It occurs to me that I’ve written about my life as a lockdown choir leader – oh, and THAT made cheery reading – but I haven’t written about one of my other roles – that of a lockdown worship leader. Oh don’t worry, I’m not here to convert you. I doubt this post will convince anyone that the churchgoing life is an easy one right now. I mean, you don’t even get a free cup of tea any more. It’s rubbish.
But I wanted not just to write about myself but to give a shout out to anyone else who has been leading worship through this strange old time. It’s been hardgoing, hasn’t it? Everything you love about worship – leading a group of people through the medium of music – has been largely absent and that warm feedback you get from the congregation replaced by the unforgiving glare of a camera phone lens. I have sung more to the internet these last six months than I have my entire life I think and it hasn’t always been easy or gratifying. Every little glitch is repeated for all to see and the things you never needed to worry about IRL suddenly become all too apparent. Not just your voice and playing but your face, your clothes, the state of your house….it’s a magnifying glass for your every insecurity.
I know, we’re not supposed to be self-conscious. We’re supposed to understand that this is all for the glorification of God, not of ourselves. We do understand that on a head level. But also, we’re human. I think.
It’s also been a time of real distinction between the wealthy and high-tech churches and…well, the rest of us. When you’re already feeling insecure, it doesn’t always do your soul good to see the amazingly slick offerings of the megachurches. It’s been great for humility but not so great for motivation when you’re sitting in your garden shed in the rain clutching a guitar and hoping the shed roof doesn’t collapse before you finish recording verse 3. That said, we’re blessed to have some youthful people in the church who have mastered video editing and live-streaming (and clearly, at nearly 40 I am not counting myself as one of the youth). I know that not all churches have found it easy to adapt to this new tech-dependency.
Life on the screen was weird enough but worship leading has not got less weird since returning to in-person church. It’s still captured on the internet – live-streamed onto YouTube in our case – but there’s only one take and that take is done in front of a sparse and silent congregation who are all wearing masks. Don’t get me wrong, the congregation do a lot of encouraging eyebrow- and forehead-work while I’m singing at them but it’s a very different experience to the usual feeling of leading people in song.
So all of you fellow worship leaders who have been ploughing on through videos and in-person weirdness, consider this a socially distanced pat on the back. It’s been tough and strange and it’s not going to be over for a long, long time. But keep on keeping on. And just remember why this we’re doing this. Also, remember that it’s a great opportunity to roll out obscure 90s songs that the congregation would probably hate because they’re masked and distant so, even if they complain, you can’t hear them. Hallelujah!