When you think of “hymns” what comes to mind? Some of our hearts perk with affection as we remember the chords and choruses of our favorite songs. Others perhaps feel detached from hymns. They struggle with their bouncy melodies, and sing lyrics like “thine eye diffused a quickening ray” and, for a second, forget what planet we are on. Some people love the rich, deep theology they find in hymns while others hope for something simpler on Sunday morning.
Over the last couple of decades, these two worlds of timeless hymns and timely melodies keep colliding to create beautiful music for our churches, reaching many denominations and styles of corporate worship through song. Page CXVI finds there home in this amalgamation of “old hymns for a new day”. Their website immediately tells you, “Page CXVI is a project started with the idea of making Hymns accessible and known again. They are some of the richest, most meaningful, and moving pieces of music ever written.”
The Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary will host Latifah & Reed Phillips from Page CXVI on March 5, 2015 for their Pastor’s Forum to discuss Hymnody for a modern world. I have had the privilege to connect with Latifah Phillips and ask some questions related to this upcoming event:
Brice: When people first start listening to you, one of the first questions they have is “How should I pronounce this band’s name? Should I literally say the roman numerals, or is it 116?” What is the right way to say “Page CXVI” and how did you get your name?
Latifah: You can honestly say it either way! I prefer the roman numerals, but our drummer Dann prefers to say “116”. So whichever way you say it a band member agrees with you! The name comes from a reference to page 116 in our copy of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. It is a poignant passage where Aslan begins to sing Narnia into creation out of a black void. It starts, “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.” We loved naming the project after a passage where you first here God’s voice singing creation into being, leaving us with a very odd and cryptic band name!
B: Talk a little about when and why this conversation related to music and theology became important to you.
L: As someone who leads worship I am a theologian whether I want to be or not. When I first realized this about seven years ago it intimidated me. I do not profess to be the most well read on Christian theology, but how and what we think about God deeply matters to me. As I began to lead worship more frequently and all around the country on tour, I knew that I had a deep responsibility in what I was asking people to sing collectively to God. I felt the weight of leading and directing people with each song I would choose. Songs echo in our minds as well as our hearts, it creates a sonic groove of theology in our spirits, therefor what we sing matters, it shapes us.
B: Who should come to this Forum? Is this only for Worship Leaders or others?
L: I am excited anytime people gather to discuss God and/or music. This forum is for everyone interested in this subject. It is in no way limited to worship leaders. In fact, I would say it is important that not just musicians attend. Musicians need teachers, artists need scientists, and so on. The more we have conversations with each other about how to intelligently, passionately, and responsibly worship God together the further we will grow. So if you are a teaching pastor, care pastor, worship leader, or someone who just enjoys worship and theology please come! It will only increase the depth of conversation.
B: What are your hopes for this Forum? What would you like to see happen?
L: I would like to see great conversation around how we can create a space of worship that stimulates the cerebral, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our being. My hope is we all leave with more curiosity around the subject of worship on a macro but also a micro level. That we each go home inspired to challenge ourselves and our communities on how we worship God together.
You can register for the event “Rethinking Worship: Hymnody in Your Church” with Page CXVI here.