BBC News

Songs of Praise to change format as part of relaunch

By Caroline Wyatt
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

media captionSongs of Praise will now feature a broad range of Christian denominations

The BBC's flagship worship show, Songs of Praise, is updating its programme as part of a relaunch.

From Sunday it will drop its traditional format of an Anglican service recorded in a cathedral, parish, or other church.

Each edition will now feature a range of churches, locations, congregations, and choirs.

The BBC's head of religion and ethics, Aaqil Ahmed, said a "different form of Christianity" had emerged in the UK.

The show will also change to a magazine format that reflects what the programme describes as the reality of Christian faith across the country.

Inclusive programme

This is not the first makeover for Songs of Praise - which was created in 1961.

Over the years, the face of Christianity in Britain has changed significantly, along with the UK's population, and the programme's audience has aged. It is now in its mid-70s.

In contrast, increased immigration - for example from Eastern Europe - has led to the growth of younger congregations, such as those at Catholic churches and at Pentecostal and black majority churches.

Mr Ahmed said: "At the heart of this, really, is the fact that Christianity has changed in Britain.

"Songs of Praise has been going for over 53 years, and no TV show can stay the same for ever."

He added: "We want to appeal to a different Christian audience, who may not necessarily have seen themselves every week on Songs of Praise in the past. Sometimes you have to find a way of reaching out to that audience to say, 'this really is for you.'"

In the new format, rather than going to one church a week, the programme will feature music performances from various different denominations, and different presenters for some of the segments.

Song as prayer

Those who have grown up watching Songs of Praise say they are looking forward to a more inclusive programme each week.

Theology teacher Dr Dulcie Dixon, who is also a religious broadcaster, told the BBC: "I've always watched it, and I've always loved it more when they've had gospel singers and choirs on, and it's nice to know they're going to widen their range of churches and singers. Music to faith is like a hand in a glove - it's a part of it.

"For Songs of Praise to include more choirs and more black majority church congregations is a great move, and that will perhaps enhance their audience.

"When you hear the radio or watch TV it's nice to hear somebody who looks like you and sounds like you."

image captionSongs of Praise celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011

The programme's first episode in the new format will be presented by Connie Fisher, the Welsh singer who won the BBC One show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

It will include a segment presented by Paralympian Ade Adepitan, and seven songs broadcast from different venues, including a Catholic cathedral, a Pentecostal church, and a Salvation Army training college.

Lord, You Are Good, a song by Grammy Award-winning US artist Israel Houghton, will also be performed at the Birmingham Christian Centre, an inner-city Pentecostal congregation.

Nicholas McCarthy, a pianist born without a right hand, will perform Ave Maria from the crypt of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Another song will come from the Salvation Army's training college in Denmark Hill, in south London.

Varied performers

Next week's programme will include songs from Ruach City Church, a gospel congregation in Brixton, south London, and Canterbury Cathedral, as well as a performance by Dona Oxford, the American soul singer.

There will also be more segments every week featuring current issues that affect the faithful, such as the persecution of Syrian Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

The change was welcomed by the Church of England's director of communications, the Reverend Arun Arora, who said: "The new format will welcome in something about people living out [their] faith, day to day, week to week, not just on a Sunday - and how their faith informs their approach to life and how their faith transforms lives."

The programme will still feature the more traditional choirs and hymns of worship for its current audience, in the hope that it will be able to celebrate many more years in good voice.

But Mr Ahmed, the BBC's first Muslim head of religion, said the new Songs of Praise would not include other faiths.

"Not in a million years. There are lots of other multi-faith shows on the BBC, but Songs of Praise is a Christian music show. Though if you come to it as not a Christian, you'll also get something out of it."

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