Created: April 02, 2022 08:00
Reverend Gavin Tyte is a former professional beatboxer and rapper (Photograph courtesy of The Living Church Foundation.org)
When I write the word “church”, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
I assume you are imagining a building or service (taking place inside a building). Well, those are expressions of church but not of church. If you have been reading my articles for a few weeks, you will know that the church is not something you go to, but a community of people held together by the love of God expressed through the person of Jesus Christ.
How the church speaks, well, that’s up for grabs. Churches express themselves in different ways, depending on the social and cultural context in which they were established and exist. The Anglican Church of Bermuda organized itself into parishes and erected buildings with pointed towers in which they could gather to offer worship to God. To fill the big spaces with big sound, they used huge PA systems – otherwise known as pipe organs. They created books with specific words and prayers they found helpful, and sang songs to the catchy tunes of the day.
It is worth remembering that every Christian church was planted once. Each Christian church was born, first from a community that had no buildings, no songs and/or words of its own. I am an Anglican church leader and I can’t help but wonder if we were to plant a Christian church today, how would we do it? What would that look like? What are the things we would hold dear – values, if you will – that would shape and define our lives together?
One of the wonderful things about Christianity is that it expresses itself in any context and in any culture where people find Jesus. And yet, the Church has been guilty of “inculturation”. In other words, it takes people from one context and molds and molds them into a church context.
For example, I’m a longtime member of the global beatboxing community. For those who don’t know what beatboxing is, it’s a form of mouth drumming and is part of the larger hip-hop movement. I created the world’s first beatboxing video tutorials, ran the world’s largest website for beatboxers, and was a judge at the last two world beatboxing championships.
I like beatbox, I like hip-hop, I like the Bible and I like Jesus. To that end, I wrote the entire Gospel of Luke in rap and beatboxed and performed to audiences around the world. So what happens when a young person who grew up in this musical culture gets to know Jesus and becomes a Christian? Do we tell them that they should go to their local church building on a Sunday morning (when they lie down after partying all night), sit on pews (or the only other place they have seen is the courthouse), and expect them to sing Victorian hymns with obscure words accompanied by a pipe organ?
Now I love sacred spaces and pipe organs, especially when played by Angie, our talented organist, but on reflection, I have to admit that I was inculturated in the church. I adopted expressions of church that were not natural to me and since I was ordained a priest, I have fought to keep a foot in both worlds. My calling has been to bridge the gap between church culture and the larger culture. But I don’t do it on my own. This is part of the calling of any Anglican priest. When I was ordained, and each time I took on a new position, I had to do something called the declaration of assent. There are these words:
“The Church of England is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, worshiping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She professes the faith only revealed in Holy Scripture and set forth in Catholic creeds, which faith the church is called to proclaim anew in every generation.”
Notice the last part: “proclaim anew to every generation.” Let it sink in. It doesn’t say, “proclaim the way it has always been done, using the same formulas that have always been used and using the same language that has always been spoken.” No! The Anglican Church recognizes that to effectively proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and be witnesses to God’s love, we must use methods, language and styles appropriate to the larger social and cultural context in which we find ourselves. I made this public promise in front of the bishop and the congregations I served, and it is something I take very seriously.
Right now there’s a whole world outside of the church that’s a different culture. How does the church bridge this cultural gap? Well, He can do that by making our expressions of worship and ministry culturally relevant. For example, at our all-ages worship at St. Mark’s, we sing modern songs with cool beats, have accessible words, and deliver relevant and engaging talks. In addition to being culturally relevant inside the church, we also proclaim the message of Jesus and witness God’s love outside the church.
One of the ways I seek to connect people to Jesus is through The Hip-Hop Gospel. It is a rhymed version of the Gospel of Luke and is written to connect with a wider non-ecclesiastical culture. In fact, we are a group here in Bermuda looking to bring it to the stage as a musical production. If this is something you would like to get involved in, or if you know someone who would like to get involved, let me know. It’s a very exciting project. You can download a free copy of The Hip-Hop Gospel here: https://thehiphopgospel.com/ and it is also available, for a small fee, in the Kindle store.
So this week may you shine like a star and be Jesus to all you meet inside and outside the church, and may you be blessed to be a blessing.
• Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor of St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm