Of organs and history...

25 Jun 2017

 We had our monthly organ recital and buffet yesterday, and it was, as always, a memorable time. Jeremiah played amazing music (as always, I am left wondering "how do you do that?!?") and there was enthusiastic applause, and great warmth and support. And then there was food. These recitals are great occasions. If you enjoy good music, great company and amazing food, then come along - the last Saturday of each month at 4.00pm - all welcome, no entrance fee, but a retiring offering for those who feel so moved. (Though if you are planning to come, please note there is no recital in August!)


Our organ is not simply a concert instrument; it is also the mainstay of our worship leading. We are fortunate to have a piano and guitar on a regular basis - and sometimes a horn and viola - and we have had a cello and a double bass, a flute and drums over the years....But almost always, whatever other instruments we are glad to welcome, the organ is always significant.


Which makes us less than usual these days; in many churches there are all sorts of instruments, often, but not only, guitars, drums and keyboards as lead. Our dependence on the organ makes us one of the more old fashioned churches in our worship patterns.


So it is just worth noting how new and scandalous organs were amongst Baptists when they first began to be used in Baptist chapels. Early Baptists, about 400 years ago, didn't sing hymns at all - they were viewed as suspect because they were not "scriptural" words. Various things brought about a change - partly, ministers started to write hymns to help congregation members remember the points of the sermon. The Evangelical Revival in the 18th century, and in particular the ministry of the Wesleys, and their music also had a significant and last impact. But for many chapels, although hymn-singing came to be accepted, it was accompanied not by a pipe organ, which were regarded as worldly and ostentatious instruments, but instead by the West Gallery bands - groups of instrumentalists who did not play - they argued - to show off, in the way that organs did, but rather, simply to accompany the singing.


It was really not until the middle of the nineteenth century (just about the time Bloomsbury was built!) that organs became accepted in Baptist churches.


All of which is (or isn't, depending on you point of view!) interesting in a geeky kind of way! But I believe it matters; not just as understanding how our shapes of worship have changed and taken different forms in different generations, but also as the reminder that it's not just instruments that we change our minds about. The organ was regarded with great suspicion as a new and dangerous innovation. And now, it is a symbol of continuity and (if we are feeling less than charitable!) of being stuck in the past.


And so the question is - what is that we think we cannot do without, or regard as unchangeable - or fear as a dangerous innovation.


And might we be surprised......
















































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