Easter 2024

18 August 2005
liturgy - "Pop Genres" (Lutheran)

The new "Popular Genres" liturgy being proposed for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's new book of worship is remarkable. It is a musical and theological effort of subtlety and grace.

The appeal of this liturgy will be incredible. Young people in particular will be drawn to this liturgy like Icarus to the sun. Several years from now, I envision a gaggle of goth Lutheran skateborders grinding rails outside the church whilst humming portions of the service. Night clubs will go out of business as young people and other fans of "popular genres" go to bed early on Saturday evening. They will attend a double header of the new liturgy (should their church have the foresight to offer two services) with a break for Fair Trade coffee in between.

See for yourself

For further information or to follow along you'll want a couple documents from Renewing Worship:


This opening liturgical piece makes a bold statement and recasts the tired Kyrie text in a new, hip light worthy of Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

Kyrie eleison, on our world and on our way.
Kyrie eleison, ev'ry day.

The troping of the text is a special kind of genius that the composer shrouds in a mysterious double meaning. "Kyrie eleison" means "Lord have mercy," but the comma after this phrase breaks the text into two separate strands. If the composer had intended for God to have mercy "on our world" there would be no need for a comma. One strand is directed to God, but the other is ingeniously spliced inward, toward the congregation: "[We're] on our world and on our way ev'ry day." This will resonate with an young, upwardly mobile congregation who see themselves as individuals who are not only on their way to greatness, but on their "world."

The key signature of E Major is an obvious reference to J.S. Bach and to the symbolism of the Cross created by the four sharps. The soulful second-beat entrances and numerous syncopations are clearly a musical mea culpa designed to appease God by avoiding that which He has ordained as tactus. As we shall see, syncopation creates a metaphysical unity between the disparate elements of the Pop Genre liturgy (PGL).

At first, I assumed the Kyrie was composed by a woman named Dakota Road, but I was relieved to learn that I did not have to credit a single person with a work of this caliber. Dakota Road Music must surely represent the best that South Dakota has to offer.


In a mere seven bars, Dennis Friesen-Carper has managed to express the sentiments of the Lukan multitude at the Nativity. The phrase "the highest" is sung twice with the syllable "high" extending over a barline both times, adding a special, urgent quality to the word. Fortunately, since the congregation is only entrusted with this seven-bar refrain, they will sing "highest" this way a total of eight times, a numerological representation of the resurrection. Thus, Friesen-Carper weds the Nativity story with Easter in a triumphal outpouring of memory and hope. And to think, all this through syncopation!

Inexplicably, this movement lacks chord symbols, and Friesen-Carper's biography reveals a dearth of popular music training, but I trust that someone has thought this through.


Evangelical Lutherans don't sing the Credo.

But they sing liturgical pieces called "This is the Feast" (an alternative to the above Gloria) by John Ylvisaker and a Gospel Acclamation and a Lenten Acclamation (one assumes the Gospel is still read and acclaimed even during Lent) by Robin Cain and Phil Kadidlo. These pieces of music serve not only as ecclesiastical gebrauchtmusik but also as statements of belief.

"This is the Feast" quickly takes on the air of a festive drinking song by ascending the span of an octave in only three notes. "The" is actually pitched higher than "Feast" reminding us that this isn't just "the Feast," it is "THE Feast." I must agree with Ylvisaker's implication that putting this kind of careful thought into the PGL is a wonderful way to inculcate the catechumenate with theological truth.

The two acclamations reveal the work of two musicians who believe in congregational manipulation.

"I knew they had something special the first time I stepped into the pulpit after them," says Rev. Rich Melheim, who served at [Cain and Kadidlo's] church back in the last millennium. "They had a way of readying the crowd for worship and the Word that was amazing. They'd set the mood and hand the congregation right to you, ripe and ready to listen. What more could a preacher ask of a worship team?"


Here the chord symbols return, along with a telltale herald of the Gospel: ample room for brief guitar solos amongst the seven repetitions of word "Alleluia." The 20 beats of rest allow the instruments room to contribute their own brand of Alleluia, bringing the total number of iterations to eight, the Resurrection number. The Lenten acclamation is appropriately morose, quickly introducing a B below the staff. This pitch can only be sung by the congregation's elderly, smokers, and elderly smokers which will remind young people of their own mortality and impending death, appropriate Lenten sentiments indeed.


Jay Beech is, according to his biography, "one of the most heralded artists in the Church." Beech titles this part of the liturgy "Holy." This minimalist moniker is not matched by the multiple manifestations of the word "hosanna." Sung twelve times, this Hebrew shout of praise circles around the figure of Jesus as it comes to represents the twelve apostles who accompanied Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The changes in time signature lend an air of unpredictability and help to foster a dialogue with the choir of all the Saints with whom we sing.

Agnus Dei

Beech looses focus here and fails to put in chord symbols. (And now this review looses focus and fails to maintain its witty sarcasm.) Also absent from the piece:


I would summarize this liturgy in the same way Jay Beech describes his oeuvre:

[the PGL manages] to hold intensionn elements such as heritage and innovation, excellence and participation, theological integrity and a really good groove.
Wow, yo, this liturgy is, like, mad popular.

So, you're saying it's no good? I don't get it.
Well, not really, but I think you'll know when you hear it.
Oh, I need to disagree. As a grandma of 2, parent of 3, the music has been wonderful throughout the introduction of it in our church. 2 of my kids took guaitar lessons from the pastor, they used this music, they give back to church for their lessons. This is bringing more youth to hear it. My 2 granddaugters (3-7) say the kyrie is their favorite song to sing. They like THIS IS THE FEAST, but THEY can sing these. We walk around the house, singing and humming, get the church books out, continue to sing/hum.
Great "review." Suddenly the old green Lutheran Book of Worship doesn't seem all that bad-- in fact, I'd like to scrap 'em all and go right back to the old red Service Book and Hymnal!

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