A reluctant farewell

January 25, 2020


This wonderful instrument was donated to the church many, many years ago and has inspired so many to praise and worship. I have enjoyed every minute of playing it and hearing its rich sound fill the church.

However this grand old lady is now over 120 years old, and is need of a complete restoration. An expert from Steinway and Sons has come and carried out a detailed assessment, and estimates that the cost of a full restoration would be in the order of £45000.

So with a very heavy heart, the PCC decided to sell the piano in a specialist auction in London. We know this will be a difficult decision for many, yet we really have no other option. So towards the end of March, we will be saying a reluctant farewell, but with grateful thanks in our hearts for all the enjoyment and inspiration that this piano has given us.

In the meantime we will be looking for a suitable, quality replacement. We will probably be looking for something electronic with an upright action, but we will let you know more details as we have them.

What makes for a good song?

September 15, 2018

God rest

One of the great strengths of the church at the moment is the wealth of contemporary worship songs which are being written at the moment, and I love learning and playing some of the latest offerings. However just because a song is new or well-known doesn’t necessary make it something I want to introduce to St Michael and St Barnabas. Most people express their faith through the songs that they sing, so it is important to choose carefully what we learn.

So what makes for a “good” song? You may say the answer is a matter of personal preference, but here are some questions I think we all need to consider:

First of all, can the congregation sing the song? That sounds rather strange, but a lot of songs are designed for a worship band where worship is led by a number of trained singers. They may sound great on an album or in a large church, but mostly they are unusable in a small church with perhaps just one or two instrumentalists and no choir.

Does the song express Scriptural truth? In Colossians 3:16 Paul sees the singing of psalms, hymns and songs as one of the most important ways in which the word of Christ can dwell in us richly. Of course songs should reflect the personal experience of the songwriter but in too many cases they can move us simply through the emotional impact they have on us, without helping to build us up in our faith. If you can remove the name Jesus” from a song and successfully replace it with the name of your partner/dog/favourite singer, then you have a problem.

Where are the songs which recognise we belong to one another? Of course we need some songs which are personal expressions of our faith, and you just have to read the Psalms to see how many are about the individual experience of the psalmist. But we also need songs which recognise that in Christ we belong to one another, and I struggle to find enough songs which talk about our relationships with each other.  Just look at any hymn or songbook, and there are so many more songs which begin with “I” rather than “We”.

Where are the songs which reflect the whole range of human experience? Again, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is joy, and there is no doubt our worship is an opportunity to celebrate in the gift of our salvation. But sometimes we need songs of confession or lament; sometimes we need songs which look out to the world we serve and face the challenge of making the good news of Jesus known in the world. Once more it seems to me that we face a dearth of such songs, or more accurately, songs which also manage to be clearly Scriptural at the same time.

However, ultimately it is churches and congregations who decide which songs stand the test of time. Some are given to the church for a season, and then are quietly laid aside. Some lay dormant for many years, to be rediscovered by later generations. And a few will become part of the repertoire that will become part of the fabric of our worship for generations to come. And this leads to the most important point, that what makes for a good song is not necessarily whether it is old or it is new. There are some who favour contemporary music; some who favour hymns. But in my experience it is through a blend of the old and the new that we are most effectively built up in the faith, as we see what the Lord is doing now and reflect on His faithfulness throughout generations.



How to choose the music

April 13, 2016

Worship Matters is an excellent book I read a few years ago. Written by a long-established Christian musician, Bob Kauflin, it shows the proper place music has within the much broader subject of worship, and it also contains some very useful, down-to-earth advice.

At our meeting to choose songs last Sunday evening, I borrowed and adapted his ten points about how to plan the music in church. Summarising briefly, they are as follows:

Plan selectively. Not every song is a good one! Some should never be sung, some are best sung in private, some could be sung by the whole church, and there are the some the whole church really ought to learn! At St Michael’s, it’s important we recognise this when we are ploughing through all 2200 in Songs of Fellowship as the quality does vary, sometimes quite alarmingly.

Plan in peace. It is God who’s in charge, and he blesses old as well as new songs. So whatever we choose, He can use (but see above).

Plan prayerfully. We need the help of the Holy Spirit in all our planning, and to be frank, the music is never about us.

Plan with others.  Everyone has different gifts, different experience, different ministries and we need the wisdom of the whole group in planning the music. It’s also important to be on the look out for other people with gifts, and encourage them to develop their musical ministry.

Plan thematically. There should be a connection between the music and the word of God. Usually this will involve relating the music to this week’s passage. But sometimes we might want to reinforce last week’s message or bring out something from our personal devotion. We need the discernment of the Holy Spirit in our choice (see above).

Plan in context. As with every ministry, we have to consider the needs of the church, and its members. What songs are appropriate for these people in this particular situation?

Plan progressively. The best worship is worship that flows and gives a structure to the service. My preference for four songs at St Michael’s is that they enable us to engage, to praise, to reflect and to witness. As our children’s ministry develops, so we also need to consider how to select songs which they can access and learn.

Plan creatively. But make sure whatever you do is to the praise of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. Novelty is never for novelty’s sake!

Plan realistically. Be aware of the constraints of time. We may not be able to sing as much as we would like within the time the service allows!

Plan for the long haul. Review songs you have chosen and try and see any helpful or unhelpful patterns emerging. That is one important reason why songs are best chosen in a group.

Bob Kauflin finishes his chapter in this book by asking the question – if someone grew up in your church, what would they learn of God from the music they had sung during the first twenty years of their lives? That was a question that certainly challenged us as a group, as we began to realise just how many songs we still remembered from our childhood.

So with all these points in mind, the group began to plan. We would love to have your feedback on the songs we have chosen, and suggestions are always welcome.

By the way, if you have the opportunity, also look at Bob Kauflin’s blog also called Worship Matters – well work a look.


Worship on Automatic

October 7, 2014

Have you ever had this kind of experience? As you chat over coffee, your friend says, “That confession really spoke to me this morning”. You smile sweetly and agree, while on the inside you think to yourself, “Did we even say the confession this morning?” Or in the middle of a hymn when everyone else seems caught up in praise and wonder, you realise you are still thinking about what happened on Strictly last night.

We all worship on automatic from time to time. We say or sing the right words, but our heart and our mind are elsewhere. Even and especially worship leaders do this. Now some would say this is the fault of having a set liturgy. Doesn’t having the same words to say each week simply encourage mindless repetition? I admit there is some truth in the argument, which is why I believe our orders of service should flexible and change with the seasons. There’s nothing worse than saying exactly the same thing week in, week out without encouragement to think about what you are doing.

But I also know from experience that it’s quite possible for your mind to wander even when the service is the most lively and the most spontaneous imaginable. The question of focus is our responsibility, not just that of the person up front. I also know that sometimes without any set words it can be quite impossible to follow exactly where the service leader is going, and that too can be a major incentive to switch off.

So how do we focus? I think the answer lies in expectation and engagement. First of all, expectation. Put it simply, do we really want the Lord to show up this morning?  I am constantly amazed at the number of people who seem to come along to church, just because it is their turn on the rotas, or they found they weren’t busy that day. If that really is their attitude, it’s hardly surprising that the worship of the whole church becomes flat and dull, although sometimes the Lord does decide to show up whether we like it or not! It may sound incredibly obvious – but the reason we go to church is that we have a divine appointment with our Creator and our Redeemer, and surely we should do whatever lies within our powers to be ready.

And then there’s engagement. I was struck on Sunday by a line from our first hymn  – Take away the love of sinning. That’s quite a major request, if you mean what you are singing. Perhaps one drawback of having all the songs on the projector is that we do not have the time to stop and read the words in front of us. Or again, may I urge you to take some time to go through the words on the service card – maybe even take a copy home (if you promise to bring it back!). Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit – wow, what would happen if the church really left the building filled with and renewed by the Holy Spirit?

There’s something here about loving the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind. I’d love to hear from other people what helps them focus on worship – and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all be able to hear a little better what the Lord is saying to us as a church. Over to you!

The message of love today

June 21, 2013

For the past couple of weeks I’ve had Graffiti on the Train by Stereophonics going through my head. It’s a brilliant song!

For those who don’t know it, it’s about a young lad who slips away from his lover and sprays the word “Marry me, I love you” on the night train doors. It’s the last train he ever rides. She sees the graffiti in the morning on the way to work, “ecstatic and suspicious”, wondering what it is all about. Hauntingly powerful stuff.

Last night we were at an event where the bishop was speaking about the love of God, and our need to share it with others. But I’m sure the bishop would agree we need to be very careful to explain how Jesus shows the love of God. The cross was not the last reckless act of someone whose life ended once and for all as an example for us to follow. Nor is the message of the cross one we are left to puzzle out for ourselves “ecstatic and suspicious”. To put it another way, the gospel is so much more than graffiti on the train. It is about a message of love that is stronger than death, because this is a love that is able to pay the price for every sin, every act of rebellion, every transgression. That is why it is a love that can offer real comfort to all who believe and trust, because we are not left orphans but are adopted as children of the living God.

But of course we need to work out fresh new ways in every generation to proclaim this love. That’s why I am always on the look out for songs and programmes that help us understand love in a new kind of way, and I think this song does just that.  We did have a reference to Elvis Presley last night, but I suspect that might be just a little behind the times!