Worship, Friendship & Learning Together

Worship, Friendship & Learning Together

Following on from Charlie Alexander’s report on the Parish Worship nights at the end of last year, Gil Marsden gives her perspective.

I got involved in the parish monthly worship sessions last year, when the group started meeting to record IRL. For those who aren’t with the lingo, that means In Real Life. It was such a blessed relief to worship together, playing actual instruments, with actual humans, after weeks of pre-recorded worship in our separate homes for our separate church online services during lockdown. I have to admit to being a bit nervous when I arrived at the first rehearsal, as I barely knew a soul on the joint parish team. But they welcomed me with open arms (metaphorically speaking and under strict Covid protocols, of course) and only teased me a little bit.

As it happens, over the past year I’ve been on a very slow and belated journey exploring racism, my own privilege and bias as a white person and the chasm that often seems to exist between Biblical justice and the historical evangelical primary emphasis on salvation. As a 4th generation descendant of Irish missionaries to Central Africa, and having grown up and studied in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the UK, before finally settling in Cape Town as a married adult in 1999, it’s not surprising that I find my heritage and identity confusing and sometimes shameful.

So where does parish worship come into it? Well, firstly, it’s been a joy and a challenge to learn a whole new worship repertoire in different languages and styles. We’ve been fortunate, at CHS, to have written and sung many homegrown worship songs as part of our DNA from the early days of our church plant. However, it’s all too easy to default to the well-known and easy formulas of some of the overseas mega-churches’ worship songs. No offence to them, many anointed songs have come out of them. But the focus of the parish worship sessions has been to use songs written on our continent, in our country, in South African languages and by some of the parish team themselves – and that’s been powerful.

The challenge aspect has been that due to time constraints we often don’t have a lot of preparation or rehearsal time and it has pushed me out of my comfort zone to be playing and singing songs that I don’t feel adequately prepared for, especially in a language I don’t speak. “Welcome to our world!” say all the people for whom English is a second, third or fourth language and who have to tackle the majority of hymns and worship songs in English most of the time. So that’s a worthwhile learning curve for me!

Secondly, apart from broadening my song repertoire, the monthly gathering has allowed me to begin to make friends with people from (I’m not gonna lie) a different generation to me but also with a different skin colour and cultural heritage to me.  When we’re practicing and recording, it’s hard to actually get to know one another – especially behind a mask or a microphone. But in the breaks or when sharing a meal together, we’re beginning to share stories and life circumstances and always, the banter!

So it’s a slow process, but this is the work to be done of examining one’s long-held beliefs, biases and blind spots and allowing friends of colour, in Christ, to call me out, challenge me, contradict me and correct me where necessary – and for it to be happening in the context of joint worship across our parish churches, is definitely a God thing. I am grateful to God and to all the people in the parish worship team for being part of this journey with me.

 Written by Gil Marsden
Member of CHS Worship Team