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Episcopal Church holds 'Bob Dylan Mass' in tribute to famed folk singer

Episcopal Church holds 'Bob Dylan Mass' in tribute to famed folk singer

Christ Episcopal Church of Covington, Louisiana. | Leslie Tate

A Louisiana-based congregation of The Episcopal Church will hold a “Bob Dylan Mass” as a tribute to the famous folk singer and to focus on the messages of his music on Sunday.

Christ Episcopal Church of Covington, whose membership is around 1,200, will hold a “tribute mass” at the 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. services, with musical preludes starting 15 minutes before each service.

The tribute mass will include meditations on three of his songs offered by clergy as well as performances of selections from Dylan’s music, including “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “The Times They Are a-Changin,'” “Forever Young,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and a gospel song Dylan wrote titled “Pressing On.”

Bill Miller, rector at Christ Episcopal Church, told The Christian Post that his congregation has used “music of all sorts to reach people, engage with them, and encourage them to think more deeply about their spiritual lives.”

“I've been using jazz in the sacred context for the past 30 years and have founded four jazz festivals in churches,” Miller said. “We've used the explicitly Christian themes of Duke Ellington to the more comprehensive but equally spiritual themes of Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

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"Here at Christ Church Covington, God has brought a number of talented musicians into our fold, and so we've been able to expand those efforts to include a wide variety of musical genres and artists,” he added.

In the past, the church has celebrated the musical work of performers like U2, the Beatles, Mahalia Jackson, Elvis, and Van Morrison, and focused on genres like Blues and Gospel.

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“Dylan is a particularly good choice because of the depth of his lyrics. Sometimes echoing the prophets in empowering us to think more critically about societal and global ills, as well as respond to the needs of the world,” Miller noted.

“These music-themed services that celebrate particular artists and the gifts that God has entrusted to them have been our best-attended services other than Easter and Christmas.”

Born in 1941 and raised Jewish, Dylan claimed to have converted to Christianity in the 1970s. Since then, however, specifics on his religious beliefs have been the source of much debate.

“Dylan has cultivated an aura of mystery about his beliefs. His statements in interviews can be cryptic and sometimes contradictory,” wrote Stan Guthrie in a piece for The Gospel Coalition in 2017. “Dylan’s belief, if it exists at all, seems confined to his lyrics, his closely guarded personal life, and his support of various public causes, including the state of Israel.”

Last year, Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco, California, held a “Beyoncé Mass” that featured music from the billionaire singer.

The service garnered criticism from some who believed it was satanic and involved a church committing idolatry by replacing Jesus with the best-selling pop singer.

Miller of Christ Church in Louisiana rejects any accusations of idolatry at his services, explaining to CP that he seeks “to proclaim the Gospel, utilizing every resource available to me, including popular music.”

“Jesus told stories in the style of His cultural context utilizing popular cultural images. The Apostle Paul quoted the secular Greek poets in his sermon to make a theological point," he added.  

“There is nothing idolatrous about using various genres in worship, which the church has done from its inception, whether it is Bach, Beethoven, Fanny Crosby, Bill Gaither, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams or Bob Dylan,” Miller said.

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