Saturday, May 21, 2011

When the Sound of Worship Fades Away

As he opened the door, Bruno quickly stepped inside the room, set the empty box on the floor. He shut the door noiselessly before turning on the overhead light. He didn’t want anyone to know he was here at his church office on this Friday night.

Lord knows we’ve talked about this enough, he thought.

Bruno turned first to his bookcase. The shelves were full of slender volumes of sheet music, hymn books and CDs. He reached first for a tattered old book whose bright green cover was taped together. It was full of the old hymns he loved: “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”

When he was a boy, the pastor of his parents’ church had given him the book, seeing how the young lad loved to sing the old songs and seemed to have some talent on the piano. Bruno had played every song in that book at some point or other.

All Bruno wanted to do was sing praises to the Lord. And as the worship leader at his church, that’s what he thought he was supposed to do.

Bruno loved any music that praised the Lord. The old hymns, the psalms set to music, the worship choruses. He loved all styles of music. Classical, rock and roll, bluegrass, jazz …

He’d been so excited when he was asked to lead worship at this growing church. At first he had volunteered. Then, as more and more people began attending services, it became a paid, part-time position.

That’s when things began to sour. Oh, not for Bruno. He was happy planning and playing music. But not everyone was happy with what he was doing. Namely, the older longtime members of the church.

When Bruno came to the church, he, the pastor and the other leaders of the church agreed that “blended worship” offered just the right balance of old and new music for their diverse congregation. And that was fine … for a while. Then, as more and more young people began attending, the leaders decided to add another service, a Sunday night service especially for older teens and 20-somethings.

Since the younger folks preferred rock and roll, Bruno weighted the music at this service more in that genre, while still doing one old hymn every week. Some of the people who came had never gone to church before. Nothing delighted Bruno more than to see them let down their guard and give themselves to worshipping God.

Occasionally some of the older folks would slip in to a Sunday night service to check up on what was going on. They did not like what they saw and heard. Several began to complain to the pastor. One man called the service “slap-happy” and a woman called it “a circus.”

We can’t have that, can we? Bruno was pressured to “tone it down,” even at the Sunday morning service. No more “blended.” Even his contemporary arrangements of the old hymns was condemned.

Since his musical creativity was no longer being called upon, Bruno got bored with his job. The young people got bored, too. They became confused about God and church. Church was supposed to be a refuge from the squabbles of the world, they thought. Disillusioned, many of them left. So did the young families. Bruno could only hope and pray that they did not abandon their newfound faith in God.

He finished packing his books and CDs, the papers in his desk. He secured the plastic cover over his keyboard and set his guitar in its hard case.

There was a knock at the door. He opened it to the pastor’s wife, Joanie.

“Bruno,” she said, “I wish you wouldn’t leave. You need to stay and fight for what’s right.”

“But don’t you see, Joanie?” he said. “This fighting is all wrong. This is not being a light to the world. I feel life just draining out of me.”

“But where will you go?” Joanie asked. “Talent like yours should not go to waste.”

Bruno wasn’t ready to go home, where everything would feel so final, so he drove around for awhile, thinking, grieving. It was Friday night and young people were outside the bars, smoking, talking and drinking. They seemed happy. Bruno even spotted a few who had been to the church.

When he saw a sign for “Open Mic Night” at a small pub, Bruno felt a surge of joy. Pulling into the parking lot, he opened his trunk, grabbed his guitar and went inside.

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