“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted.” It’s a question most of us in the church have heard, if not asked, in our continued struggle to contextualize the Gospel message and our religious traditions in the world around us. But in this case, the question was asked in a letter written in 1890 about the new-fangled hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Shocking? Perhaps. But it’s a good reminder that while change is hard, time changes our perspective.
Andy Robertson draws the parallel in his Church Times article, Not to be consoled as to console. He isn’t, however, talking about innovative new music or liturgy. You see, Andy is computer-games journalist. He speaks openly about finding meaning “among smartphones, tablet computers, and game consoles.”
Earlier this year, members of Exeter Cathedral were invited to play a video game during an evening service. To Robertson, it simply made sense: worshippers were able to control a simulated flower petal as the wind blew it though the fields. It seemed a perfect compliment to the Liturgy’s creation theme. Despite the community’s positive experience, the media was less understanding, calling the game “a gimmick.”
The article raises all sorts of questions for me, as I’m sure it does for you. Was the integration of a video game considered to be novel and/or distracting because it was outside of the traditional worship experience, or was it because it involved a certain kind of technology? Would a passive use of technology like watching a video have been more widely accepted than an interactive one, where worshippers were invited to take part? Or are we simply uncomfortable making the connection between worship and play?
Granted, different symbols and styles of worship reach different communities. But I wonder if we’re seeing something more here. What do you think?