Life has changed in so many ways. How we do church together is different – not being able to gather physically has fundamentally changed the way we approach aspects of church and community. We chatted with Geraldine Latty to explore how being apart has impacted our worship. As well as being a Spring Harvest favourite, Geraldine is a worship leader, singer-songwriter, artist, choirmaster and lecturer on the Music and Theology degree program at London School of Theology.
SH: Hi Geraldine, how have you found the last nine months?
Geraldine: My own experience has been really mixed. The first lockdown caught us all by surprise. When we first heard the phrase “lockdown” we didn’t really know what it would mean for our day-to-day lives and routines, but we soon came to realise it would have a big impact. For the most part, I’ve had mixed conversations with people, some have been in a real place of Sabbath during lockdown. while others have felt worn out and exhausted but for many of us, we have all had a chance to relax and pause for a minute. For those of us who are involved in church – preachers, worship leaders, PA operators etc. – it’s prompted an opportunity to reflect and ask, “why have we always been doing things this way, are there better ways to do this?”.
SH: That’s a good point. In your experience, how have churches responded to that question?
Geraldine: For some it’s been really tough. My Dad, who is over 80 years old, is part of a church community who weren’t really set up to move online. For them, they’re not tech savvy and so they really miss the physical gatherings. For those who were able to adapt to new technology, there have been helpful lessons learnt. We went full steam into lockdown, trying to replicate a Sunday morning as best we could – with a full band and sung worship and a 40 minute preach. I think we quickly learnt that we needed to ask bigger questions, around how to best meet as Christians when we can’t all be in the same building.
SH: As a worship leader, what do you think has been the biggest impact on worship?
Geraldine: I was chatting to a friend and he reminded me of Matt Redman’s song When the Music Fades. We’re in that season now and we have to really wrestle with the question, “what do we do when the music fades?” The answer is in creativity. How do we creatively explore new patterns and new forms of meeting? What is important? Is it the songs themselves, the full band experience, including God’s word, connecting together? Those questions have come into sharp focus and it’s been a real joy to see some of the responses as well as think through my personal responses to that too.
SH: And how have you adapted your worship leading?
Geraldine: Before this second lockdown, my husband and I were leading a small group at our church, and although the restrictions wouldn’t allow us all to sing together, we encouraged everyone to hum along. At first, it’s natural to think “how restrictive is this, only being allowed to hum.” but as we all hummed along something special happened. We combined harmonies and melodies to simple, well known songs and the presence of the Holy Spirit was tangible. We were expressing worship in a different way, behind masks and not in song, but it was incredible. We’ve also used simple actions or sign language as another way for people to be involved. I think that’s the key – use creativity to be inclusive and help everyone engage with worship.
SH: Do you think it’s helped us break free of any preconceptions of worship being confined to a Sunday morning?
Geraldine: My earliest memories of worship were shaped by my parents. Prayer and worship were interspersed with everyday life, and it helped me see beyond Sunday morning, to Monday through Saturday. I love what Eugene H. Peterson’s translation of Romans 12 tells us about whole-life worship:
“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”
Worship encompasses everything we do – our work, our family life, our sleeping, our everyday moments. I often ask “God, how can I worship you walking down the street” and it creates the expectation that God can speak to me at any point, not just at church but in Costa, Starbucks or wherever. In my job as a Lecturer at LST as I explore the practical aspects of gathered worship with students, some have been known to make the poignant statement ‘but this is not worship!’ Fascinating discussion! “When does this stop being an exercise and start being worship? We of course have to address our definition of worship or gathered worship, and I think Eugene Petersons take on Romans 12:1 is a good start, so part of my encouragement to the students is to provide a space for them to explore this. For my part there is no divide; there doesn’t need to be a split between worshipping and lecturing.
SH: Any advice for people who want to grow in their approach to whole-life worship?
Geraldine: I’d say do it in Community. Community is so important as we can encourage and challenge each other into a life of worship. We can guide and instruct each other to notice more of Jesus in our lives.
Also, be encouraged that whole life worship is for everyone. It isn’t just for people who think they’re creative. I’m cheering on students as they use their voices and instruments, but it’s just as relevant to the mathematicians and doctors and the unemployed and carers and children! It’s for those who are wrestling with diseases, struggling with loss, for those who are enjoying their best days and their worst.
SH: And finally, how can people embrace this unusual time of exile, where we can’t gather as a church?
Geraldine: This season has exposed a lot of things, but two spring to mind. It's exposed anxiety and it's exposed courage. Seek out the stories of courage as well as those struggling with anxiety. Keep in touch with others, be courageous. Reach out to people, drop them a text, meet with people on zoom. My husband and I started doing something we called “Zoom commune” – we’d meet up with friends on Zoom and share communion together. Even though people’s diaries were still busy, we were all really enthusiastic to meet.
Another thing is to face up to the reality that we are all missing our church communities. It’s OK to lament when it doesn’t feel good, use it to fuel your prayers and bring it before God. At the same time, celebrate what is important. Celebrate our ability to hum! Celebrate what God has been doing in our lives and the lives of people we know.
This has been a really tragic time for so many people. The sense of loss is real. It’s important not to negate that but to be courageous, find new ways to gather and become more aware of God.