Is Alternative Worship Becoming Prescriptive?

I have been looking at the nature of Alternative Worship quite a lot at the moment as it is the subject of my MA dissertation.  I have come to a point where I am suspecting that Alternative Worship is not fulfilling its stated aims and goals as well as it should.  Let me just explain where this has come from.  Ruth was reading an article designed to help people set up an Alternative Worship service in their church for the first time and she pointed out some big problems with it.

Here are some basic premises that most Alt. Worshippers would aspire to:

·         Alt. Worship is to allow emerging generations to worship and engage with God in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them.

·         Alt. Worship is to be able to speak to the culture in which it finds itself.

·         Alt. Worship is to be cutting edge and speak to the here and now.

·         Alt. Worship should be constantly re-evaluating itself in order to keep meeting these aims.

So why was Ruth so concerned?  It seems that many Alt. Worship events are becoming formulaic.  By this I don’t mean liturgically.  When looking at setting up an Alt. Worship event for the first time this article was advocating PowerPoint and Dubh music.  It did also mentioned playing a Radiohead CD rather than assuming that there are people in your congregation who can sound like Radiohead.  The concerns that Ruth raised were that Dubh is mainly appealing to one specific cultural group.  It isn’t by any means the most widespread musical form.  To say as a starting point that a service should use Dubh is in many ways dictating who should emerge from your community. 

Ruth also pointed out that Radiohead were culturally relevant when we were at school.  As much as it pains me to say, that is a while ago.  But what if there are people in your congregation who do sound like Radiohead?  Why do we assume that there aren’t.  I was watching a band last week that comprises of people I used to know through the church youth group.  They were a very competent punk band.  They all used to go to their church.  No-one ever contemplated punk rock worship and yet these were our emerging generations.  I suspect that Dubh would do very little for them.

As we got talking our concern became that as Alternative Worship becomes more widespread it seems to become more formulaic and prescriptive.  That is not to say that all alternative worshippers are falling into this trap.  However, it would seem that as people start to see Alternative Worship as a cure all and insist that they start to see it happen in their church, they want to know what to do rather than the underlying method of doing it.  Are we just falling into the trap of recreating the work of the pioneers of Alternative Worship.  If this is the case it is going to look surprisingly like the 1990’s with Dubh and Radiohead.  Perhaps we have a bunch of people in our communities poised and ready to spring to life as the Kaiser Chiefs of worship.  Perhaps we don’t.  I guess that is the beauty of emergence.

Through this discussion I just didn’t seem to be able to come up with a convincing argument against this worrying trend.  Is Alternative Worship becoming another liturgical movement that will create a formulaic form of service?  Will Alternative Worship go down on the list of worship styles next to ‘Charismatic’. 

Who is emerging?

How are they emerging?

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7 Responses

  1. Everything is cyclical. Many are rediscovering the beauty and majesty of God in rediscovering early church and (yes) ancient liturgical worship. It’s not an either/or. Fresh is not always new.

    To avoid formulaism (doubt that’s a word – sorry) in alternative worship, maybe folks should stop assuming that alternative worship is what you should always do. Perhaps a real alternative one week would be to go to a link like http://www.exeter.anglican.org/cpage/cmudownloads/kenya_communion_prayers_40.doc and use the Church of Kenya’s service of Holy Communion. Just a thought. Peace.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. I have been to many different types of alt. worship and discovered some truly unusual ways of worshipping God. It is interesting that the ancient forms of monasticism and ancient liturgies are becoming more widely used by those who are looking for something alternative. I guess this in some ways must be how radical the Tractarians looked a few centuries ago.
    My concern is that as alt. warship becomes more widespread we may come to a point where alternative becomes concrete.

    “What sort of Church do you go to?“
    “I go to one of those trendy alternative churches.”
    “That’s sooooo 1990’s…..”

    😆

    That is my worry.

  3. Understandable. Funny, I think the best compliment I could get from someone is, “That’s soooooo 1st century….” 😉

  4. 😆 ❗

  5. Kaiser Chiefs, they’re sooooo last year!

  6. Touché!!

    😆

  7. […] Is Alternative Worship Becoming Prescriptive? […]

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