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I’m a stringer for one of those “major American newspapers”—it’s fun to see your byline as long as you remember it’s lining a bird cage tomorrow—and as part of an assignment last week I interviewed a pretty successful gospel/country/pop singer, “pretty successful” meaning sales of about thirty-five million albums and just about every award you can walk down a red carpet to get. The interview was on the record, but since what I’m going to write about here wasn’t really the focus of our talk, I’m going to call this artist “Pat,” like the Pat of Saturday Night Live fame, and although I’ll refer to Pat as “he,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that Pat’s a man—maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. At the end of the interview, I mentioned to Pat that we’d sat behind him at church, and that lead to talking about churches and worship. Pat’s early successes were as a “Contemporary Christian” singer, and although he’s gone on to embrace country, pop, and even some rhythm and blues, the good folks who love the creamy comfort of CCM are still the solid rock of his fan base. The church we’re attending is a conservative Presbyterian congregation within the PC(USA). It has a big stone steeple, the preachers wear robes, the congregation uses hymnals, there’s a lectionary, and the choir sings Mozart in Latin and Faure in French. My wife and I are Episcopal refugees, and although it’s not smells and bells, for the Presbyterians it’s pretty high church. And Pat loves the liturgy. He likes the liturgical year and the formality of the worship. He went to a charismatic church growing up, and I think most people would expect him to attend one of the local mega-churches. But the worship that typifies them and has spilled over to most evangelical congregations (twenty minutes of praise choruses lead by worship teams, screens on either side of the auditorium alternating between Power Point outlines of the preacher’s sermon and close-ups of his earnest visage) was somehow unsatisfying to Pat. He wanted more and believes he’s found it with the Presbyterians. I guess when you’re successful at real show business, the amateur kind doesn’t play that well. And I expect that Pat’s fan base would be scandalized to know that on Sunday mornings, he’s in a church where there’s hardly any swaying and a paid choir. But the church is packed, and the old Presbyterians are increasingly joined by folks like Pat who are finding the purposefully untraditional worship of the mega-churches eventually unworshipful. Pope Benedict wants his Roman flock to rediscover their roots in chant. Who knows, maybe there will be a movement for evangelicals to rediscover their roots in Reformation worship. Hey, Pat—mind if I share your hymnal?
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