Mission:Worship report

As promised, here is my report back from the Mission:Worship conference I went to this weekend in Eastbourne.

After we had arrived and registered we had our first seminar, which in my case was Malcolm Wild talking on “Qualities of a Worship Team Member”. This was a very interesting and useful look into the character of David as a worshipper, and how we should all strive to reflect those characteristics in ourselves both when we’re up the front leading worship and in the rest of our lives too.

Friday evening however was another kettle of fish altogether. The celebration was basically a very long worship session, with no teaching as such, the first half led by Paul Oakley and the second by Mark Tedder. It turned out to be more of a concert than a worship time, with each artist playing almost exclusively their own songs – at times I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be singing or just listening! Needless to say, I didn’t find the evening particularly helpful, and at times found it really hard to worship. I don’t mind worship leaders choosing to sing their own songs, just so long as they are choosing them for the right reasons. When it becomes a song list comprising almost entirely of their own songs, I’d say that was a concert, especially if most people don’t necessarily know the songs. The songs may well have been very spiritual and theologically sound, and indeed there were a few of Paul Oakley’s songs that I thought we could use at our church, but I felt most of Mark Tedder’s songs were performances pieces more than anything else, showing off his vocal range rather than being easy for a congregation to pick up and sing.

Saturday was much more useful though, starting off with the morning celebration led by Stuart Townend, Kate Simmonds, Lou Fellingham and Phatfish, with the sermon by Stuart Bell. That was far better, in my opinion, and although each worship leader introduced us to a couple of their latest songs it was also interspersed with more well-known songs, and they were all very easy to connect with and worship with. The band was very tight yet sensitive to what was going on, and the song choices flowed effectively and helpfully from one to the next. All in all I thought it was superb.

The seminars I went to in the afternoon were very good too. The three of us from Orchard who went (Berkeley, Kathryn and myself) had everything planned so that we managed to get to everything we as a church would find useful, so all ended up going to different seminars. The first one I went to was “Worship Leading for the Non-Instrumental Singer” with Kate Simmonds. I know I don’t exactly fall into that category, but it’s the sort of thing that will be useful for others at our church. Lots of useful tips there from Kate, including some useful hand signals to tell the band what you wanted to do next!

Next up was “Arranging Music for a Worship Group” with Phatfish. This was very much like one of the seminars Tim Hughes led at the Worship Central conference I went to a while back, looking at how to approach the arrangment of a song so that it didn’t sound messy, making best use of the instruments you have. Phatfish did this very well, playing the song full-on to start with to show just how rubbish it can sound, then playing it properly, before taking it apart completely and looking at what each person was doing throughout the song. It was interesting to see just how little some people were playing, particularly the keyboard and electric guitar – even in the loud bits it was kept relatively simple and uncomplicated, keeping everything firmly under control. Something they said that I particularly found interesting was to encourage the drummer to be responsible for the tempo of the songs, clicking the band in if necessary. This is something we don’t normally do at Orchard, but perhaps something I might try in Rooted at some point – after all, if the drummer has no sense of time, you’re in trouble!

My final seminar of the day was the “New Songs Update”, where Lou Fellingham and Stuart Townend introduced us to a couple of their latest songs. I particularly liked Lou’s songs, and I’ll be encouraging Berkeley to let us learn them at Orchard at some point. Stuart’s typically hymn-like songs were very atmospheric in places, and you can really see how his collaboration with Kieth Getty has paid off.

The evening celebration had its ups and its downs. Brenton Brown was leading worship for the first half, and introduced us to some very good songs (some of which I’m sure we’ll be learning at church). There was also a plea for money for “Ray of Hope Amazon”, a charity that was helping churches and communities along the river. The evening finished with some more songs by Godfrey Birtill, who from the outset I wasn’t all that impressed by. Having been given five minutes (the rest of the evening had been longer than expected), he spent the first five minutes just talking before he even picked up his guitar, and then followed another concert. I didn’t help that I didn’t particularly like his musical style much, but it really grated against me that this was supposed to be a corporate worship time. We left well before the end.

Sunday morning’s seminar was good; Stuart Townend talking about “Leading Worship in Small Groups”. This addressed the particulars of leading worship in the context of a home group setting, and how it shouldn’t be approached in the same way as a larger church service, and that it can actually be seen as a positive environment in itself rather than a scaled down version of Sunday. There were a few no-no’s, like not encouraging someone who can’t sing to lead the singing, and avoiding certain things that might work well in a bigger celebration setting, such as the leader saying “let’s applaud the Lord” or “let’s raise a shout of praise” – when you’ve only got 6 people in the room, that sort of thing can be distracting and even embarrassing! There were also some more positive pieces of advice, like using a shaker in combination with a guitar to give a more rythmic feel to the music, and using visual aids to prompt people to worship.

After that we all gathered together for a final celebration, which was much like Saturday morning’s in some ways. Andy Bromley was leading the first half, though I didn’t know most of his songs and didn’t find them particularly easy to pick up (again, much like a concert, grrr). The sermon was preached by Roger Forster, who tended to speak very quickly and drop in long words without prior notice, but the main thrust of the message was fairly clear and well-expounded. There was just one incidence of possible herecy that we picked up on – apparently God no longer knows the future. From what I’ve heard this is something that’s currently being hotly debated in certain intellectual circles, but as far as I am aware it’s nowhere near globally accepted, and as such I think it rather presumptuous (not to mention dangerous) to put that into a sermon where the nation’s worship leaders were there to hear it. That was swiftly followed by another set of songs led by Chris Bowater – we left after three songs.

In conclusion, I think the Worship Central conference was far better, and certainly far better value for money. The seminars were very useful, and there is much that we shall be bringing back to the church from those. The worship sessions (apart from the Saturday morning one) were significantly less than inspiring though, and apart from the occasional good song there was little there that was at all useful.

I also came back home to discover that the Chelmsford Diocese web site had been hacked into over the weekend. I think I’ve fixed it now, but not exactly the sort of thing I was looking forward to!

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