(RNS) — Praise team leaders, organists, gospel choir members and other lovers of church music will gather in Dallas this weekend to launch the Center for Congregational Song in an effort to counter the “worship wars.”
The online center is being kicked off at an Oct. 15-16 conference — bookended by a gospel sing in a park and “beer and hymns” at a local brewery — that comes at a time when musicians are trying to re-energize an aspect of church life that often gets mired in feuds about style, volume and the complexity of the songs sung during worship.
“This idea that we need to be at war with each other over worship styles, I find ridiculous, and it’s very unhealthy in general,” said Brian Hehn, the director of the new center, an arm of the Hymn Society. “The center is an effort, in part, to do away with that idea.”
For decades, some congregants have differed strongly over whether traditional or contemporary music should reign supreme in their sanctuaries. Church signs sometimes denote the times for separate traditional and contemporary services. Other congregations have experimented with “blended” worship that includes more than one genre.
As more than 140 people gather to hear from leaders of different racial, ethnic and denominational backgrounds, they will sing songs ranging from Ana Hernández’s simple worship song “Open My Heart” to Isaac Watts’ hymn “We’re Marching to Zion.” Hehn hopes the in-person discussion will help people learn from one another.
Through the online center, the Hymn Society aims to foster new students of church music and aid small-church pastors who have to plan sermons as well as songs each week.
“The center wants to be a part of this kind of renewal of a sense of collaboration and collegiality,” said Hehn, who has led worship for Baptists, Roman Catholics, United Methodists and Presbyterians, among…