Last summer, although it wasn’t for Lent, our church gave up something a little bigger than chocolate. We gave up music. We were going through a period of transition and wanted a clean music slate, a cleansed palate. We wanted to refocus on what was truly important in our services. So, for three weeks, we fasted from all music in our worship services. No preludes, no postludes, no interludes. How did we do that? How did it go? In these next two posts, I’d like to share some of what we did during the fast and what we learned from it. I’ll begin with what we did.
- Silence before the service - the first week of the fast, there was a lot of boisterous talking in the sanctuary during the time normally filled by the prelude. I think everyone simply assumed there was no prelude, or that it was starting late. So they just prattled away as usual. It made us realize just how much people talk during the prelude, a time that could be used to prepare one’s heart for coming before God. For the following weeks, we asked that everyone be quiet in the sanctuary before the service.
- Reading song lyrics - it occurred to us that the lyrics of many hymns and praise songs could be used powerfully in worship, even without singing. We looked for songs with repetition and strong, simple statements about God. Then we grouped the lines into responsive readings. A few of the songs that worked well were: “Rejoice, the Lord is King”, “How Great Is Our God”, and “When Morning Gilds the Skies”.
- Reading Psalms - Psalms are songs, and while many of them have been put to less-than-singable tunes, they are also great for reading aloud. We read Psalms for at least five minutes each week during the fast.
- Scripture reading - every week in our church, the pastor does read our primary Scripture passage aloud. But the music fast gave us the opportunity to read a lot more passages together. Sometimes we had leaders read them; sometimes we read them together. In one service, we spent about fifteen minutes asking for requests from the parishioners, then reading those verses aloud. We recruited at least ten different readers during the fast, which kept it more interesting and got more people involved.
- Longer prayers - although a CRC mainstay, the “Long Prayer” is not often all that long. During the music fast, our congregational prayer was about twice its normal length.
- Sermons focused on music - in our effort to use the fast as a time of learning and refocusing, our sermons during the fast centered on several important worship topics. They included titles such as: “Worship Is Not About You”; “Worship Is Not About Style”; “Worship Is Not Just for the Mind”. Each message was part of our overall theme of understanding and appreciating worship more fully.
- Small-group prayer - at the end of two of the services, we asked the congregation for a list of prayer topics. These weren’t necessarily personal concerns, but mainly broad topics such as guidance for our political leaders or relief for victims of a disaster. Then we broke into small groups, with those seated nearby, to pray for about ten minutes. Anyone who did not want to participate could simply leave the sanctuary.
- Sharing time - how often do we give our congregations a chance to share their joys and sorrows during our services? Probably not often enough. We did this twice during the fast, and included these in our congregational prayer.
- Original Form Number 1 for the Lord’s Supper - if you grew up in an old-school CRC congregation, you might remember Form Number 1 for the Lord’s Supper, as found in the Blue Psalter. It’s long, wordy, and it doesn’t get used very often. But it’s also rich with great language that still speaks truth: “First of all, let us be fully persuaded in our hearts that our Lord Jesus Christ… has humbled himself unto the very deepest reproach and anguish of hell, in body and soul, on the tree of the cross… that we might be accepted of God, and nevermore be forsaken of Him.” That is really good. And, of course, there’s this: “Take, eat, remember, and believe that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was broken unto a complete remission of all our sins.” We used this older form when we celebrated Communion during the fast.
- Speaking in unison - between creeds, confessions, and readings, we spent a good deal of time speaking out loud together. We recited the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, answers from the Catechism, and Bible verses. I would estimate we do at least a little of this every week in our services, but during the fast we did a lot more.
- Skits - we found a skit that was specifically about getting hung up on one’s preferred style of worship music. This is very rare for us, and it was well received (in part, I suppose, because it was funny).
- Silent prayer - yes, silence can be deafening, but it’s also an effective way to focus your heart on God. We spent about three to five minutes in each service of the fast allowing everyone to offer prayers in silence.
So how did all this pan out? What did we learn from the fast? I’ll offer more on this in my next post. The above list might be helpful if you ever undertake to fast from music, or if you just want a few ideas for injecting some freshness into your services.