Chapel curriculum

Below is a sketch of my college’s “Chapel Curriculum” for 2012-13.  Leaving alone for now the question of what the chapel tradition is supposed to be — and yea, whether there should be a curriculum at all (making it thus a human, academic enterprise and not as much of a Kingdom one) — let’s have a look.  This plan is conveniently, if not properly, structured in three “God” categories and one human category.  

GOD THE FATHER

  • Who God is
  • Attributes of God
  • Salvation history; relationship of old & new covenants
  • Creation
    • nature/environment
    • humans created as sexual beings
    • art/music  – art
  • Provision:  Deus absconditus: God’s hidden work
  • Intelligence

GOD THE SON

  • Teaching of Jesus: ethics; kingdom of God; imitation of Christ
  • The “work” of Christ: death and all its significance for our redemption; resurrection and all its significance; soteriology

GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT  

  • Spirit-inspired service
  • Sanctification; role of Spirit in the Christian’s maturing, growth in love
  • Discipleship
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Eschatology/Judgment/Resurrection
  • Church:
    • Ecclesiology
    • Christian Community; purpose & identity of the church

ANTHROPOLOGY (theological)

  • Humanity in image of God
  • The Christian and politics
  • Common grace
  • Civic justice
  • The Christian’s vocation
  • Business:  work and the kingdom of God, wealth

As I read over that list, I find an attractive depth and scope.  My questions, though, are many — too many, I think.  Although I might have offered to contribute to the “curriculum” with a speech on one of the topics listed, I’m afraid my views in a few areas would prove too divergent.  Every third item seems either miscategorized or ill-conceived or unclear.  I’ll offer six representative questions, using “the number of man,” because this whole curricular list, like me and like you, is human and imperfect.

  1. For instance, why are discipleship and interpersonal relationships under the “God the Holy Spirit” heading and not under “God the Son” or “Anthropology”?  I suppose that in a sense, we follow the essence, the indwelling part of God; but large, significant portions of NC scripture pertain to following Jesus, leading me to the conclusion that He is the crux for humans in terms of discipleship.
  2. What is “common grace,” and why is it under a human heading rather than a God one?  (Maybe I’m just ignorant of orthodox thought.)  (Don’t say anything!)
  3. In my particular milieu, I think any messages in the “Christian and politics” category will likely be balanced and non-partisan, but I worry in every election year that folks will assume that every right-thinking person should be engaged in the process — when such involvement must not be cajoled, since political involvement is not required in scripture.
  4. “Civic justice” is always safe … or is it?  On one hand, I affirm a mantra that goes something like this:  “Socially/humanly liberal; morally conservative.”  But, like it or not, there’s a politically liberal agenda attached to the words “civic justice” that appeals to some, but not to all.
  5. Why is Eschatology/Judgment/Resurrection under the Holy Spirit heading and not the Father or Son ones?
  6. Perhaps most significant:  why, in a Christ-ian college, is the “God the Son” category so brief?

Some topical areas seem skeletal — why are there only one or two sub-topics under “church” and “creation,” for instance?  And another example:  I do think human sexuality deserves a solid berth in considerations of what it means to be human, but there’s much more to say about God’s human creation, isn’t there?  I think I remember hearing — but don’t know for sure — that a four-year curriculum exists, designed to touch on four times this many areas during a student’s time in college.  Perhaps this list is only one-fourth of the whole, designed in order to provide thoroughgoing balance over a period of years.

How about you?  Care to pick an item or two and query it, or comment on it from a Christian education standpoint?

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Leading singing in Searcy (3 of 3: College Church)

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III.       At the College Church

The College Church of Christ is an iconic CofC that isn’t necessarily the oldest in town but is the largest and has been the most influential over the long haul.  Since I didn’t jump on the College Church bandwagon while a student and take the convenient route to the church that was closest to campus, I was never a privileged student leader there.

Once, many years later, a couple months before a visit to Searcy, I wrote to an old college friend, who was then involved in worship planning, to see if there might be a Sunday night I could lead at the College Church.  I didn’t hear from him at all; instead, I got a “blind” note from … wait for it … the preacher (aarrgghh).  I hadn’t addressed the preacher (whose name I didn’t know at the time), he had no relationship with me, and he didn’t even tell me what his official capacity was when he wrote me tersely to say “thanks, but no thanks.”  As I discovered later, the College Church’s refusal to admit me (on a one-time basis) to their sacred ranks all went to a relational issue that was obsolete and mostly, if not completely, in the minds of a few.  I get a little upset when I think about this still, even though it occurred more than two years ago.  I wish, frankly, that I hadn’t cared, but there was something about the experience of leading at this church, and the history of relationships there, that made me care.

Now, back to our unscheduled program.  Back in the day, the College Church was famous for having only-professional-quality song leaders.  Not a first-string and second-string group, but an only-string group.  High levels of proficiency and “professionalism” (although that term wasn’t as common back in the day) were expected.  Only two or three music professors — and two or three others who could have been music professors — were “allowed” to lead.  I don’t believe this amounted to a draconian ousting of the inept.  Back then, people weren’t as likely to be offended at not being included; it was simply the way it was.  Quality was expected, and the regular rotation selected quality material for worship and led in a generally well-above-average way.  All but one of these men I remember as the “A” list have moved into the land of the eternally living now.

Logo

Don’t let the modern logo fool you; the College Church strikes one as relatively conservative in structure and practice.  It possesses a powerful legacy — and perches high atop a pedestal in the eyes of many, including a fair number of its own congregants.  I don’t think I ever personally idolized the College Church; yet, deep within, there was for a long time a faint, but persistent, yearning to be included as a leader there.  Even one appointment would be sufficient.  I wanted to be able to say that, once in my life, that I was one of the few, the gifted, the chosen … that I had been presented with the opportunity to do what only a relatively small number of leaders had done:  leading singing at the College Church in Searcy, Arkansas.  This was the town that produced, through its College-turned-University, what were considered by many to be the finest a cappella choruses known in our fellowship of churches.  This was the small town that had four fairly large churches of our stripe, and lots of capable student and faculty leaders (all “laity,” mind you).  And in this town, College Church was king of kings.

One time, a couple of years ago, I sort of slipped in and led at the College Church — by quasi-approval, during a free-for-all singfest in which multiple leaders were leading two songs each.  The opportunity presented itself, and I took it, and now, I don’t ever need to lead at College again.  I’m persuaded now that I do more effective work in other scenaria, and I’m happy to do things I think are more important in the Kingdom than to lead singing at a place where there is such an auspicious history of song leaders, and where the congregation is so large that actual leading and following are not options, in any real sense.

Epilogue

Leading singing in Searcy was an important part of my earlier Christ-ian history, and the experiences were positively formative for me.  These days, I continue to treasure opportunities to do such leading; this particular species of opportunity now comes every few weeks in Rochester, New York.  There, our Lawson Road Church is a rare one in which depth of content is valued above style, speed, and glitz — and in which a nicely disproportionately large number of mature believers have leadership qualities and inclinations that are well suited to worship in the assembly.  Yet I am convinced that with current developments in Christian music and church-growth thinking, congregational singing is deteriorating.

Never will congregational singing be the same, yet other aspects of church are being bolstered.  It’s no case of “easy come, easy go” for me:  worship and a mutual sense of what we’re gathered for are a high priority.  Although I was for years a champion of “contemporary music” in my congregation–using overhead transparencies before PowerPoint and projectors were affordable, editing and compiling two hymnal supplements, and leading with the teenagers — I am no longer as concerned with contemporaneity in worship content.  It is, in the final analysis, all about content.  Who are we to say that Matt Redman and Casting Crowns and the erstwhile favorite Twila Paris are more soul-enriched than Charles Wesley, L.O. Sanderson, William Cowper, Clement of Alexandria, and even Fanny Crosby?  Content is content, and style is style.

As strong congregational singing declines, I am wistful and more than a trifle sad.  But I am saddened less now than I was when I first began to perceive and comment on this decline.  Maybe it’s creeping apathy in that causes my sadness to be less painful.  Or maybe it’s that I am finding other ways to serve in the Kingdom.  May God keep me from apathy and move me more into valuable service, wherever I am.  No matter whether worship and congregational song leading in a decade looks anything like it did in the 50s, 80s, or 90s, the Kingdom of God is forever.

Leading singing in Searcy (2 of 3: West Side)

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II.        At West Side

Again, as with my Harding University-related leading opportunities, my family reputation preceded me:  as a 17-to-20-year-old, I was pleased to be entrusted with regular leading responsibilities at the church I attended — the West Side Church.  I rode a bus there, since it was about two miles away.  One of the elders—a dear professor named Baggett, for whom my parents had sung when he directed the Christian academy chorus, and a man my other grandparents counted as a friend—put me in front of the church about once a month for the three and a half years I was in college.

I don’t remember the weekly planning process, but I don’t think there was anything submitted in advance for a bulletin or “worship program.”  I don’t believe anything was coordinated with the preacher or other leaders.  I would simply choose songs from the hymnal, a copy of which I owned, and then I showed up to lead.  There were no “contemporary music” options available at that time, but I would have led a balance of songs that ranged mostly from 50-250 years old (plus one from the 3rd century) from the hymnal, and would have chosen appropriate songs and stanzas well in advance.  Thinking things through is always good.

Although I have few specific memories, I can guarantee you that there was bona fide worship content when I led.  I had been taught well by my grandfather, father, and others.  Songs like “Lord of All Being, Throned Afar” and “Day Is Dying in the West” and “Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love” would have been likely choices for me during this period (and beyond!).  I believe that much worship occurred during such times, no matter whether I was leading or someone else, as in certain churches today that think they’re worshipping more, and better.

Despite my youth, I put relatively mature thought into leading and did some good things.  Since I had some prior experience leading in my home church, at youth events, and at camp before coming to college in Searcy, I was accustomed to conventions such as writing out lists of song numbers, inserting prayers and readings at the “right” spots with other men’s names filled in (often, at the last minute when brother so-and-so didn’t show up to fill his assignment), announcing song numbers twice in two forms (“four hundred fifty six . . . four-five-six” [to make sure someone didn’t accidentally turn to 466), and holding up fingers to indicate stanza numbers.

Since leading at the West Side Church was a regular thing for me throughout my undergraduate college “career,” I probably owe Eddie Baggett (the elder, professor, and family friend) a lot more than I’ve realized for giving me the opportunity to develop as a leader at this important time of life.  He and his wife are now in their upper 80s, and we had a nice visit with them a few weeks ago in their home.

To be continued . . . 

Leading singing in Searcy (1 of 3: Harding)

This mini-memoir is about my song leading experiences in Searcy, Arkansas—a little town in which I’ve spent, in toto, about 4.5 years of my life.  Searcy (pronounced “SUR-see”) is one of the beloved homes of colleges affiliated with my church “fellowship.”[1]  Although Searcy is just one college town, and although it is probably no more representative of Church of Christ experience than others, it is the town I know, and I figure it’s beneficial to think about where I’ve come from.

Searcy has pretty much always been a town where it’s not only safe, but quite comfortable, to be a Christ-ian.  A quick glance at its daily newspaper’s website shows not only the Christian influence, but something of the place of Harding University in the community.

Aside:  and what about other CofC college towns?  I’ve only spent about 8-10 waking hours of my life in Abilene (ACU)–an ugly town with a more open breed of university and a somewhat more progressive church climate–and no more in Henderson, TN (FHU).  Have been in Oklahoma City (OU) and Vienna, WV (OVU) a bit longer but still have no real basis for comment there.  Absolutely no sense at all of Lubbock (LCU) or Kissimmee (FCC).  I have a fairly decent handle on Nashville (DLU), but that city is in a class all its own, since it is Jerusalem for CofCers and spawned such relatively avant garde efforts as are found within Woodmont Hills and Brentwood and Otter Creek and Zoe.  In Searcy, a true CCCCS (Church of Christ College City-State) — for me, at least — stuff including the leading of congregational singing is more analyzable, memorable … and, well … iconic.

It bears mention here that my maternal grandfather, Andy T. Ritchie Jr., was for years a well-known, much-loved-and-respected leader of worship in congregational singing.  He sometimes traveled far by train and car to lead worship as others preached, and to preach himself.  He was a cross between George Beverly Shea and Billy Graham — in our milieu, which is of a much smaller scale.  I genuinely feel blessed to have experienced Granddaddy’s leading on several occasions — both in my home church in Delaware and in Searcy.  He was known for his strong voice, his eventual blindness due to detached retinas, his expressive leading well into his 60s, and his personal, persistent communion with God.  If I have one-quarter of the relationship with God that Granddaddy seems to have had, I’ll be well off.

Whatever your precise background, your connection with Church of Christ college towns, and your inclination or disinclination toward the CofC or congregational worship of times past, my hope is that a few dozen of you will find this more interesting and constructive than old “home movies.”

I.          In Harding University’s Chapel Assembly

During my college years, I was privileged to lead congregational singing about once a semester in Harding University’s chapel.  The first time I led there was during my freshman year.  Know first that all congregational singing was sans instruments (which, incidentally, isn’t exactly the meaning of “a cappella”).  No special choir was involved.  Yet University choral director Uncle Bud (Dr. Kenneth Davis, Jr.) was responsible for lining up the song leaders, and he knew my strong family background in congregational singing, so he put me up there in chapel fairly early—during my first fall semester, I’m pretty sure.  Although one faculty member had been ridonculously spacey in front of the chapel audience of 2,800—actually forgetting which hymnal was used in chapel and calling out song numbers from a different hymnal—I made no such mistakes and was “successful.”  I remember overhearing, after I had led, that some upperclassman music folks were envious that I hadn’t made a mistake in chapel.

Big deal.  No mistakes of the technical variety.  I’m afraid that that’s kinda how I’m remembered as a Harding student.  I was so associated with technical correctitude — perhaps extended to a perceived lack of ability to relate to the common person? — that I wasn’t elected president of a music ensemble.  I understand now:  no one wants to have correctness inflicted on him at every turn, and although I was respected, I wasn’t loved by the masses.

I have no memory of what specific songs I led that day in chapel, or whether I was really leading or just beating time and getting the right pitch and not fouling up the words.  This memory of chapel song leading is not all that strong, I’m afraid.  It was just a given — a male with musical proficiency and the spiritual desire to lead the student body and faculty could do so, about once a semester.

Coda:  On Tour



A brief tag-on to the above:  I remember that Uncle Bud would have opportunity on a few occasions to select a student or two to lead singing wherever the chorus found itself on Sunday mornings while we were on tour.  I was honored to be one of these guys on a few occasions.  Again, no specific memories, but I’m glad to have had such opportunities to lead and to observe as the chorus traveled parts of the country.  This kind of experience could only have strengthened and broadened me as a person and as a leader.

To be continued …


[1] In the CofC, “fellowship” is the inoffensive way to say “denomination.”