I was honored to give a Second Hour presentation on “The Reformation and Congregational Song” a few weeks ago. Preparing for the talk reminded me of the importance the sixteenth century reformers placed on the role of the congregation in singing the word. It was a literal embodiment of the principle of “the priesthood of all believers” to engage the entire worshiping body in singing the service. I remember when I was interviewed for my position at the church that I expressed the ideal that there would be no distinction between choir and congregation, that we would all be singers together. I often remind the choir that their role is to provide leadership in hymn singing and that the anthems we sing serve as a model for excellent singing.
Our “Bible” for congregational song is the hymnal. I’ve been around long enough that I still think of the New Century Hymnal as “the new hymnal.” The Pilgrim Hymnal, its immediate predecessor in our pews, seemed to have been around for a long time; it was the first hymnal in the late 1950s for the newly formed United Church of Christ. We learned, around the time of the current book, that the life-expectancy for hymnals in our denomination is about 20 years. The Pilgrim Hymnal had been around a good bit longer than that. It wasn’t always easy to find the best material in that hymnal to reflect the direction of our preaching in the 1990s.
Now, the songbook that we use has been around for about 25 years. We have learned many new and excellent hymns. Some have already become “old favorites!” Lots of familiar hymns stayed with us, others were re-commissioned for new uses. It’s been a good book for us. But, we are always looking to enliven the singing of the church. To match the preaching of the twenty first century, the direction of our church today, we are seeking other music to sing. Let us know when you think we are hitting it right. Suggest new songs that you might have encountered elsewhere. How can we better supplement the repertoire we all share?
Then, there is the choir, the “leader and model” for our singing. You could preach a sermon about the loyalty and dedication of our terrific singers. A genuine inspiration! But, how I can I spread the choir net a little wider, maybe to include you? The commitment to regular Thursday rehearsals may seem daunting. How about committing to a shorter term? We have enjoyed women’s choir and men’s choir in some of our summer Sundays, and it’s been fun to welcome more new singers each time. We have a couple of new opportunities on the closer horizon:
- Christmas Eve choir. We will rehearse music for this service on Thursdays, Dec. 7, 14, and 21 for the Dec. 24 service. There will be lots of singing, and we’d love to have you be part of it. High school students and returning college students are also welcome. Rehearsals begin at 7:30 and end at 9:00.
- I have invited Tendai Muparutsa, the director of the Zambezi Marimba Band, to help us with the music for a service built around African percussion. There will surely also be singing. I’m hoping to get a group of our folks to work with Tendai for a few weeks in preparation. Interested?
- We will repeat the Lenten Messiah sing-along. As we did last year, I will offer a series of rehearsals for singers who may be less familiar with the Lenten portions of the great choral work. Watch for dates.
Here’s to a singing church!
Yours in Christ,
Edwin Lawrence, Minister of Musicere’