Sunday, 11 March 2007


This post, in part, is inspired by a recent post of my dear friend’s, Jim Clark, and also an unwarranted reflection on the dismal turnout for our vicar’s first attempt at Liquid Church (See last post. For a description of Liquid Church, click on that title for a link).

Sometimes I wonder if our American Christian society – which I, and others, see slowly seeping into the British church culture – hasn’t been going ‘Hollywood’ or ‘Nashville’. We can’t be ‘just’ loving, caring ministers from the pulpit or with children or in other ministries, whether as professionals or as laity. We have to be ‘celebs’ in whatever ‘field of ministry’ we were called to – a concept, it would seem, to be uniquely American. If we’re not, then those who could come to our churches, attend our programmes, etc., won’t, because they just have not heard enough great and marvellous things about what our clerical expertise has produced. In their estimation, the entertainment value is just not significant enough for them. Their benefits and our success seem to go hand in hand.

What is wrong with this picture?

A couple of illustrations I am familiar with:
Young composers/songwriters, no matter how theoretically and educationally trained, or how ’God inspired’, might never complete their projects or fully develop as the composer God intended for them to become. Why? Because before the notation is even correctly edited on their manuscripts, those who hold the power in the music industry have already thrown flaming arrows and judged a young composer’s work as insignificant, invalid, and against the bottom line: it won’t sell, it won’t have great video or marketable value, and it most definitely will not be a hit. The kid doesn’t have what it takes to be an instant celeb – in looks, weight, or bless, personality. Fix their teeth, work on their image, for God’s sake! Success and significance are merely pipe dreams. Forget that the song or work of music might be uplifting to a body of worshippers who just want to please the Lord.

Gone are the days when the composers of hymns – tune or text – remained faceless. The hymn was the cause celebre, not the hymn writer.

Within my own field of ministry, I am 'called' on at various times to produce music suitable for worship. Whether it meets a certain liturgical criteria, or fits in with a specific spiritual theme for the corporate benefit of the choir or congregation during worship, I am tasked to compose something, hopefully compelling and inspiring, much as a preaching minister would have to come up with the next week's homily, even when I might not feel so inspired.

Whatever 'work' comes out of the creative process, it is nonetheless my offering, one to be shared, yet more importantly one to be presented to my God. My prayer for the process is always twofold: one, that it will edify fellow worshippers, and two, that it will be pleasing to God. No matter if there will only be twelve choir members singing on the day, or a congregation of just thirty-five, whatever piece of music I supply for the worship has to function as an offering pleasing to Him. It might never be sung again. Some congregants might politely sing praises to my face of its artistic qualities, yet diss it behind my back. It quite possibly will not be accepted by a big established publishing house. It most definitely won't get a mention in Variety or be in the Top Ten on the radio. And (sniffle), it might never win that Dove or Grammy award!

How easily it is to paralyse our walk with God when the focus of our God-gifted abilities lies on our world’s spectacular circus of fame and fortune. Those of us who were born to please others can certainly fall prey to this spiritually debilitating paralysis, and our cycle for failure is set, sadly, for life.

There is a special hymn from my childhood, one I loved whenever we sang it in worship, and one I dearly miss hearing sung congregationally today. I will sometimes, as a reminder of its noble message and beautiful music, pull out my old hymnal and play it on the piano, committing it to heart once again.

I dearly hope the text of this hymn uplifts you. But keep in mind that even this lovely hymn offering had to suffer an earthly trial. Literally. In court. All the hours spent arguing its case, for both musicians involved, no doubt paralysed further service of real significance in their own strolls with God through verdant meadows green. At the end of the text, I have included a portion of the court’s ruling from Judge Duffy’s Opinion. (You can read the entire case by clicking on the link with his name. As a musician, I especially like that last paragraph below.)

As I continue this season of Lent, I am grateful for friends like Jim who – though far, far, away – help me wrestle with such reminders. So, for this week, perhaps my Lenten focus will be more on walking, step by step, with my loving God, who simply wants to clasp hands, and go for aye together.

Now where’s that hymnal?


IB Sergei (Wihtol), 1935

My God and I go in the field together;
We walk and talk as good friends should and do;
We clasp our hands,
Our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.
We clasp our hands,
Our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

He tells me of the years that went before me:
When heavenly plans were made for me to be;
When all was but a dream of dim conception –
To come to life, earth’s verdant glory see.
When all was but a dream of dim conception –
To come to life, earth’s verdant glory see.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk as good friends should and do.
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.



Wihtol VS Wells

Plaintiff Wihtol was born in 1889 in Riga, then a part of Russia, later a part of Latvia. He studied music in his childhood, and has followed that art professionally all his life. He has written many musical compositions, especially ecclesiastical pieces. He came to the United States in 1909, and to Chicago in 1936. Prior to August 15, 1935, while in California, he wrote the song "My God and I." Plaintiff testified that in his early boyhood, an organ grinder used to make weekly visits to the neighborhood in Riga where plaintiff lived, and that among the tunes played was one similar but not the same as the tune in "My God and I." He testified that he had never heard the song sung. He carried this tune in his mind for many years. Plaintiff's composition was designed primarily for church choirs and had soprano, alto, tenor and bass scores.

The accused composition is also entitled "My God and I." It appears in a song book entitled "Evangel Solos and Duets Number One." This book was published in 1951 by the Evangel Music Company, Inc., which defendant, his wife and another had organized as a corporation for that purpose. On the cover of the book appears "Written and Compiled by Kenneth H. Wells." A photograph of Mr. Wells also appears thereon. Wells was an ordained minister of an interdenominational group. From 1943 to 1951 he frequently used plaintiff's composition, and was aware of the favor with which plaintiff's "My God and I" had been received in church circles. The Evangel Music Company, Inc., was originally named a defendant herein, and was referred to as a firm. The corporation was dissolved and plaintiff consented in the District Court that it be dismissed from the case, and this was done.

The District Court found "In composing the accused song, the defendant used the melody of the plaintiff's song which he, the defendant, had committed to memory." The District Court found that the tune in suit was taken from an old Latvian, Italian or Russian folksong, and that tune was in the public domain for years prior to the time plaintiff copyrighted it in 1935. The Court said: "...the tune of the song in suit is incapable of being protected by copyright."

Of all the arts, music is perhaps the least tangible. Music is expressed by tonal and rhythmic effects. People can enjoy music without a technical understanding or education, but to make music available, someone must write it. To make a song available, someone must bring the notes and words together.

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Friday, 2 March 2007

Liquid Church

On tap refreshments…
Space to pray, reflect, meditate…
Times for worship and fellowship…
Come for as long or short a time as you wish.

Church has never been like this!

So the invitation reads. I live in a farming village where we get to share one vicar with three other rural villages. We all belong to the Junction 9* Benefice, thanks to the creativeness of our diocese (Anglican).

Liquid Church will meet this Saturday evening for the first time at the parish church in the village where our vicar lives.

Our vicar’s village has three pubs, one of which is across the road from the church and is a great place to park on Sunday mornings. Our village has only two pubs – and neither close by enough to park at. All that wasted space on a Sunday morning! Certainly doesn’t deter our dear vicar who so looks forward to finishing off the Eucharist wine at all four churches. ('O churl! ...and left no friendly drop to help me after?')

We’re curious.

If you received the same invitation through your door slot, what would your first impression be? And if you’ve attended a Liquid Church, what was your experience like?

*Number altered to protect identity.

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