Preparing for Worship – Darren DeMent, associate pastor.
While we at Wilshire proudly promote that we have a traditional worship style, that doesn’t mean that we are rigidly locked into any one type of music. One of the things I appreciate about Wilshire’s approach to worship is that we will incorporate music from different eras and backgrounds, especially when it comes to hymns and congregational singing. On a given week you may be just as likely to hear a hymn that has its roots in Victorian England as you would a hymn with origins in the American revival movement. Isaac Watts, Martin Luther and Fanny Crosby all have an equal chance of getting one of their hymns into a worship service at Wilshire.
Today in our 9 a.m. service we have the opportunity to hear from Zoë Moore, one of Wilshire’s summer interns. She will be singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” a song firmly planted in the the gospel music tradition. In case you’re wondering how to know if a song should be considered a gospel song, here’s a tip for you. If you do a Spotify search for a song and within the first 10 hits you see names like the Statler Brothers, Al Green, Merle Haggard and the Gaither Vocal Band, then it’s a gospel song.
I have a special place in my heart for gospel music, especially songs that falls in the sub-genre of Southern Gospel. My father and grandfather sang in a gospel quartet complete with the blue blazers and matching ties, so growing up I was pretty deeply immersed in this style of music, and it has never quite loosened its grip on me. Among some music purists gospel music can get a bad rap for being too simplistic and overly sentimental. Hymnologist Millar Patrick published these thoughts on gospel music: “there is no doubt that a deterioration in taste follows the use of this type of hymn and tune; it fosters an attachment to the trivial and sensational which dulls and often destroys sense of the dignity and beauty which best befit the song that is used in the service of God.”
I’m not sure about all that, I just know that sometimes a gospel hymn will speak to me in ways other hymns can’t. And while I fully acknowledge that giving glory, laud and honor to our Redeemer and King and singing about cherubim and seraphim bowing down before God is both valuable and necessary, sometimes I simply need to be reminded that I have a faithful friend who knows my every weakness and in whose arms I can find a place of solace and comfort.