Guest / Limited Access /

It's Sunday morning at the 5,000-member Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church near Birmingham, Alabama. Early risers, mostly middle-aged and older, gather at 8:30 a.m. for a traditional worship service in the 700-seat sanctuary. The organ and one of the church's three smaller choirs are the musical heart of the service. Music director Mark Ridings (who moonlights as the director of the Alabama Symphony Chorus) usually selects standard hymns from the new United Methodist hymnal—something from Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or Fanny Crosby.

An hour later the sanctuary empties and is immediately reoccupied with a younger, more casually dressed crowd. The organ sits silent in favor of a piano and sometimes a guitar. These accompany a somewhat introspective version of a praise and worship service, where the people sing Southern gospel standards ("I'll Fly Away") and traditional hymns ("Great Is Thy Faithfulness"), done in a contemporary style with projected lyrics.

At 11 o'clock the sanctuary again empties and re fills, this time with a mixed-age group for another traditional service with organ, hymns, and the large Sanctuary Choir. At the same time, in another part of the building, the 300-seat fellowship hall fills with young adults and young children. This is the "Son Shine" service, also known as "Rock & Roll Church." A worship team of singers and instrumentalists—piano, amplified guitar, drums, and tambourine—leads a lively, hand-clapping congregation in a potpourri of crowd pleasers. These range from Southern gospel, to old rock and roll songs like the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus Is Just Alright With Me," to repackaged hymns ("Amazing Grace" sung to the tune of the Eagles' "I Got a Peaceful Easy Feeling"), to ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only
The Profits of Praise
The praise and worship music industry has changed the way the church sings.
RecommendedWhere Did We Get The Doxology?
Where Did We Get The Doxology?
The story behind what may be the world's best-known hymn.
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickRealizing My Addiction Had Chosen Me Began My Road to Recovery
Realizing My Addiction Had Chosen Me Began My Road to Recovery
Framing addiction as a chronic disease gives a broader framework for understanding.
Christianity Today
The Triumph of the Praise Songs
hide thisJuly 12 July 12

In the Magazine

July 12, 1999

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.