Westmont Magazine How Music and Worship Work Together at Westmont
The College Celebrates the Installation of the Adams Chair of Music and Worship
“Spiritually informed” and “vital.” Michael Shasberger believes these words best describe worship that serves God and not just individual tastes. In remarks at his inauguration into the Adams chair of music and worship January 27, he sketched his vision for his work at Westmont.
“Spiritually informed worship must be that which is connected to the Gospel and the witness of the church through the ages” he explained. “Vital implies that all are called to active participation. This combination excludes no one, because it insists that all are active in it. It claims no hierarchy of style, but rather a hierarchy of authority. Whatever style is employed is in service to worship and cannot be a self-gratifying, self-serving enterprise.”
The inaugural events for the endowed chair included a chapel service honoring Shasberger and Stephen and Denise Adams, who funded the chair. The Rev. Ron Swenson, retired senior pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver. Colo., and Harold Best, retired dean of Wheaton Conservatory of Music, both spoke. Later that afternoon, Shasberger led a dedicatory presentation that included a talk and a musical performance.
Noting that few colleges have created a position combining music and worship, Shasberger explored how these elements can work together to advance the Kingdom of God. He offered a definition of worship (our encounter with God and our response to that encounter), discussed how we practice it and reviewed its grounding in scripture. “Worship is not about us,” he said. “It is not intended to feed us or lift us up; rather it is about God, who is the object of our adoration and praise.”
Shasberger also addressed current conflicts in the Christian community, defining “worship wars” as “the acts of people of faith who stand on opposite sides of matters of mere taste and style and find conflict in their aesthetic and cultural approaches to worship. ” He adds, “Sadly, that conflict is drawn out to the extent that it limits their ability to find fellowship with each other and detracts from seeing God as the true center of their worship. Sadder still, it projects to the world the church in conflict and creates all-too-well chronicled strife among believers that fosters disbelief among those who see Christians in disharmony.
“We have the responsibility to hold up the practice of any age or any style to the highest standards of aesthetics, spirituality, and Biblical vision possible,” he says. “We have the responsibility to make old things new and insist that new things are rooted in the heritage that gives them life.
“At Westmont, we have a confluence of traditions and ideas and a community of believers that is increasingly open to learning about how to make its worship experiences more powerful, more spiritual and more pleasing to God. We practice our worship in the midst of the academy and in an environment that values learning and understanding in every aspect of its endeavor.”
Best encouraged this direction in his charge earlier in the day. “Try to remember that there is not a moment in the artistic life of church and community that will be free of puzzles, dilemmas, even schism — and that you have the choice of participating in the solutions or continuing the problems,” he said. “Try to remember that artistic authenticity and God-centered action are more crucial than the narrower goal of keeping up with, surpassing, or changing culture.”