In the first episode we talked about the importance of decolonizing worship as beginning steps for Christians and churches to repent of the Church’s complicity in creating, promoting, and perpetuating colonial imperialism and white male supremacy, and also as a means of helping the church regain its relevance in an age of post-Christendom. The focus was upon understanding how the legacy of colonial imperialism and white male supremacy influences what happens each Sunday morning in worship and upon specific practices that can and should occur in local congregations to change and decolonize their experience of worship.
In this episode we discuss how thinking about and practicing decolonizing worship requires broadening the focus not just on local practices and experiences but also on ecumenical, transcultural, and transnational factors. We begin to explore some of what those factors are and why those factors bear on the local congregation. As you will learn, conversations like these are just the start of the process. Many more such conversations need to be had and a great deal more experimentation and sharing of experiences will need to occur for important changes to be made that will help bring into joyful rhythm and harmony the body of Christ.
Among the great evils of human history has been colonial imperialism and the rise of white male supremacy. The terrible legacy of these two interwoven realities still continues. Tragically and shamefully for the Church and Christianity, is that in a twisted and perverted logic that was and is a contradiction to the Gospel, the Church has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the creation, propagation, affirmation, support, and maintenance of that legacy. The Legacy permeates all aspects of Western culture and its relationships globally.
In my mind the consequence of The Legacy has contributed substantively to the marked decline in Christianity and Evangelical and Mainline denominations in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.
For the Church to relevance and integrity it must repent by acknowledging the sinfulness and evil of The Legacy and the Church’s complicity in it. But as Standing Rock Sioux Vine Deloria, Jr. persuasively made the case in his book, God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, repentance is not enough. Change must occur in the life and practices of Christians and the Church.
One of the continuing influences of The Legacy has been in its standards of what counts as good, appropriate, and acceptable. These standards apply to a broad diversity of culture in things like proper behavior and etiquette, what counts as good scholarship, good art, good music, and, for Christianity, what counts as appropriate worship.
Because worship is fundamental to who we are and what we do as Christians, one of the essential ways for the Church to repent and to change its life and practices is to decolonize its worship. What decolonizing Christianity’s worship means is complicated and extensive. Conversations and experiments in change are just beginning and are in the process. There are not only issues related to local practices in congregations, but interconnected international issues as well.
To help us begin our conversation on this podcast about decolonizing worship, I am grateful to Brian Hehn of The Hymn Society , who volunteered to invite conversation partners. So, it is my honor and delight to welcome to this two-part interview, Dr. Becca Whitla and Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel along with welcoming back Brian.
Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel is Assistant Professor of Church Music and Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. Marcell writes at the intersection of church music, theology, musicology, and performance theory. He served as Minister of Worship, Arts, and Communication at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Curitiba, Brazil, for more than a decade and is an internationally active composer and performer. His most recent monograph is Church Music Through the Lens of Performance.
Brian Hehn is Director of The Center for Congregational Song. Experienced using a variety of genres and instrumentations, he has lead worship for Baptists, Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Presbyterians, and many more across the U.S. and Canada. He received his Bachelor of Music Education from Wingate University, his Master of Sacred Music from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and is certified in children’s church music (K-12) by Choristers Guild. He has articles published on sacred music and congregational song in multiple journals and has recently co-authored two books on drumming in the church published by Choristers Guild. While working for The Hymn Society as the Director of The Center for Congregational Song, he is also adjunct professor of church music at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina.
This episode is my second interview with The Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon. As I say in my spoken introduction, Dr. Cannon is a peacebuilder, advocate, author, and speaker. She is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She has two doctorates and multiple degrees in areas as diverse as history, bioethics, business, ministry. Currently she is Executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace.
The reason I want you to know of Dr. Cannon’s books and work is that she not only provides clear and perceptive insights into the complexity of most current social justice issues, but she also a) gives excellent resources for each issue so that anyone interested in a particular issue has a good place to start in developing an understanding of the issue, and b) gives multiple examples and suggestions for how anyone can become personally involved and engaged in a social justice issue. Mae balances the theoretical and the practical is especially helpful ways.