Holy Trinity, Norwich, was the venue last night for a concert from Stuart Townend and band. Our church was packed, with tickets having sold out well in advance.
Stuart is, of course, one of the most celebrated contemporary Christian song-writers and worship leaders.
Special guest Mark Edwards on keyboard was supported by Mike Haughton on saxes and other wind instruments, Julian Ferraretto on violin, a superb bassist (and trumpeter!) whose name escapes me for the moment, and 18-year-old Joseph Townend doing sterling work on drums.
The quality of musicianship was very high. The evening began with a jazz set from Mark and the band. Then Stuart joined them on the stage and offered songs drawing on a range of styles. Folk influences of various kinds were particularly evident, with toe-tapping and hand-clapping reels, jigs, and (at one point) something sounding a bit like a Morris Dance! The rhythmic drive in this live performance was very infectious – stronger than you get on the comparable CD recordings.
The lyrics took us from a celebration of God in creation through to a strong emphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ. There is a strong emphasis on Christ as bearing in his death the penalty for sin, and the need for personal response to this is likewise stressed. Some might wish for other aspects of atonement to be highlighted, for a stronger corporate dimension, and for a clearer affirmation of this life and this world (alongside due emphasis on life in the world to come). What Stuart does do is to explore aspects of Christian experience that are not touched by many other Christian song-writers. For example, he did a setting (with a new chorus) of William Cowper’s ‘O for a closer walk with God’. That’s novel.
Stuart added some thoughtful comments between the songs. These thoughts were invariably Scripture-based, and testified (as the songs themselves do) to his knowledge of and love for God’s word. He made a clear and definite ‘appeal’ to respond to the good news of Jesus.
Altogether, then, a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting evening.
To be honest, I do have lingering anxieties about the whole ‘music in worship’ thing. How did we get from the simplicity of New Testament worship (with songs and hymns, to be sure, but no musical instruments apart from those mentioned symbolically in the Revelation) to choirs and organs, and to today’s new ‘priests’, the worship leaders? Stuart himself says on his web site how excited he is when he hears people say that ‘the superb expressive musicianship of the band has taken them even further into their worship of God’. I’m not saying I object to this, just that I’m not sure about it. But if we’re to have such musical ministry at all, then we will be hard-pressed to find a better and more God-honouring model than that of Stuart Townend.