I reviewed a performance of Messiah for the local paper a week or so ago. The concert was held in a local church which is not an unusual venue for choral music around here. After all, most churches are equipped to handle crowds and musicians. And, in my experience the local churches that open themselves up to the public in this fashion enjoy receiving guests for the evening.
It is not unusual on such occasions for a church official, the Senior Pastor or Music Director to greet the crowd and welcome them to the show. That's certainly appropriate. It's their church. It's their building. But that's not what happened prior to Messiah the other night. The associate pastor at the church got up an gave an invocation prior to the performance.
I wasn't offended by this exactly. After all, it was his church and his building. And certainly, an invocation offered up in a church is less offensive to me than one broadcast prior to kickoff at the football game. Which they pretty much don't do around here anymore. At least not to my immediate recollection. And in a church one can reasonably expect clergy to, well, pray.
But even though we were gathered together in a place of worship that night, we weren't gathered together at a religious service. It was a musical performance. They charged admission. The paper sent me over there to review it. It doesn't review Easter cantatas or Lessons and Carols at Christmas. This was different. You charge money you run the risk of getting critiqued in the paper. Conversely, you lay an egg during the church's Advent concert and somebody maybe bitches to the preacher's wife.
Handel ran into this problem in reverse back in the day. Some folks in Handel's time were completely scandalized at the notion of charging money for a performance of a "sacred oratorio" in a public setting. It didn't much matter to Handel for whom a buck was a buck. The opera business that paid the bills was starting to peter out and Handel was experiencing a cash flow problem when he was commissioned to hammer Messiah into creation. As we know, Messiah proved to be big box office then as now. Still, there were folks back then whose noses were completely disjointed at the notion of the commercialization of religious music.
How quaint. "Christian music" is a huge industry in our time. This is despite the fact that most of it is not particularly Christian and certainly not music.
I guess the reason that the invocation prior to the recent performance of Messiah struck me as inappropriate is the same reason that I have little use for invocations prior to sporting events. Just as there are people like myself that do not go the football game to be preached to, it is a good bet that there were some folks in attendance that found a religious invocation offensive, church setting or no. You don't have to be particularly religious to appreciate Messiah. Hell, Handel wasn't particularly religious and he wrote the damn thing.
There is a time and place for everything. And a public event where they are charging admission is not the time nor the place for an invocation. Even in a church.
Have I ever mentioned that I hate the holidays?