A few weeks ago I was hired by Ubc to be the new Worship and Arts Pastor. The title “Worship and Arts Pastor” excites me, in part because it sounds way cooler than “Minister of Music”, but also because I know that I am a part of a community that values creativity and the act of being creative in our worship. About a year after Dave had moved to Atlanta, the Leadership Team began meeting to discern what music, worship, and art would be like in Dave’s absence. The Leadership Team felt that it was important for our church to continue to celebrate art and using art in worship with the same careful and thoughtful attitude that Dave worked so hard to foster here. Thus, Worship and Art.
Occasionally, the way we use art and our creativity in worship can be challenging. This challenge can be easily perceived when overhearing someone say, “The music was really artistic, but it just was not accessible.” Accessible may mean several different things to the person making this statement- that they didn’t have the spiritual experience they sought, they didn’t prefer that style of music, that it was too fast or slow, too loud or soft, or perhaps that they weren’t familiar enough with the words to sing along. Many times I think it can mean that the worship just made them feel uncomfortable. There is a need for us to be creative in worship, but also a need for the congregation to connect with what is going on.
Below you will find Round 1 of a two-part match between art and accessibility.
In the left corner: at 119 pounds, in plastic black framed glasses, vintage T-shirt, clove cigarettes, no money, and a weird beret…Art.
And in the right corner: at 130 pounds, with a minivan, Starbucks, KLOVE radio, and a Target gift card…Accessibility.
Round 1- Trying to be Radiohead
Circa 2010 I thought that most Christian bands sucked and that they didn’t work hard enough to be artistic. On a muggy summer night in Houston, I, critic extraordinaire, had the chance to prove once and for all that Christian music can in fact be creative. Below is the account of this heroic tale.
I was really fortunate to have a roommate as cool as Griffin Kelp. Griffin is one cool dude. His beard grooms itself, he looks good in Wayfarers, and he is comfortable in his own skin. Griffin also makes very cool music.
So, when my friend Kyle Wilson, a youth minister at UBC Houston, gave me a call and asked if I could put together a band for an event he was having at his church I quickly said yes and then quickly called Griffin. Being the ever-nice guy that he is, Griffin agreed and we quickly went to work. I worked hard to pick out songs for our band that I thought were artistic, the type of songs one would associate with guys that looked as cool as Griffin. We learned Radiohead’s All I Need, Crazy by Seth Woods (aka the Whiskey Priest) and a few more awesomely obscure slightly spiritual tunes. We made loops, came up with interesting guitar parts, and worked hard to create a unique sound. Our efforts produced a band that what I, and probably many of you, would consider artistic.
Kyle asked us to play as the students walked in. The lights were dark, we were rocking, and in they came. After the first song the lights in the room came up. I looked out across the room and noticed that there were only about four people in the room over the age of twelve. These students were not just kids, but Kids. Turns out we were playing for a group of soon to be sixth graders who were about to matriculate into Kyle’s youth ministry. It became immediately apparent in the wide eyes of these children that our artistic approach was not going over well. We painfully made our way through a twenty-minute set.
Even though the worship set that Griffin and I had played that first night was intentionally artistic and creative, it failed to connect with the students of Kyle’s ministry. In our desire to be artistic we left these young minds with the impression that a worship service is a time for a band to get up and experiment while they look at lyrics on a screen. We failed to me the needs of those we were trying to serve. Before we played the next day, we quickly learned a few songs that were more appropriate for the students that Kyle had brought us in to play for.
Like that night in Houston, there are times when our efforts to be creative backfire. Sometimes we work so hard to be unique, to push ourselves artistically, and to experiment with new sounds and textures that we fail to meet the needs of our congregation. I wish Griffin and my experience in Houston was an isolated incident, but every now and then I look out into the congregation and see something in the eyes of twenty and thirty year olds that reminds me of what I once saw in a group of twelve year olds. As we at Ubc continue to value art and creativity in worship, it is important for us to keep moments like the one I had in Houston in mind.
Well after a few good swings it looks like round one goes to Accessibility. Don’t go anywhere folks, we’ll be back after a short break with Round 2: Not Wanting to be Nickleback.