by James Morley.
Last time I wrote for Theology Everywhere I reflected on my sabbatical trip to Whitby during the summer of 2020 and learning about the Abbess Hild (c. 614-680 CE). What I didn’t write about was Hild’s encouragement of the goatherd Caedmon.
The community at Whitby Abbey would gather round the fire in the evening to share stories and song. Caedmon was asked to contribute but left because he didn’t have anything to contribute. That night a song came to him in a dream. Hild discerned that maybe this was a gift from God and encouraged Caedmon to continue composing. Caedmon went on to become the first English poet whose name was known and is regarded as the father of English sacred song.[i]
I also didn’t write about Whitby as a place of pilgrimage for Goths[ii] as well as Christians (and Christian Goths). Engaging with the story of Hild, Caedmon and Whitby helped me remember what makes me a key part of who I am and the confidence to also see this as a key part of who I am in God. I am a metalhead. I love heavy metal music. It makes my soul sing. I love many of the aspects of the associated subculture – people looking how they want to and not how the latest trends say they should look. One can never wear too much black in my opinion. But my experience on occasions (as well as the experiences of other Christian metalheads I’ve listened to) has been that, for some Christians, all this metal and darkness is all something that is either ‘of the devil’ or certainly should not be let anywhere near an act of worship. Yet, if we believe that darkness and light are as one with God (Psalm 139:12) then maybe there is a place where metal and Methodism meet – even if, like Caedmon some may feel who we are in our music; identity; and way of life, has nothing to bring to the party.
Out of these reflections emerged Metal Methodist and Metal Compline.[iii] A place where people who like heavy music; people interested in spirituality; people looking for mutual support (or maybe all three) could gather regularly as part of seeking to live out The Methodist Way of Life[iv]. It’s been really encouraging to join with people in the UK, Europe, the USA and South America; to construct heavy metal liturgy; to share testimony; and to know we’re praying with and for each other in the reality of the ups and downs of life. It’s also been a journey of discovering other metal ministries such as the Metal Bible[v] (a copy of the New Testament in various languages with testimony from secular and Christian musicians) and Nordic Mission[vi] (a record label, festival and online store in Norway which began as a response to the church burnings linked to the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the 1990’s[vii]).
Over the last year I have learnt that this isn’t about Christian alternatives to heavy music and subcultures or constructing Christianised versions of these things. Rather, for me, it’s been about a deeper discovery of the Divine who is within us and ahead of us; out there; in others. It’s been about discovering the God of the margins in people who are asking serious spiritual questions and offering critiques of mainstream faith; church history; and what was Christendom.
At a conference I attended recently, Reverend Dr Pete Philips[viii] helped me see all this is linked. Whitby as a place of Goth and Christian pilgrimage; Caedmon as the ancestor of sacred song; Charles Wesley and the importance of music within Methodist spirituality. Maybe all of this is also a challenge to me and to the Church about how our language and culture reinforces the notion of light as good and dark as of bad.
[with apologies for late post today, George Bailey]