Sometimes I’m asked to speak on the topic of recovering congregational singing. So I ask the question “What’s wrong?” The conversation goes like this:
“Apparently people are not singing like they used to.”
“We’re not exactly sure, but we’d sure like to have some tools to improve the situation.”
It occurred to me the other day that lining up my rather small CD collection in order of purchase date could provide an interesting study about my life.
This article is reprinted from The Stanza, Fall 2006, © 2006 The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (www.thehymnsociety.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Three times, recently, I was aurally assaulted in a church building: once at a concert, twice at services. The weapons were large pipe organs, and the penetrating device was most specifically 32-foot pedal pipes. Each time I had been invited to “sing along” as part of a group that then became engulfed, no, drowned in ear-splitting sonorities.
My Alaskan treasure doesn’t look like much. It is an extraordinarily ordinary rock. Over the years I have collected an assortment of rocks to commemorate vacations and hikes. Each possesses some quality that makes it stand out. Not this rock. After carefully examining this keepsake, my son commented, “Dad, that’s not one of your better rocks.”
It is peculiarly human to sing, and to sing together. It is a heartening exercise when done communally on a theme you believe in, as the protest marchers for civil rights understood in the ’60s with “We Shall Overcome.” Such singing was not the same as Doo-wop entertainment or pop songs with the Supremes orchestrated by the Motown machine. Street singing had a different cachet too than Fanny Crosby’s old-time revival hymns. If you yourself enter a non-professional group singing a song that is solid and well-known, it invigorates you.
When children are young, they learn words that build relationships. Some come easily: “Help!” “Why?” Parents and grandparents persistently teach them to say to others: “Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” We celebrate as these words become habits. When a child without prompting tells her brother, “I’m sorry,” we know that these words are beginning to shape her life and her relationships.
In many churches it is customary to include a profession of faith in worship. This may take the form of the congregation reciting one of the ecumenical creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. Or it may include a reading from one of the Reformed creeds such as the Heidelberg Catechism. In so doing we not only affirm what we believe but also express our solidarity with the church of Christ universal.
For a background on Vertical Habits see Betty Grit’s article on page 4. —JB
Connecting Vertical Habits in worship to vertical habits at home and in our everyday life brings us one step closer to making those habits our natural response. The easiest way to keep those habits fresh is to incorporate them into your family or personal devotions. Here are some suggestions for an individual, family, or small group devotional time using the psalms, as well as ideas for incorporating two psalms into a Vertical Habits worship service.
J. S. Bach’s 200-plus cantatas hold many choral treasures. Some of the best known, such as “Jesus, Joy of Our (Man’s) Desiring” from Cantata 147, are well within the grasp of an average volunteer choir. Many of the opening choruses, on the other hand, are a challengeeven for professional singers. In Leipzig Bach was responsible for the music in several (at least four) churches, and therefore needed four choirs. Three of these were able to sing difficult music, but one could “only just barely sing a chorale” (New Bach Reader, 146).
Help me out, Lord.
Out of resentment.
Help me see the beam in my eye, not the splinter in my brother’s eye.
Help me see the beam on which the Savior died for me.
Although this service was used for the dedication of Sing! A New Creation, it could also be used as a pattern for the dedication of other songbooks, or simply as a stand-alone service on Psalm 98. A lay person read the Psalm passages and an elder read the prayers. —JH
Reading: Psalm 67:3
Sing to the Lord a New Song
Reading: Psalm 98:1
“Sing a New Song” SNC 1, WR 10
“We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” CH 213, SNC 12, WR 651
In Part One of this article I presented the case that the church should consistently instruct and encourage Christians to live in obedience to God. Some complain that God’s law is a burden. Yet God’s will for our lives is not a set of arbitrary demands, it is how God designed us to live and the path to blessing. “Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked . . . but who delight in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1).
At a summer planning meeting on her back porch, Laura Smit, Dean of the Chapel at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, mentioned a Psalm Festival she had done with her church in Boston—all 150 Psalms in one night. That sounded like a great project for Calvin College.
This service centers on the theme of giving thanks for country, church, and children. Each of the three sections features a litany, meditation, and prayer that involve a number of participants from the congregation.
The book of Psalms is the prayer book of the church, the template for how we express ourselves to God in worship. Yet the modern evangelical church has used psalms in worship haphazardly. Unlike the Roman Catholic tradition, which mandates the use of certain psalms on certain days; or the historic Reformed church, which allowed no other singing but psalms; the modern church feels no obligation to include psalms in worship.
Invitation to Worship
This morning we enter a time of worship with these words from Paul, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). No matter what circumstances come our way, we have much for which to be thankful. As you prepare your hearts for worship this morning, praise the Lord for who he is and thank God for all his blessings.
Prelude, Slide Show with Bible Verses
Gathering Song: “Come, All You People, Praise Our God” PsH 242
Few seem to realize that one of John Calvin’s major disputes during his time in Geneva was his advocacy of celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. He was adamant, but the consistory—and the city council, who governed church-related matters—wouldn’t agree. Calvin was even thrown out of Geneva for a time—he went to Strasbourg, France—but he came back. He continued to advocate for communion every Sunday but was still resisted.
Each Sunday, more than a thousand people of varied ethnicities and languages come from all over metro Manila, the Philippines, to worship in the presence of God’s people at the Union Church of Manila. They come from a range of economic and social backgrounds, but each Sunday morning and during the week they unite to share what they have in common and to participate in the work of God in the Philippines.
For some time, I’ve thought about how to portray music visually. How does one art form honor another? What could be done in our spaces to reflect the prominent position that music has in our worship?
What first comes to mind, of course, are clichés: a huge banner featuring a loopy treble clef. Flocks of brightly colored eighth and sixteenth notes soaring off into the sky. That sort of thing. Nothing wrong with these, mind you (you may have one of these hanging in your church this very moment!), but I was looking for something a little more dramatic.
The following litany was used for the installation of Rev. Robert Drenten as Minister of the Word at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa. The litany includes several prayers, after which members of the congregation came forward and placed gifts symbolizing the prayers in a clear plastic tub. We encourage you to adapt the symbols and litany to reflect your own context.
Q: If a call to worship is really about hearing God call us, then what about using as a call to worship one of the many psalms that originated in a liturgical setting where people were calling each other to worship? Who is speaking to whom? Must the call to worship come from Scripture? Does it necessarily have to be short or can a choir sing an anthem for the call to worship?
I have been leading worship at my church for about a year and a half. My partners are a talented praise band that includes a number of professional musicians. I am learning how to respond when people tell me they liked the music, and I usually take the opportunity to express my appreciation for the others who make my amateur fiddling and singing seem better than it is. But one Sunday morning, a remark from a member of my congregation really started me thinking.
Choosing the right choral music has got to be the single most challenging task I have faced in the 35 years I have directed church choirs. I dread the idea of buying sixty copies of something that will not work well in the service; and I don’t want to spend even twenty minutes rehearsing an anthem that will not be edifying for the body of believers.
I remember my very first attack of goosebumps. I was thirteen, maybe, one raspy voice in a middle-school choir festival a half century ago in a small town in Wisconsin, dozens of kids drawn from regional schools. The music that did it was J. S. Bach—“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” For almost fifty years I’ve not been able to hear that piece without being zapped back into that pimply choir because I was seized so chillingly—heart, soul, mind, and strength—by the beauty of that moment.