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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. Becca Whitla is the Professor of Pastoral Studies at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon where she teachers worship, preaching, and Christian Education. She worked in Toronto for many years as a music director in both Anglican and United Churches (Church of the Holy Trinity, and Trinity St Paul’s United Church). She also co-directed Echo, a 70 voice women’s choir, and worked in the trade union movement developing leadership through choral singing. Becca recently published her first book, Liberation, (De)Coloniality, and Liturgical Practices: Flipping the Song Bird (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).
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.