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On Patriotic Hymns and Worship Words

Q. The Presbyterian Hymns, Psalms & Spiritual Songs contains "My Country Tis of Thee" and other patriotic songs, but the Christian Reformed Psalter Hymnal does not. Is that failure caused by the fact that the Christian Reformed Church was at one time a Dutch immigrant church?

A. I'm not sure that I am willing to concede that not having patriotic songs in a hymnal is a "failure." If one of the hallmarks of the Christian church is its inclusiveness and universality, then patriotic songs about America, Canada, or any other country do not seem particularly appropriate in public worship. Whenever we do sing "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies," I find myself hoping there are no French or Mongolian visitors in the congregation.

Secondly, patriotic songs often glorify the country or its history, gloss over its faults, and assume that one country receives special perks from God. It seems that me that one can express (national) gratitude to God in more humble ways.

Finally, did the immigrant status of the CRC influence its exclusion of patriotic songs? Perhaps, although I am not aware of that argument ever being used. Actually, immigrant people and churches often become super patriotic.

Q. My dictionary does not contain the word ambo, but I hear some church people use that term. What is it?

A. fatter dictionary will tell you that ambo is a fancy word for lectern or pulpit.

Q. What is the most appropriate designation for the main part of the church building?

A. Some folks would designate the kitchen as the "main part," but I suppose you are referring to the preaching and worship area. Terms used most commonly are sanctuary and auditorium. Both terms are functional and will direct visitors to the right area, but both are also a bit problematic. Sanctuary is a good biblical word for the tabernacle and the temple, usually meaning "holy place," or "divine dwelling." In later Christian architecture the term sanctuary was often used to designate the area near the altar, or the special ("holy") place where only the priests could enter. You can see the difficulty with those associations. In the new covenant we no longer hold that God can be worshiped only in a specially designated "holy place," and there's nothing particularly holy about the church building. The same holds true for the notion that only ordained people can enter certain areas (or, in the Orthodox tradition, only men and boys!). As Protestants we (ought to) know better.

My problem with auditorium is also one of association. We usually go to an auditorium to listen or to be entertained. Certainly our worship connotations should not be primarily listening or entertainment.

More recently the designation worship center has become popular. That's probably as good a term as any, and it describes the function of the place well. (But if everyone in your congregation uses auditorium, I would not campaign to change it!)

Q. In our tradition, is it proper to refer to the week between Palm Sunday and Easter as "Holy Week"?

A. Your question ties in with the larger issue of the observance of the Christian year. If you were a conservative Presbyterian, you might not celebrate Christmas or Easter, and certainly not Holy Week. However, most Reformed churches from the continental tradition have always accepted a limited observance of the Christian year (Good Friday but not Ash Wednesday, etc.). The expansion of church calendar observance in the past twenty years (for example, Advent celebrations), suggests that congregations are generally more open to appropriation of most of the "holy" days.

So celebrating the week before Easter as a "special" week is probably not problematic in your church. But the term may be an issue. "Holy Week" is the designation used in most "liturgical" churches in the English-speaking world. At one time it was called "Great Week." (The Dutch use "Goede Week" or "Stille Week"). As with the question on "sanctuary," I have some difficulty with designating certain days or events or people as more "holy" than others. Isn't all time God's time?

However, given our present church context, I do use "Holy Week" when designating the time between Palm Sunday and Easter. The term is a fitting ecumenical one, and for me it says, This week in the life of Christ and in salvation history was a momentous, all-important time.

 

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