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Bench Humor:

The "Chucklelation" of the Church?

by Gary D. Penkala

At the very beginning of Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum concilium linked the purpose of sacred music directly with that of sacred liturgy in general: "the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful." Having lived with this noble purpose for almost 60 years, I was a little embarrassed on reading a recent Facbook post by an organist (in a Lutheran congregation):

Well, I got up the courage to do it yesterday. In the middle of my postlude, a nice, happy little gigue, I played the Jeopardy theme. As I was getting ready to leave, one of the parishioners came up to me and told me she enjoyed my music. I asked her what she thought of the postlude. She said she really liked it. I asked her if she heard the Jeopardy theme in the middle. She said she didn't notice because she was talking to a friend. No one else said anything. I'm debating what to mix in next week. Any suggestions?

Some suggestions were:

  • Simpsons theme song
  • Flintstones
  • Addams Family theme
  • Blue Danube
  • Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette (Alfred Hitchcock theme)
  • YMCA
  • Go big. Do something really inappropriate, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
  • I once did a toccata on Frosty the Snowman during Advent.

One poster had the good sense to ask,

Why are you doing this?

Responses came:

  • Why not? It's rather amusing, staves off boredom, and exercises some creativity.
  • That is so much fun to do!!!!!

As a Roman Catholic organist, I was rather embarrassed by all these posts, and said so online. When did music turn to being about us and our amusement, and not about God? Is this the "Chucklelation" of the Church?

I was chided:

  • It's about not taking yourself too seriously.
  • Don't you think God has a sense of humour?

No, I said, it's about the purpose of music in worship. Were I the pastor I would never consider reading from Ogden Nash as one of the lessons – just to be funny.

Finally, two people (in an extreme minority among the postings) wrote:

  • You're not taking yourself too seriously and those who pervert worship with self-indulgent "humor" fail to understand music is for God's glory, not the congregation's.
  • Sorry, but I don't think this sort of "fun" belongs in the sanctuary.

But the argument continued:

  • I know people say the church is no place for this, but most modern music has themes taken from classical pieces, so why not the other way around?
  • You guys talk about God as though God were separate from the people sitting in the pews, some dour, thin-skinned grump who needs to have his ego constantly stroked. Consider maybe that God is in those mere parishioners, and that God takes pleasure in their pleasure. Maybe. Editorial Note: Careful attention was given here by the poster to avoid any male pronouns for God.
  • Some hymns are just old drinking songs! Contemporary incorporation has always been part of the church.

Those hymns long ago lost their secular connotations. Would that the Church could better influence contemporary society than the other way around!

Alas, there exists (mostly in some specific Protestant denominations) an "old boys' club" — organists whose major focus is their own flamboyance; how flashy, cute, topical, and chummy they can be. God is rather secondary in their assessment of the "Sunday morning performance." Sad indeed!

Article written 09 October 2021

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