Popular Songs at Church?

A few months ago for a church service, I was asked to play “Ordinary Miracle” (performed Sarah McLachlan).  It fit beautifully and I was pleased to have the opportunity. Got me thinking about other “pop” tunes that have made it into United Church worship services.

Ones that don’t have explicit God language like “It’s a Wonderful World” or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. (got heck from some circles for playing that one) … This coming Sunday I am planning on singing with renowned tenor, Robyn Cathcart, the beautiful Placido Domingo / John Denver duet “Perhaps Love”.  Without much difficulty one could see it as a religious piece, even though the text’s original intention was of a more secular love. (LYRICS)

What do you think?

Supports a Sunday experience?

17 thoughts on “Popular Songs at Church?

  1. I just love this piece of music Gordon and find it very moving. Having said that, I find it difficult to see it as part of a worship service for 2 reasons – it is a duet, and obviously written as a love song between 2 people……thus it is difficult to connect it to the love of God in quite the same way. (Even though I believe that love between us is a gift from God.)
    I could see it as a “performance” after the service when we like to listen to a variety of pieces of music. But for me, it does not “fit” in a worship service.
    I do not find anything sacrilege!!! It is all a matter of personal preferences!

  2. Thanks Pearl,

    Great thoughts and I should have said that the piece was written by John Denver specifically for his mother. …

  3. Hi Gordon, good thinking on your part. Music, as with language, is a gift of Love. It is a language of its own. Church services being about the WORD in one way or another are therefore about Love. By introducing the language of “secular” love songs into the service order all you are doing is prompting people to increase their awareness of the wideness of God’s mercy, of the diversity inherent in Love. We seek to limit our gods all the time. Every religion locks its god into a box and tells him/her/it to stay there and not rock the boat. They do this while preaching universal Love, unconditional Love, and rarely wonder at the contradictions.

    OK I’ve gone on here yes for a reason. If every word we utter, every thought we think is possible to us, is given us because our progenitors were imbued with the gift of language (Ref Paul to Timothy, I think) then every love song has a spiritual dimension, adds to our ability to laugh and cry and be happy, and to share and to enjoy passion unashamedly, knowing we are Loved utterly.

    Love divine all loves excelling, is Love, all of it. Let people listen to Piaff and ask if she knows anything about Love. Your duet, a joy to lift the heart to the heavens.

    I love the idea of all life being subject to Love, not merely the socially/theologically correct versions. But then I would, wouldn’t I?


  4. This is a beautiful song and it is the first time I have heard it. There are other songs like this that refer to love where I immediatley feel it is in reference to God. (without it being said), but this one feels more like it is between 2 people – and carries some imperfections as we humans are.
    When speaking of God’s capacity of love – it is beyond what most of us are able to reflect- but in hearing of His Perfect Love (in song & word) it is calming and healing.
    Songs like this in worship – from time to time – is OK – but hearing of God’s love is what keeps me inspired and at peace.

  5. Of course I have a coment. There are many stories in the Bible about people interacting with people. Under GOD, that’s what we do. Isn’t it all a gift from GOD to GOD? Go for it Gordon. I remember the story of my dad playing 3 blind mice as a postlude. Only one person noticed it. LOL.

  6. Gordon: this is a wonderful idea. So many songs from the “popular” songbook are relevant to worship and help us feel a connection with the holy spirit. Two that spring to mind are One Love by Bob Marley and People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield. (I think he wrote it, though there are many versions.)
    I know there are so many more songs, and I think this is a wonderful opportunity to broaden our idea of spiritual music.

  7. Well, a quick internet search shows that there are dozens of different artists who have covered People Get Ready, and that Marley incorporated some of it into his song. And there are versions of the two songs together (One Love/People Get Ready.)

  8. Hey Ian, “People Get Ready” is a great tune and have used it often … My favourite version of it is on Rod Stewart’s Unplugged album. … Here’s a different version with Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. I think that Rod shows up unannounced to the audience … it is quite lovely.

  9. Gordon: I think it is always good to mix things up musically in church. Personally, I don’t really think ‘pop’ music has much of a place in that, and should only be used in that context on only a special occasion if appropriate. I think that a better alternative to hymns would to find some more modern music that still maintains a Christian emphasis, as this is the reason we are at church on Sundays. That said, I do look forward to hearing Perhaps Love this Sunday to mix things up a bit.

  10. Gordon – I like your blog and the interesting discussion about music in services. There’s an old fashioned streak in me regarding church music. I like the old hymns. I think exclusion of them in favor of modern music which has been neutered to appeal to people who really should be Unitarians is not a good thing. I hate “praise music”, which I think is mostly just bad music with bad lyrics. However, I think it is at least arguable that a love song like the John Denver song can be viewed in a broader context of an expression of and about love. Context is everything.

  11. Hi Gordon-a short story…in my final year at Centre for Christian Studies, I took a trip to Haisla (Kitimat Village), and many other towns in BC and Alberta-just me, God and John Denver. Many times I listened to “Perhaps Love” and moved it from a secular place into a sacred space where it will remain with me eternally! Good on you to recognize the sacredness in everyday music! One other on that I have connected in that way is Garth Brooks “To Let You Feel My Love”, which was used at a “Memorial” (Good Friday) Service, honouring Jesus’ life with pictures and music…

    Betty Anne, DM

  12. I believe sacrament is a heart thing. My hope is that the take away is worth the sacrifice that you offer. Not everyone will appreciate standards, hymns, or contemporary workshop music. Thankfully, our Lord sees the heart long before the melody, popularity, or common appreciation has time to filter into the purity of intent. I once heard a rendition of a jazz favorite, “That’s All” at an Episcopalian Mass! It is my hope to be able to sing this one day, en masse at service as well. Sing on!!!!!!
    Kim Pacheco

  13. Gordon, (you may know where I am going on this one) Like Jim Ricks wrote – if it’s good music and good lyrics its very appropriate for use at times when we think we’re being worshipful. I wrote my thesis on this topic in 1965 (am I that old?), and even then I had the wisdom to see that good music and lyrics that touch our heart are very welcome for use by a worshiping community. If either one, and especially the lyrics, offends or doesn’t resonate for us, then don’t use it; or just “la, la, la” throughout, or maybe start dancing. Music is sensual stuff – to require that it be “suitable” is to debase it right from the ‘get go’. Forget or ignore the “kosher police” – they need to be sidelined. Just go with your intuition and appreciation of the Spirit within — and never forget, there really isn’t a judging Divine Being out there whom we have to please – that’s old paradigm and needs to be jettisoned. And as far as ‘Christian music’ is concerned, again, ‘Christian’ isn’t an adjective, but a proper noun. (just like saying there is such a thing as a ‘Christian toothpick’) So there is no such thing as “Christian music” – only excellent music and lyrics.

  14. As an organist, pianist, and vocal music leader in the Catholic church for years this has always been a battle. Generally during Mass all music is contained in the books the parishes use. However weddings are a different story and as a professional Catholic musician I am charged with the responsibility of approving music selections for weddings and Nuptial Mass. I have often approved and even recommended secular music. Some of my personal favorites, although I wouldn’t describe them as popular, include One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story (try and tell me that isn’t a prayer), Turn Around (for the entrance of the mothers at a wedding), Perhaps Love (as you mention), and for processionals The Wedding Processional from The Sound of Music (minus the Maria part) and Bugler’s Dream (The Olympic Fanfare) – I like it for the entrance of the groom and his attendants.

    I’ve had many inappropriate requests in the past as well. Often even though a song may be appropriate, if it has been used in such a way as to make it in appropriate (such as in a movie scene) it doesn’t get used.

  15. Hi Jamie,

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply to my post. Good to meet you on-line.
    And I completely understand how we have to just say NO sometimes when no is what is required.


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