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Holy Music Matters

An opinion column based on a comment in the Sound Off! section of last week's Suburban Journal.

Music matters in worship.

It sets a tone and a mood. It energizes or calms down. The Bible has many examples of people singing for joy and praise to God. There are many reasons to include music in worship. One reason to sing in worship is that it is a quick way to bring people together as a group. Singing together is a shared experience and even three or four verses of a hymn or song starts to form a sense of community in that place at that time with the people gathered.

I’ve planned a lot of worship services as a pastor but I’ve attended more worship services than I’ve planned.

Church music matters a lot to the people in the pews or in the chairs around tables.

It is the following comment in the Sound Off! section of the Suburban Journals newspaper, St. Charles/St. Peters edition that prompts this column. I’ve included the complete comment as printed.

“I wonder if anyone could tell me the name of a church in St. Charles County that sings hymns on Sunday mornings. And I mean real hymns, not disco hymns performed by rock bands.” [Suburban Journals, St. Charles/St. Peters edition, Oct. 12, 2011, p. A15.]

Sound Off! is a specific phone line for anonymous comments some of which are selected for print. There is no way to contact this person directly. 

I know that there are churches out there in St. Charles County that sing hymns from hymnals with the music played on an organ or piano. This is what I think the Sound Off! caller is looking for.  I also know that there are churches in St. Charles County that sing hymns with guitars, keyboards and drums as accompaniment with only lyrics projected onto a screen. Some churches  in the County provide multiple worship services offering a choice among musical styles.

There are no churches worshipping God with disco hymns. (If I am mistaken, please let me know which church you are so I can visit and find out more. Please.)

Over the past 30 years, I have heard every complaint regarding changes in church music. Too loud, too fast, too modern.

I have also heard every compliment. Upbeat. Joyous. New.

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is often considered the original hymnbook of the people. Those are old, very, very old. When we sing the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” composed by theologian Martin Luther in the 1500’s, we are singing a hymn based on Psalm 46. The song “Shout to the Lord” was written in 1993 by Darlene Zschech and her inspiration in part may have been Psalm 96.

Both to me are real hymns. Both praise God and Jesus and each has a singable, memorable melody. Language after nearly 600 years can be challenging. When singing “A Mighty Fortress,“ I still trip over its older word forms and tenses such as “dost” and “abideth.” It has been a long time since I have spoken or seen the word “bulwark” used any other place but this hymn. Then there is “Lord Sabaoth” in verse two. Grab your Bible dictionary or click on your Wikipedia app for this one!

“A Mighty Fortress” appears in all seven hymnals I checked, including one from a Catholic publishing company. Yes, it’s old, yes, five mainline denominations and two non-denominational hymnals kept this hymn. It speaks to us of trustworthy God, a stronghold against all threats and temptations. I want to sing and honor and praise that God!

There much current church music that I like, that is well written musically and thoughtfully theological.  Not every new song will withstand the test of time. Some will. “Shout to the Lord” is included in the newest songbook published by United Church Press.

When I visit churches, I don’t see many people singing, whether it is from hymnals or off of screens. I wonder if people really do want to sing and are encouraged to do so. I like to sing, but if I don’t catch on by the third power-point screen or the second verse in the hymnal, I’m done.  Doesn’t matter if it is an old hymn or a new song; if I can not hear the melody, or know when to repeat a praise chorus, I will sit down.

Real hymns are the songs I can sing to worship God. Old, new, with guitar, drums or pipe organ, really makes no difference to me. I want to sing with joy.

Steve Pokin October 18, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Isn't this a point of conflict between younger church-goers, who prefer electric praise bands, and older church-goers who prefer choirs, robes, church organs and older hymns? Also, the author is Kemery Baldwin, not Rebecca Thiele.
Rebecca Thiele October 18, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Thanks for catching that Steve! Our CMS has a new setup and I got a little confused. My apologies to Kemery.

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