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Music and the Arts in Worship

MUSIC AND THE ARTS AMONG THE CONTEMPORARY CHURCHES

The entries that follow offer an overview of the current worship practices of most of the major denominations in this country, each prepared by a person active in that particular church. Read individually, they furnish a wealth of fresh ideas; collectively they give evidence that, while each denomination remains theologically focused on its tradition and centers its worship on the familiar, there is hardly one which is not actively re-examining its worship philosophy and experimenting with new forms, music, and visual art. Insularity and Rigidity (and their offspring Routine and Passivity) have given way to a flowering of creativity which fosters commitment. Earlier labels such as Liturgical, Praise, Full Gospel, and Evangelical are no longer definitive. Each denomination appears to be eager to learn from the practices of others as a stimulus to their own worship rather than looking only to the past, only inward, or only to other churches within their denomination. Narrowness is out, and features once thought the special province and mark of a particular group are being fruitfully and joyfully embraced by others. The variety is so widespread that it is almost more appropriate to focus on the specific practices of an individual congregation, rather than to make generalizations about a denomination as a whole. As Philip Begrrov Peter notes, “Style is becoming more and more eclectic and there is a healthy regard for the special contribution that every individual may make. Worship, once almost the property of the officiating clergy rigorously hewing to a prescribed pattern, has rightly become the responsibility of Everyperson.”

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Adventist Churches

Gospel song is prominent in the music of Adventist churches. However, the range of music used spans the centuries from traditional masterpieces to contemporary choruses. Churches rely on a variety of instruments, from large pipe organs to electronic synthesizers. The other arts are not generally used in worship, but among a few leading churches banners, hangings, and drama have been introduced.

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African Methodist Episcopal Churches

Music has always been central to the worship of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen, the founder of the denomination, provided a hymnal filled with selections that were popular among his people and that reflected the African-American heritage. Subsequent editions of the hymnal have included a wide variety of material. The visual and performing arts have also become a hallmark of worship in the AME church.

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 African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Zion Methodism continues to use hymn singing as its chief expression of music in worship. Congregational hymnody ranges from traditional hymns to spirituals and gospel hymns. These hymns, along with choral responses, are carefully integrated into the liturgy. Although not traditionally important, banners and dramatic presentations are now included in some worship services.

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 The American Baptist Churches in the USA

As a result of both the autonomy of their local churches and the ethnic diversity among member congregations, diversity is the dominant adjective used to describe the use of music and the arts in American Baptist churches. The size, theological orientation, and geographical location of individual congregations are all factors that influence the music and arts used in individual congregations.

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 Anglican and Episcopal Churches

Anglican and Episcopal Churches inherit a rich liturgical tradition that is the product of many periods of worship renewal in the history of the church. Worship renewal in Anglican and Episcopal churches today seeks both to maintain the vitality of the historic liturgy and to use the best of contemporary musical and artistic expressions.

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 Assemblies of God Churches

Assemblies of God churches have always maintained a highly pragmatic approach in their use of music, always making use of a secularized and popular style of church music. In recent years this has extended to the inclusion of Christian music derived from rock music. They believe that matters of artistic style are secondary to moral purity or doctrine.

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 Baptist (Evangelical Denominations and Independent Baptist Churches)

Music in evangelical Baptist churches derives largely from interdenominational hymnals, but also calls on a wide variety of sources ranging from choruses and pop gospel to Anglican chant. Many Baptist churches are also making use of dramatic arts and the structure of the Christian year to enhance worship, as does the congregation described here.

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Baptist General Conference

The Baptist General Conference has been influenced by contemporary music and arts. Many of its churches sing praise choruses as well as hymns and gospel songs. The popular arts of drama, storytelling, and banners are used in many churches.

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 Brethren (Plymouth) Churches

Plymouth Brethren worship is characterized by a commitment to austerity and simplicity. Music in worship has traditionally been limited to unaccompanied hymn singing. Musical and artistic creativity is most prevalent in Open Brethren churches in worship services other than the breaking of bread service. In some cases, instrumental accompaniment, contemporary music, and dramatic presentations of portions of Scripture are now used.

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