House for All Sinners and Saints

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    I am the mission developer for House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Check out our site for more info.

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    The blog of a dad, husband, Lutheran pastor, emerging, failing, conversing, confessing.
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    This is a great emerging church community we spent time with in Oxford. Their website is well worth a look, especially the page "the spirit of MayBe"
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Comments

I'm in total agreement with you, Nadia. I labor over the music I pick for worship, studying the words and trying to find something that will fit with the message of the day and that suits the liturgy, but then Sunday rolls around and my congregation sets scattered throughout a sanctuary that was designed to hold 5 times what they are today, and no one really sings. The organist overpowers the choir and the pianist... and well, the message in music just gets lost.

Nadia, thanks for this great post. We need desperately to recover congregational singing as Christian formation. Even in my small congregation singing is performance and hardly anyone sings. Even when we choose favorites.

Amen.
I remember thinking when I was about eight that our congregation was the best singing ensemble--that we should enter competitions, we were so good! Congregational singing is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the some of its parts--and when EVERYONE is participating it is powerful.
I am thankful to be in a congregation that sings--and sings hymns, not praise music. I realized in high school that I would never be able to attend a "Karaoke Church" with overhead projectors.

Nadia (and commenters), you express my feelings as well. (as an aside, when I was dating Joel and we would attend Catholic worship services, he and I were among the only folks singing out, and someone one time remarked to him very positively on that...). Nadia, you've reinforced my desire to go ahead and sing the alto line (when I can) during hymns. One thing I dislike about the new hymnal is that so many of the hymns they only have the melody (and in half the hymns where they include all the parts, they are too difficult to sing unless they've been practiced...) And heaven forbid I ever join a church that uses the overheads on a regular basis!

I'm with you too Nadia. Remember 'Beer and Hymns'? I blogged when it first ran in 2006 - https://alternativeworship.org/paulsblog/?p=116

Hah! Are you familiar with Wesley's Rules for Congregational Singing?

"Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy harmony, but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. . . "

Are you singing lustily enough?

In searching for those on the web (as I'm away from my hymnal where those rules are printed in full) I also found some rockin' Luther quotes on the topic.

"I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. . . . My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues."

". . . one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four or five other voices, leaping springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven . . ."

All this said, I love the hymnody. As a deaf kid growing up in a hearing church, when the sermon was unhearable, it was the hymnal I leafed through for 20 minutes each Sunday morning. When mom would ask the "what did you learn in the sermon today" question over lunch, I was always permitted to substitute whatever I'd found in the hymns I'd read. It irked my sister that I was "let off the hook" sometimes but in other ways, I fed my ability to find connections between whatever I found and whatever they were hearing. Those connections were more frequent than not and that's the wonder of the Holy Spirit at work.

However, I'm not a big fan of "signing hymns together" in the Deaf church. While hymn singing does unify hearing people in a common action of worship. Copying the signs from a leader or even translating on the fly on your own from a projected English text is nowhere near the same experience. At all.

In fact, I find such a thing actually detrimental to building a sense of "common activity" in Deaf worship.

Copying the signs from a lead signer is really the equivalent of hearing a song you've never heard before and trying to sing along as you hear it. Obviously, you're unable to do it well and end up so tied up in trying to catch the meaning of a sign or sentence as it's sung you can't express it with any real feeling.

Translating on the fly from a projected English text is the equivalent of reading a song in one language, say French, then trying to sing it in English. It may not even translate well in the first place and you're so caught up in determining the meaning and then finding a linguistic equivalent, you lose all sense of expressing the song.

So...your defense works fine for hearing congregations in the Western tradition...and perhaps other hearing traditions as well. I'm not entirely willing to say it's a universal thing though.

I have been a Lutheran all my life, and you are right; we like to *think* we are great "singers" but in truth we are good "organ listeners." (I also dislike
'praise music' but that's a whole 'nother topic.)

I do so love the old hymns, but cannot carry a tune to save my life. Perhaps if our church had encouraged more singing and less mumbling to the music I would not be quite so tone deaf.

A few years ago we were in the chapel with Luther's tomb in Wittenberg and a bunch of us starting singing Lutkin's Benediction. (If you have never heard it, here is one version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHBeRutj76o). There is a part where we tenors start one of the Amens. I realized at that point that many other people of various nationalities had joined in and I started to lose my voice out of sheer joy. By the end we had filled those ancient walls with the sound of God's voice. I pray we never lose our joy of praying through richly harmonious congregational singing -- the songs that the angels love singing with us.

I couldn't agree more. It's terribly sad that we've lost our opportunities for community singing and let the one that remains, hymn singing, diminish. I feel the Holy Spirit powerfully when singing with others. It opens places in the soul we keep closed at other times.

Your last sentence is so crucial: "when we add our voices together in harmony we are not just creating music...we are creating community."

I love the congregational singing. And I also love all kinds of sing-alongs. We have a "golden oldies" sing-along every Thursday night. And we gather in homes to sing old hymns from time to time. Yes, we use a piano or keyboard or even an organ for accompaniment but we believe in making a joyful noise!

Yes, And this poem as well:
https://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/

DeAne

I can't say I've ever experienced much of this, in church at least. Mostly second rate organ based hyms or guitar based songs that leave me flat. I'm open to being convinced.

Worship (in the sense of an adoring response to the salvation story then and now) is the chief end of singing in church - not the creation of community. I live in South Africa, and I want to tell you right now that it is worship and not hormonies that create community. Africans' congregational singing is full of beautiful harmonies and yet this year alone, among these believers there have been violent xenophobic attacks and there continues to be a generally negative feeling towards the many people living with AIDS in this country. Congregational singing has not created 'community' here, and I doubt that it can do so in the West.

I am an evangelical worship leader but was brought up in a traditional Presbytarian church and I have to admit that I do often miss the congregational singing of hymns. That's aesthetics and sentimentality though - not theology.

Hi Nadia,
Loved your thoughgts and comments re: congregational singing. While I was not raised in the Church of Christ (non-instrumental), my family was a musical and singing family. Like you, I could harmonize before I could walk. I have been a pastor for over 25 years and as a result of a divorce in the midst of a particularly gut-wrenching season of spiritual awakening, I find myself very much akin to the emergent family of followers. Hold on to your musical convictions which, as you noted, are in some ways your worship convictions, as well. I think I will enjoy continuing to read your blog postings and hope our paths might cross one of these days.
Blessings to you from an old guy with a new spirit and vision of ministry and the Kingdom.
Grace and peace,
Randy Youngling

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