use ALPHA in our parishes? How else can we discuss things in a way that, let us say, someone in Holy Trinity Brompton will understand – the place where ALPHA was thought of?

This blog will now try to raise some fundamental questions about what it is we are doing when we work in the church. These are questions that definitely need asking and answering: we have no automatic right to be where we are, earning our living, but there must be a purpose to the positions we musicians hold.

We ignore those questions at our peril. Our non-musician colleagues are already tuned in to another wavelength than that they perceive us organists are tuned.