“What We Sing Goes Deep into Memory”: An interview with Siobhán Garrigan and Patrick Evans

Ray Waddle

Marquand Chapel is the beating heart of Yale Divinity School. Diverse participatory services there daily embody the school’s Christian worship values and expose students, faculty, and staff to the teeming larger world of the faith’s music and prayers.

Committed to ecumenical worship, the chapel has an unusual dual role. It is a place for regular religious services, ranging widely from Lutheran vespers to Catholic footwashing to Pentecostal praise. It is also a space for teaching students the rhythms, theologies, and practicalities of liturgy and worship leadership. Whether a Marquand liturgy borrows from Celtic tradition, or New Zealand, Nigeria, Indonesia, or North America, the aim is the same. The chapel serves as a nexus of Christian spirit past, present, and future, giving students a glimpse of local liturgical possibility, a deeper sense of tradition, and an experience of world Christian solidarity.

Overseeing the work is Siobhán Garrigan, associate professor of liturgical studies and dean of the chapel, and Patrick Evans, associate professor in the practice of sacred music and director of music for the chapel.

They organize and confer with student interns, called chapel ministers, and the many others who shape the variety of worship experience there. Together they shepherd the Christian ecumenical ideals that the chapel and the school stand for.

Raised in Liverpool, England, Garrigan was a Government of Ireland Humanities Scholar. Before her teaching career, she worked extensively with homeless people. Her latest books, The Real Peace Process: Worship, Politics and the End of Sectarianism (Equinox) and Common Worship in Theological Education (Wipf and Stock), will be out in the next few months.

Evans, from Alabama, recently joined a team of church musician-teachers convened by the United Methodist Church General Board of Global Missions for two weeks in Uganda, teaching and learning from African church musicians and pastors. As a singer, he has appeared regularly in opera, oratorio, and recital performances, and came to YDS from the voice faculty at the University of Delaware.

Reflections editor Ray Waddle sat down with both at Marquand Chapel in late August, a few days before the chapel’s busy semester schedule commenced again. The following is an edited version of their conversation. 

REFLECTIONS: What ideas about liturgy are you eager to pass along to YDS students as they prepare for the wider world of church?

SIOBHÁN GARRIGAN: The program is based on five principles. My mnemonic is “DIHEP” – diversity, inclusivity, hospitality, ecumenism, and participation. It’s no accident that diversity comes first. It’s very important that, across the semester, each day’s worship has a different feel, a different sonic landscape, a different ecclesiological foundation, because only then can people understand that difference and division don’t need to be resolved by blending or unifying, that they can be entered into, loved, and engaged as they are.

PATRICK EVANS: There is multiple leadership most days, multiple voices, multiple folks involved in the planning. It means a lot of conversations, meetings, bringing people to voice, getting people’s input, and inviting people to lead.

GARRIGAN: Take the fourth principle we are committed to, ecumenism, which I regard as a worldwide Christian attempt to be faithful in the midst of diversity.

Loosely speaking, there are three models of ecumenical worship. There’s the “show-and-tell” method, where, if you’re Episcopalian, you do Episcopalian, if you’re Methodist, you do Methodist, etc. The disadvantage of this for our context is that only Episcopalians come on one day, only Methodists come on another, etc., so we’re not actually worshipping together.

The second model is the “lowest common denominator” model, where you make sure everybody can do everything, and without any discomfort for anyone. The advantage is it gives a feeling of togetherness, but it also means everything that is distinctive, native to traditions, is washed out. You never encounter difference.

EVANS: With that model, everything you’re inviting someone to do or sing, no one would object to.

GARRIGAN: The third model is the “pan-Protestant” model. But we have Catholics and Orthodox, and we want an ecumenism that includes them.

We’re not running a chaplaincy here. We’re trying to support a program in liturgical studies – we’re trying to support the entire curriculum, in fact. And so these models work well elsewhere, but not in this specific context.

REFLECTIONS: Are you and YDS forging a fourth way?

GARRIGAN: We’re working towards it. We ask people to lead entirely from their own tradition, but to open it up. What this means is people have to dig deeper into their own tradition but simultaneously think about who’s going to be attending: how am I going to lead this, invite others into it, so that a Baptist and a Methodist and an evangelical can taste it? So people have to learn their ministerial chops – construct a service that has integrity within a tradition but that also invites others to participate in meaningful ways.

We support this model through roundtables and I write the Marquand Reader, the newsletter we put out every Sunday night. It tells you both the historical roots of what’s on each week and also its place in the churches, so people are getting layers of learning – as well as the bodily, experiential learning in chapel each day.

EVANS: It’s very different from leading in your church on Sunday where most everybody knows a particular way of doing things over many years of worshipping together. It means you prepare people for prayer in a different way, different homiletical and musical approaches, different ways of reading Scripture. But it also means people dig into their own traditions and discover that they contain a lot of things they didn’t even know were in it.

I was recently the cantor at a big Presbyterian music and worship conference, and I was teaching some cantoring classes, and a few people in the class said, “I didn’t know Presbyterians could have cantors now. Isn’t that Catholic?” Well, no, there’s nothing in the Presbyterian Directory for Worship that says you should not have cantors. But we often define worship practices locally as not what the folks across the street are doing, so the Presbyterian church is expected to do things only a certain way, and the Catholics are supposed to do things a certain way, and the Lutherans, and the AMEs – those differences often become generalized to worship practices that need not be that different.

GARRIGAN: Churches can end up with a very thin repertoire – unnecessarily. Part of what we teach is that each worship style or denomination has a massive storehouse of worship practice, and what you think of as normal in, say, a Methodist or Presbyterian church is probably less than five percent of what they could do – without inventing anything.

REFLECTIONS: Marquand Chapel liturgies and worship are a pivotal element in a YDS education; so many students are preparing for leadership positions in local churches. In a sense, you are teaching American churches, too, to do things a little differently.

GARRIGAN: I hope so.

EVANS: But what we’re teaching comes from American churches and worldwide churches, too. Some- times worship might look or feel different in this space, but none of this is invented whole-cloth just for the sake of being artistic or creative.

GARRIGAN: Regarding the sort of churches our students go into, the norm – not always, obviously, but the norm – is that you’re second, third, even fourth fiddle, an assistant or associate, not senior minister. This made me realize I need to be educating these students for the church as it will be in 15 years’ time, when they are in the position to effect change.

REFLECTIONS: How would you characterize the religious landscape these students face now?

EVANS: So much depends on each local situation. If you talk about, for example, the PC (USA), you could choose two different congregations in the same town, both claiming Reformed tradition yet worshipping and living their daily community life in radically different ways, even though naming themselves in the same denomination.

GARRIGAN: The old Christian sectarianism was between Protestants and Catholics. I think the new sectarianism, which is equally pernicious, is between conservative evangelicals, so-called, and liberal progressives, so-called.

Your question might imply we are training them just for the American scene, or the American Protestant scene, but I see our role as training for an ecumenical, worldwide church. A good chunk of students do come from the American mainline churches, but there’s so many who come from else- where, such as Catholic students, and international students – South Korea, especially – and our graduates go all over the world.

EVANS: This is one reason why we stress global song here, yes. How can the American church call itself “the church” in 2009 when the vast majority of Christians in the world live in the global south and are not European or North American?

How can we persist week after week, saying, “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” the words of the creed, saying every week we believe in a global church – and not listen to other voices of the body of Christ? Instead, we want to sing this hymn the same way we’ve always sung it, or say the creed the same way we’ve always said it.

One of the great gifts to the North American church and the Western European church in the past 30 years has been aspects of worship from “non- Western cultures.” Singing “O Worship the King” to an Indonesian tune brings out different themes in that familiar Western text. It describes a very different king. Global song gives us new theological insights, new bodily experiences. Such songs open up new windows of the spirit, and yet they’re all very, very traditional; they just might not be the way we happen to have worshipped in the past.

GARRIGAN: When Patrick or others teach us a new song – say, a spiritual – by singing it, not by giving us a piece of paper to read but by standing up and singing it, and we sing back – something different is learned. Because of that, you know God a little differently.

REFLECTIONS: You’ve remarked on what we can learn from the surging global scene. But there’s another reality too in the North American picture – those churches that resist this. They perhaps feel too much diversity and chaos and change going on in twenty-first century society, and what they want from their own particular Sunday congregational experience is …

EVANS: Retreat, comfort …

REFLECTIONS: Particularly in worship.

EVANS: In many places, worship is 95 percent comfort and 5 percent challenge – and that’s on a prophetic day.

REFLECTIONS: Surely that’s the world that some of these students are going to enter. Are you equipping them to take worshippers by the hand, gently, and pull them along to a different theological experience?

EVANS: In addition to training folks for 15 years from now, I do think the ways in which they’ve worshipped here not only gives them a glimpse of what is possible but also techniques for making things happen. I think of a local pastor here who has just started a service that is not being named as the “contemporary” service or the whatever service; it’s just an additional worship service. This is an associate who is incorporating a lot of the music or the ways of praying that they’ve learned here. And those things work their way into the eleven o’clock service. Partly it depends on how early you have that authority.

GARRIGAN: I hope we’re “bilingual.” We’re not just teaching people for 15 years hence, but for all sorts of situations right now. I would be really, really disappointed if students couldn’t equally apply what we do to working in the large churches, the new churches, the evangelical churches, small or large. We’ve had several students go and work in mega- churches. I hope that what we give them here is equally relevant.

REFLECTIONS: Is “contemporary versus traditional” still an epic tug-of-war? Is it evolving? Dissipating?

EVANS: There are musical movements within evangelical praise-and-worship communities that are moving toward texts that are more social-justice-oriented, environmental, care for creation, and other such issues.

But polarities remain. For some, the solution 20 or 25 years ago was to do two different services. In some places that’s worked, or at least worked for a bit, but play that out over 30 years, and what does that mean? In some places they’ve been able to sort of stay together as a church. But elsewhere it’s really like two different churches meeting in the same place. The truth is, any worship we engage in is contemporary because we are engaging in it now.

GARRIGAN: For decades, where I’m from, some people have chosen to go to early Mass, others to the later Mass. Each had different hymns, a different atmosphere, a different crowd. So I don’t think the recent wars were about choice, or even about worship style. I think they were about authority – theological, ecclesial, and monetary – and worship was polarized in the process.

EVANS: But this polarity can be idolatrous, because we’re worshipping a style, naming the style as “the right way” or the way I like best, a personal preference. But we worship a creative and creating God, and we pray every week for the Holy Spirit to inspire us, and if we really mean those words, then how can we not sing and pray and worship in different ways? Not a different way every week, but learning a wider repertoire both of songs and ways of praying and preaching.

GARRIGAN: Don’t you think it’s hypocritical to pray for a new creation, which we do in some form or other every week, but then to insist that you sing all the same familiar hymns over and over?

REFLECTIONS: But isn’t this traditional-contemporary dilemma a moot question for younger people? Isn’t their style more eclectic – the way they absorb information and navigate through the fragmented media and assemble music through iTunes? Perhaps they can live with various worship styles side by side?

GARRIGAN: You know,I don’t find them more eclectic. Too many of them are sort of repressed – don’t know how to dance or hold a dinner party or tell a joke or join together for teamwork – their bodies work singly, not interactively. I don’t blame them: they’ve been trained to interact with a computer screen their entire lives. To me, their world seems more limited in its practices, its options, not more eclectic.

REFLECTIONS: What are the ramifications for worship?

GARRIGAN: There’s a lockdown on bodies in white American culture. This has translated into very little movement in worship, little emotion, little intimacy, and very little spontaneity.

EVANS: Churches understandably are concerned about how to attract young people. It’s often the overt or covert motivator behind adding a contemporary worship service. But it’s a problematic question. I do wonder how it’s all going to look 30 years out from now, in terms of musical sensibility. One of the factors is the commodification of music. You used to have to buy the whole Bob Dylan album; if you heard a song on the radio you liked, you’d have to buy the whole 14 songs, and you’d listen to them and you might learn to love songs that at first you didn’t immediately like. Now you download one 99-cent song, and you never hear the rest of the album. Engaging something that you don’t immediately like doesn’t happen as much in this day and age.

GARRIGAN: Opening up realms of new experience to them is a delicate operation. You have to work gently with them, because you’re working to overcome a suspicion that says, “I didn’t choose this.” It’s no judgment on them. They have been taught to navigate the world a certain way, a way that gives them the illusion of total choice and control.

REFLECTIONS: Meanwhile, is singing in church hindered by these technological advances? Is congregational singing alive and well?

EVANS: Many people are disempowered from their own voices and their own singing – by the wider culture outside, but also within church culture. In many churches the choir is a great big mass of sound, but it’s far away, not near the people in the pews. So, in many churches, if you’ve got a hundred people in a space for 600, people have become accustomed to listening instead of singing. We work with many methods – call-and-response, varying the instrumentation, using not just organ but piano, sometimes saxophone, sometimes flute, sometimes a cappella, having the choir process more or sit among the people – to help people reclaim their voices. These days, the music they listen to is perfect, because it’s been all technologically and digitally corrected, and when they dare to sing, they’re measuring seemingly feeble attempts against perfection. And where do people sing together in our culture? It doesn’t happen so much outside worshipping communities.

GARRIGAN: That’s the thing I noticed. When there’s no singing in school, no pub singing, no school assembly singing, then there’s no singing in churches. They compound one another.

EVANS: But the singing in many churches is for the choir, with the hope that a few people will jump in …

GARRIGAN: … And now there’s a massive chunk of every incoming class who tried to sing once, were told not to bother by someone they respected, and literally have never sung since. I’ve met dozens of people, hundreds probably, who have that story here. They have to be reconnected, taught why it matters that they sing, and that it matters not what others think of their performance.

EVANS: If our repertoire is so limited that we’re only singing four- and five-verse hymns, many people are going to continue not to sing. This argues for a wider range of worship music – not a replacement for this or that tradition, but a repertoire that might also include a three-part Indonesian chant in a different mode, a theologically and musically rich piece that might invite people to sing who haven’t risked it before.

When people don’t sing, they don’t memorize all of the beautiful, brilliant theology that worship music contains, because what we sing goes deep into memory, and is the lived theology we call on in time of trouble.