On 21 September, Anglicans Online posed the question “[w]hen is a service worship and when is it performance? This was prompted by a concert based on Compline at which there was an information sheet containing the names of soloists and biographical sketch of the conductor but no mention of the history or nature of the Compline service. The issue was also addressed in Thinking Liturgy where one response suggested that the real dichotomy is not between worship or performance, but worship or entertainment, which the writer considered to be an issue for the CofE: for others, the word “performance” suggested actor(s) and an audience for whom there was little participation.
These exchanges prompt two thoughts: one relating to legislation, and the other to participation. Concerts held in churches require a Performing Rights Society (PRS) licence, in addition to the appropriate permissions &c covering other aspects of a church’s activities, such as photocopying and projection of the words of hymns, playing recorded music at events and services, and reproduction of music. Christian Copyright Licensing International, (CCLI), publishes guidance on the performance of music in which it states:
“Technically, all music performance in the UK requires a licence, including singing hymns and worship songs during Sunday services. However, PRS for Music has agreed to waive the requirement for music performance licences during acts of divine worship. This is a concession. If the only times that your church ever performs live music and/or sound recordings are during acts of divine worship then it does not require a PRS for Music Church Licence.
This conveniently separates the generic issues associated with “performance” from those represented by “acts of divine worship”. The guidance continues:
“NB: By an ‘act of divine worship’, we generally mean Sunday and mid-week congregational services, plus any other occasion, such as study groups or prayer meetings, where hymns and worship songs are sung. However, having a hymn at the start of a social event, film night or youth club does not make that event an act of divine worship and a music performance licence may still be required if other music is performed,”
suggesting that it is not the execution of a single item that classifies the event as “an act of divine worship”, but the raison d’être of the event as a whole. Whilst the existence of performer(s) and an audience is essential in a performance, neither the presence of a congregation nor their participation is necessary for an act of divine worship. In the Book of Common Prayer, Concerning the Service of the Church requires that:
“ . . . all Priests and Deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause,”
but makes no mention of a congregation. Nevertheless, it is not unknown for Office to be sung, whether a congregation is present or not. Choral Evensong provides an example in which there is relatively little participation by the congregation, as does Benediction which sometimes follows. In his post on Evensong, Gareth Hughes cites the service booklet at King’s College, Cambridge, which states:
“Some, finding limited opportunities for organised congregational participation, imagine these are not so much services as liturgical concerts. But each service is an act of worship addressed, as worship must be, not to you but to God, the Father of Christ and our Father; an act of thanksgiving for the love He has shown towards man, an act of intercession for all men. As Henry VI intended when he established the Chapel and the Choir, this worship goes on daily, whether people come or not, because the love of God is a continuing, living and unconditional reality.”
When it follows the cathedral/college pattern, Choral Evensong is essentially a non-participative service led by the choir, with the congregation taking no part in the preces and responses, canticles, psalm(s) or motet. From the point of view of the congregation, it has been described as “a perfect sort of pause or caesura that creates a break at the end of the work day—a moment to stop, reflect, listen, meditate, and to gather oneself and (for believers) to draw close to God at the close of the day”.
It is useful to consider the “raison d’être argument” in relation to two other circumstances: the rehearsal of music in a church or cathedral; and the service as “tourist attraction”, particularly in the more popular cathedrals and the Oxbridge colleges. With regard to the former, not all the preparation for a service may be undertaken in the song school, and time in the cathedral may be necessary to optimise the registration of the organ, balance of the voices &c. This could not be considered as “an act of divine worship”; but neither is it a concert since the presence of any listeners is likely to be incidental, although the numbers there might be greater than those attending the subsequent service.
It is evident from various threads on TripAdvisor and elsewhere that UK visitors are encouraged to include Choral Evensong as part of their “tourist experience”, drawn by the combination of the high quality music and historic architecture. Whilst a number of these tourists will attend all or part of a service as though it were a free concert, this is not the purpose of the service and such passing interest does not detract from its conduct as an act of worship.
Although the CCLI Guidance is non-statutory, it relates directly to the terms and conditions of the PRS for Music Church Licence held by the church or cathedral which, in turn, engage intellectual property law. Importantly, it only covers six concerts per year, otherwise the specified location is considered to be a “concert venue” and other arrangements apply. Such a figure can easily be exceeded; and churches need to cautious as to which events are badged as “concerts”, e.g. “Carol Concerts”. External organizations using churches &c as a concert venues – orchestras, choirs &c – need to be encouraged to make their own arrangements regarding copyright issues, and the hosting body should ensure that written confirmation is given that this is in place.