By Rachel Witkovsky
Dissonance is the tension created from the use of two or more musical notes that just don’t seem to go together. When produced correctly or added into a larger chord, however, they create a lovely tension. A lot of churches are facing this dissonance in a metaphorical way as they attempt to include all musical preferences in a single worship service. But this dissonance doesn’t have to be disastrous. Out of the clash of genres can come something even more beautiful.
The participants at Bethany Theological Seminary’s event, In Tune, received a taste of this. The event was held on the seminary campus the weekend of April 15-16 and was part of the programming of the Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults.
Chris Monaghan, senior pastor at Gateway in Richmond, Ind., started the conversation by calling for a “TRUCE” (TRadition Uniting with CrEativity). More than just a truce, though, he challenged work toward an alliance–learning new and creative ways to fuse our different types of music and worship ministries. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
Young hymn writer Adam Tice is doing just that. His hymns represent a melding of so-called contemporary influences with the traditional hymn structures of meter, rhyme, and other poetic elements. Tice, a member of the Mennonite tradition, saw a theological whole that needed to be filled in the area of hymn writing. Using these same traditional structures, Tice is able to explore images that were never used in the good old standards. This familiarity gives people a kind of comfortable jumping off point.
But even starting at a place of comfort, dissonance is fundamentally uncomfortable. Nationally known Christian artist Tim Timmons dug into this truth when he started asking tough questions that made participants think about what they were singing, and expected the group to answer them. “What if we acted like what we were singing is actually true?” he challenged. Then he asked, “How did Jesus worship? …By asking a lot of questions,” he said, “inviting people into their own story and then helping them own their own response.”
“There’s a difference between being still and being constricted,” said Michaela Alphonse, a leader with the New Covenant School in Haiti. In her church, you’re allowed to move. You’re allowed to sing out of tune. The holy is found in the freedom to worship as God moves you.
“The point is not to get everybody to love the song,” urged Leah J. Hileman, music minister at Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren, “it’s to love God and love each other more than you did last time you got together.”
The dissonance created by our differing music tastes in the church today could take an ugly turn. It could scream into our ears and make us want to end the musical agony altogether. Or something creative and beautiful could emerge. Out of the tension held within the dissonance could come a beautiful resolution, a beauty that no one ever saw coming.
The presenters at In Tune are just a few of the leaders making something new come from dissonance, and we need to nurture this development. That is exactly what Bethany Seminary is doing with events like this and the Young Adult Forum held last year. As someone who is a young adult, and also working with young adults in our denomination, I am so grateful for these opportunities for discussion and collaboration. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
— Rachel Witkovsky is director of Young Adult Ministries and worship coordinator at Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.