Music and Worship

Music in worship, essential? or not?  participatory or reflective background? organ or other musicians or unaccompanied?

Wherever you go with this I think you probably lose – unless you have a niche market church!

I have been asked to speak about the worship of the Iona community, this could be dominated by a discussion about music and not mentioning music would be to miss out one important element of worship in this 'style'. But I want to provoke the thought that it is not the style of the music as used when services are typically 'Iona community oriented', or as led by the 'Wild Goose worship group' neither is it the specific liturgies, or lack of, which are used.  It is rather the meaning and thought that is behind these musical offerings and liturgical selections which gives the particular style with which people associate the Iona Community's worship. 

Recent experiences suggest that music in worship is closer to the heart of the people than spoken liturgy.  The words we sing, or the tunes we use to express our theology seem to mean more to people than the liturgical spoken word.  If the music is badly produced for a given service, does that necessarily mean bad worship?  If the Eucharistic prayer is spoken in a monotone with no expression or gesture to indicate that anything is going on, surely this too would suggest a lack of attention to what is going on, yet it is when the music goes wrong that the complaints start!!

What is behind the musical offerings and spoken word is far more important that the thing itself and gives it the particular edge whether it be Iona, Taize, Church in Wales or whoever!!

Someone once remarked that Iona worship was 'flat pack liturgy' I'm not entirely sure what they meant by that, perhaps there was always something missing for them when they tried it, or perhaps it was designed to be used in every situation, the IkEA of the worship world.  Unfortunately I seem to think the opposite, that if there is something missing then you have misplaced it and each and every time of worship in the 'style' of the Iona Community needs to be tailored to the worshiping people.  It is far more a bespoke design than flat pack!!  Hence the resources from the WGRG which are prayers, readings, snippets of liturgy to be assembled in a bespoke way by each group that uses them.

What think ye? 

~ rhannu os ti isio ~ do share ~






4 responses to “Music and Worship”

  1. Tom Allen Avatar

    I have always regarded the flat-packed tag for Wild Goose as a complement – in fact I think they may have even originated it – it means easily portable – you put it together yourself – and everything needed is provided – all you need is the people!

    The huge advantage of WG material is that it can be adapted to such a wide range of circumstances


  2. stuart Avatar

    Thanks for that one Tom!
    It’s a rather better way of seeing the term!!

    As I recall post-posting it was a colleague bemoaning the monthly ‘enforced’ WG worship at college, naturally I prefer the positive angle…

  3. Ron Reid Avatar
    Ron Reid

    Hi Stuart – good to meet you the other evening.

    You asked for comments about Iona worship – and “flat-pack” is probably, as Tom suggests, a good term for it.

    To be successful, something which is flat-packed has to have a good firm base to be assembled on. For me Iona worship, while highly spiritual, is also very much earthed. It has that base. When it works, it springs from where it is – the time, the place, the participants. The kit of parts is assembled with skill and care by a sensitive enabler. Sometimes, it actually self-assembles.

    Iona “worship” often does not work when transplanted entire into a local situation by someone who has “been there” and got the book.

    So what is there in the kit of parts? For me –

    There is the music – or rather the words, for, if you use WG songs and were brought up in Central Scotland, you sometimes have to put “alternative” words for some of the tunes out of your mind! But music does not have to be WG. The words will be carefully constructed, will often be based closely on Scripture and will sometimes be directed to a particular situation. Most importantly the words will actually make sense (intellectually and theologically) – unlike some modern worship songs! On the other hand, some could be simple chants. The tunes will be singable, even for the tonally challenged.

    There are the prayers or reflections – crafted or chosen to speak to the situation, the time, the people. Earthed in the world as it is, not as we might like it to be. They might be “celtic”, they might not be. They will be crafted, but not ornate.

    There is time – the people will feel involved, participating, even if not actually “doing” anything. They will be given time for this, not feeling as if they were being rushed through a script. So there will be quiet, silence, space.

    All this is very subjective, but it is very difficult to actually pin down what Iona worship is. It just is!



  4. stuart Avatar

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks for the comments, Very useful!!
    Two words are coming to mind…
    ‘Shape’ and ‘accessible’

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