DOUGLAS GALBRAITH has had a long ministry in the Church of Scotland, encompassing university chaplaincy, urban and rural parishes, and a post at Church headquarters. He is also a music graduate with extensive experience in choir conducting and in-depth technical knowledge of organs. He combines these talents and interests in this book, which offers both insight into the role music plays in Christian worship and plenty of sound practical advice for those who engage in it.
If there’s a general theme, perhaps it’s that too often we sell God short through carelessness, superficiality, and informal camaraderie. Galbraith speaks of “blessings that brush our brows without healing our souls” and approvingly quotes American Presbyterian theologian Edward Farley’s observation of a typical service in his own denomination: would address God not as ‘holy, holy, holy’ but as ‘kind, kind, kind’. For Galbraith, the language of worship “must be such that it lies between speaking in tongues and mystical silence and must partake of both.”
There is plenty of sound advice for organists, choirs and clergy. It ranges from the strictly practical and fairly obvious — “never talk to organists while they are playing volunteers” — to the more nuanced and discursive: there is a particularly sensitive and sensible discussion of the controversial issue of opportunity the organist is a church member or, indeed, a believer. Galbraith pleads with clergy to dig deeper into their hymnals, go beyond their comfort zone when choosing hymns, and even learn to read music. Organists are not left out and are asked to play both the lyrics and the music of the hymns and hymns they accompany.
A preponderance of the examples cited in the book are drawn from Scotland, and more specifically from the Church of Scotland. But that does not detract from its potential usefulness to Anglican clergy, organists, choirs and, indeed, congregations, who remember that in their own important music ministry they are “angel apprentices” and participants rather than passive consumers. This book will not end the worship wars that rage in so many churches, but it does provide a calm and helpful reflection on them. A copy could profitably be installed both in the sacristy and in the organ loft of each church to remind their respective occupants that they are engaged together in the same holy task.
The Reverend Dr Ian Bradley is Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Spiritual History at the University of St Andrews. His most recent book is Arthur Sullivan: A Life of Divine Emollient (Oxford University Press, 2021).
Assist Our Song: Music Ministries in the Local Church
Saint Andrew press 19,99 €
Church Times Bookstore £19.99