Has the New Liturgical Movement Given Up On Music?

Over the last several decades, many evangelicals have migrated away from worship gatherings centered on highly produced musical experiences in search of something more substantive. As the fog machines were coughing out the last bit of ambient smoke, they were left wondering if there were “thicker” forms and habits of worship that might tap into something deeper about the Christian faith.

They went in search another way – more ancient, more comfortable with mystery and awe, more patient and open to silence, more distinctly grounded from beginning to end in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit who gave himself for the life of the world.

For many on this journey, the liturgical renewal movement, which owes much of its legacy to the work of Robert Webber,* became the avenue through which they experienced a new birth (present writers included).

We Are Liturgical

This liturgical renewal is not simply about a preference for certain structures in corporate worship gatherings provided by “higher” liturgies, as if we’re just trading one form for another. It’s about the (re)discovery that we are liturgical. It’s a revolution about what it means to be human and the exploration of what the implications are for how we order our whole lives.

As humans our bodies are carried along by stories that tell us what is most true of the world, so the renewal is about intentionally anchoring the pattern of our worship, and by extension the habits of our every day lives, in the faith handed down to us, which is the story of God’s reconciliation of all things in Christ by the Spirit.

But what about the music? Does the discovery of thicker liturgical patterns mean music is no longer a central avenue of worship?

There was, after all, something meaningful about the artistry, the sound, and the voices that reverberated deeply in us – something that continues to reverberate in others who are drawn to those experiences – something about what it means to be human revealed in the way we all, Christian or not, are gathered into a larger reality than ourselves through music. Do thicker liturgical patterns mean music is no longer a central avenue of worship? Click To Tweet

Is There Music for Liturgical Folk?

Recovering music within the liturgical renewal is crucial because the act of engagement through music affirms a corporeal reality at the heart of the movement. Worship involves our whole selves, especially that part of us that is not completely rational.

Worship through music, in other words, affirms the reality that being human (is) thoroughly embodied, and that worship itself is embodied. We’re not simply trading in information about God that we can cognitively grasp. When we sing, the reality of God in Christ gets lodged in our hearts in unique ways, in ways that rationally processing sermons, text and other forms of speech do not.

Worship through music also allows us to lean into the reality that liturgy is not a means by which we domesticate God, engaging with him only in ways that we can understand and control. Music is another vehicle for surrendering our bodies to God’s kingdom in Christ. And because this liturgical form gets “stuck” in our bodies, we carry it with us into the world that we may continue to surrender and witness to the Gospel Story we rehearse during corporate gatherings. Music is another vehicle for surrendering our bodies to God’s kingdom in Christ. Click To Tweet

What is Liturgical Folk?

If there is music for liturgical folk, what would that sound like and what would the form be?

We need music that gives melody to today’s liturgical renewal movement. We need music that affirms how all humans are creatures of worship and taps into the marrow of particular communities. We need projects like Liturgical Folk.

  • Liturgical Folk is a multi-volume music project that gives language to the sound of a movement; it names and unites the increasing number of songwriters and artists within the liturgical renewal, resourcing the church with what we discover deep in its bones and prayer books.
  • Liturgical Folk is a category of music, pairing historic church language with modern, folk melodies, breaking through today’s chaos and clutter with something approachable and haunting, simple and deep.
  • Liturgical Folk is rooted in the inherently joyful sounds of the American folk tradition. From soulful gospel tunes to country hymn arrangements to childlike prayer settings; this music speaks to our humanity, especially the reality of our sufferings and the hope we have in Jesus.

Liturgy is always a corporate endeavor; it is, literally, the work of the people. We would love for you not only to benefit from this project, but also to join us in this renewal process. For more details about the Liturgical Folk project in specific, check out the Liturgical Folk website.**

*See Webber’s Ancient Future series or Worship is a Verb.

**Another project giving melody to the liturgical renewal is The Practice, led by Aaron Niequist.

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