Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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On Thursday evening I met with a fourth year student at the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS) to talk about his senior thesis. Joseph is planning to write about the impact of music on worship attendance in the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda. Along the way, he told me of tragedies in his life story that made his research come alive even more vividly.
Joseph (pictured to the left) told me that at many Presbyterian Churches in Rwanda, many people come simply for the music (which might sound familiar), as long as the music is a specific type. It must be choir music designed to bring joy! As long as the music is of good quality, and centers on the joy of the Gospel, people will come to church. (He is also concerned that people often get up and leave during the sermon, or even take phone calls during the sermon, which he—and the Reformed tradition—understand to be the central act of worship.)
Back to the joyful choir music. We talked about how there is no problem for a choir (or the congregation) to sing joyful music. The problem is if they only sing joyful music. After all, a full presentation of the Gospel means that sometimes the music should be comforting. Sometimes it should be lament. Sometimes a confession or a call to evangelism. Sometimes it should be boldly challenging. It should always be of high quality, but if it is always joyful, then it is not representing the full range of the Gospel’s claim on our lives.
As we talked, I discovered that his parents had both died within the last few years—both in the same year, as a matter of fact. They had both been poisoned—and although his English was not good enough for me to completely understand who had done it, it seemed to be people disappointed that his father was an evangelist. Joseph was able to spend time with his mother as she died. She begged him again and again and again as she was fading away, “Don’t seek revenge. Don’t seek revenge. Don’t seek revenge.” It was heartbreaking to hear him tell his story.
Joseph is a joyful person, but his story is not one of joy. A worshiping community whose music only focuses on joy, week in and week out, misses the chance to care for him and to validate his experiences. He did not say that this is why he is researching this topic, but I wonder if his desire to hear the whole Gospel, complete with lament and sorrow as well as hope and joy, did not lead him to this theme.
At the end of our visit, he asked if he could pray for me. It was remarkably touching, and left me with gratitude, appreciation, hope, and, yes, joy.