Sing the Hymns
(or at least read the words)
In the fifth grade our class was selected to sing on the radio. Special sound equipment was brought in, along with risers for us to stand on so that we all could see the music director. It was pretty exciting. But when it was time for us actually to sing, after lots of practicing, the person in charge of the event took Andy Tweito and me aside and told us that, while the other students were singing, she would like for the two of us to just hum along. What she meant of course was that we were lousy singers and she didn’t want our voices messing up the recording. Andy and I thought that was kind of funny, both of us well aware that singing was not our strong suit. But I have to admit that, every time I sing a hymn in church, that music director’s assessment is in my head. Every time I sing, I think I should be just humming along.
I have gotten a little better over time but I still don’t have a good singing voice. It’s good that my seat as a priest is usually far removed from everyone else so they don’t have to listen to me. When we are singing a hymn I check my microphone most every verse to make sure it is off. Whenever there is any chanting to be done in the liturgy, it’s certainly not going to be me doing it. The times are rare when I am sitting in the congregation but, when I am, I sing softly so no one else will be bothered. I’m a little paranoid. Maybe I could blame that music director but it seems more accurate to blame my voice.
It’s odd that, despite my lack of talent in that area, music is a very important part of my worship experience. The music moves me to tears. It inspires me to consider God’s abiding grace. It breaks down my barriers when I am too rigid. It softens my soul when I am feeling unlovable. I love being surprised by a hymn I’m not familiar with. And I love singing a hymn that I know really well. I love hearing how the organ and instrumentalists accompany the hymns. I love the way the choir leads us through the verses and adds a descant here and there to jazz things up. It all sounds glorious to me, my voice notwithstanding. And every single Sunday I am amazed that the words of the hymns go so very well with the lessons we have read. Many times I will think that the words in the hymns expressed perfectly what I was trying to say in the sermon. The poetry of the hymns is downright remarkable.
When we are processing in and out during the liturgy, singing a hymn, I follow the words and sing as best I can. While the words of the hymns and the glorious way our musicians lead us through the hymns engage me so deeply, I am always struck by the number of people who are just standing there, not only not singing but not even holding a hymnal. I’d say it’s at least 10% of the congregation, sometimes as much as 20%. While I have heard some people say they only sing the hymns they know or like, most of the people who don’t sing the hymns are people like me who know they don’t sing very well. I hear them say that they just like listening.
If you fall into that 10 or 20% of the people who just stand there and don’t sing the hymns or even hold the hymnal, I’d like to invite you to take up a new practice. Even if you are a lousy singer like me, pick up the book and let the words of the hymns, along with the talent of others, engage you. Even if you don’t sing along, reading the words will help you listen better. The payoff will be higher for you if you follow along.
I’d also like to remind you that following along in the book, and even singing along as loudly as you feel comfortable, helps improve the worship of the entire congregation. Worship is a communal event. When you just stand there, others see you and your lack of participation interferes. Now I would also say that, if you are a lousy singer, and you sing at the top of your lungs, that interferes with the communal event too! But more often the problem is lack of participation. The Thanksgiving meal, as a comparison, is a communal event: if you just sat there staring off into space while the family conversed, the entire family would feel your withdrawal. Tuning in and participating to the best of your ability helps the whole community.
We often face worship as a consumer product. It’s all about what we want and need and what we are going to get out of the experience. If there is something we think might give us more on a given Sunday – like going to the lake or sleeping in or watching television – we tend to go with what we think we want or need at the time. Worship, however, is primarily something we offer, not something we receive. That offering is to God, of course. But it is also to each other. We gather to enrich the worship experience for all of us together. When we choose not to be there, it affects the whole group. When we choose to be there but only half-heartedly, that affects the group too.
So, sing the hymns! Or at least hold the book and follow the words. It’s good for you and it’s good for us all. Look for the good news of Christ in each of the hymns. It’s always there.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Events Around the Corner
Kickoff Sunday – September 9. Classes resume for all ages. Youth Groups meet.
Heavenly Host Covered Dish Supper – September 11 at the Seibels’
EYC District Day – September 16 in Auburn
Wednesday night fall series begins September 26
Highland Consort – Choral and Instrumental Program – September 27 at 7:30 pm
Blessing of the Animals – October 7 at 5:00 pm