At a seminar last year, composer and liturgist Marty Haugen led clergy and church musicians in portions of a new Lenten liturgy he composed with Susan Briehl. He noted dryly that after years of hearing from people who use his Holden Evening Prayer for midweek Lenten services, he thought it time to compose an actual Lenten piece, one that drew from the appropriate texts and themes. Guilty as charged, I glanced at my pastor; others shifted uneasily in their chairs.
That Haugen’s Evening Prayer (GIA Publications) should be a popular choice for Lent—the season during which many congregations hold their only regular evening services—is logical. It’s a lovely vespers; its combination of traditional texts with reverent and fresh settings has struck a chord with many.
What is less clear is why more American churches don’t include a good deal of music like this in all their services, particularly since its engaging mix of tradition and innovation gives answer to the relentless “traditional” vs. “contemporary” debate. Churches expend tremendous energy discussing the relative merits of ancient hymns and radio-ready choruses, and compromises—when they exist at all—are usually problematic. “Blended” services designed to please all the people some of the time are often jarring in their stylistic hairpin turns. And holding two separate weekly services with substantially different music segregates churchgoers based on cultural comfort zones and, especially, age.