Singing is a part of Christian worship, in part from the early days – we are told to have a hymn by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26 – and still forms a part of communal worship.
However some blogs I’ve seen of late have asked questions about our congregational singing. The first of these asked the question about why people are not singing any longer – Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship by Kenny Lamm. Lamm suggests that with the professional musician is the return to the pre-reformation performance of worship, and I’d have to say it can feel at times more like a performance at times. For me the performance is not all bad – we have the choral evensong, with bits that no one but the choir sing as another method – however to move completely to just this model does leave people out of what is happening. And are we not there to worship God, and not just watching others do it. In fact it can come to feel like this does:
The second blog came at the issue from another direction, 13 Solutions for a Church That Just Won’t Sing and looks at how to encourage singing.
The cross over between the two blogs is interesting, and a couple of things stand out to me:
1) The use of Hymn Books
The common book that all can share in and sing from. Singing from the same hymn sheet in fact. But that the hymn book is more than just a way to get the words out to people so they can sing them, but that it is also a book to be engaged with and used as part of everyday live. Within my own Methodist tradition the hymn book is a key part of the devotional material of the church, and has been part of the worship resources from the early days when John Wesley put together collections of hymns including (a digital copy of the original can be seen here) which included his Directions for Singing: (1761)
Even today the daily lectionary in the Prayer Handbook, gives for each day a Reading; a Psalm and a Hymn. There was also the controversy about the new hymn book – Singing the Faith. However what this has done, is to put common words into the hands of all, and not just those who can search them out on the web.
2) The need for congregational singing
That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.
I. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
III. 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 a blessing.
IV. Sing lustily and with 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.
V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
VI. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Mr Wesley’s Directions for Singing show a need to sing together, and this is the second key part for me of what both blogs say. That the congregation all sing together, that it is a communal act. In this we see that God is the one to whom our worship is directed, that God is the audience for our worship, and not any of us in the worship space. Thus we need to sing together.
Well I agree we need to have some new worship songs; and some old ones. Also having new songs to old tunes. We don’t need to be perfect in what we sing, but need to know that God is at the centre.