The Church Times of 25 January 2008 lists new fellowships of the Royal School of Church Music, to be presented in Liverpool Cathedral on 17 May. It’s a measure of how far the stylistic range of church music has broadened over the past four to five decades that the fellows-elect include both leading figures in the Anglican choral tradition (Stephen Cleobury) and influential songwriters in a more contemporary/popular style (Graham Kendrick).
Kendrick is a particularly interesting choice, having been at the forefront of the contemporary Christian music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, but within his stylistic range has always sought to write contemporary hymns as well as choruses and worship songs with the rock/pop song’s verse-chorus format. In addition, his career/ministry mirrors (and indeed has helped to shape) many aspects of the recent history of evangelical Christianity in Britain: a willingness to embrace and work with elements of youth and counter-cultures in the sixties and seventies; the growth of new sorts of Christian publishing and recording industry in the 1970s and 1980s in which evangelicals were disproportionately prominent (Kendrick has been a prolific producer of songbooks and worship collections); the resurgent confidence of evangelical Christianity in the 1980s (Kendrick’s ‘Marches for Jesus’ arguably capture this mood better than almost anything else in the period); the broadening of the evangelical movement in the 1990s (reflected in several Kendrick re-workings of traditional hymns); a corresponding ‘mainstreaming’ of evangelicalism since the 1980s (Kendrick’s ‘The Servant King’, ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ and others were amongst the first of their kind to make their way into the new generation of denominational hymnals created in the 1990s and subsequently – although by no means the first to be written in a popular style). Perhaps we should not be surprised at the number of parallels here given Pete Ward’s comment that the heart of charismatic-influenced evangelical experience is to be found in music and singing.