Thinking Out Loud...Hidden Songs of Small Churches
Last Sunday, due to circumstances unforeseen, we found ourselves without our dear music director. On a Saturday evening there are few options, so what’s a pastor to do? In a small church, the answer is often pray and improvise (usually in that order). Come time for worship we gathered our intrepid little flock and began the hour with music – albeit from a CD player with a broken lid that I had to hold down in order for it to play properly, yet sacred music poured forth still and rose to fill our sanctuary with borrowed voices, clear and pure.
We couldn’t, however, avoid for long those hymns staring at us from the bulletin, asking us to sing. So we raised our hymnals at each one and joined in an antiphonal chorus, speaking the words to one another and hearing each verse anew. With every call and response of spoken song we felt not so much the absence of music but the increase of our own voices calling out to God.
Then came the time for the offering, which is usually the point when an anthem is sung by our choir; a part of the service I particularly enjoy for its transportative qualities…and this Sunday proved to be no different. One of our young members, only sixteen, came forward to sing a cappella – a word derived from the Italian meaning “in the style or manner of the choir or chapel.” How appropriate I thought, here in our midst, one sweet voice arising to sing for us all, one song of the chapel lifted up as an offering all its own. It was lovely and generous and brave.
I’m not sure it would have happened in a larger church. I’m not sure any of it would as a matter of fact. Not the use of my somewhat-functioning CD player, not the reading of hymns, not the spontaneous song given at the offering – it was all rather unrehearsed and unpolished – it wouldn’t have met the expectations of anyone hoping for a precisely run service with the latest technology and a highly trained choir backed by a band of professional musicians. Yet I believe that it met God’s expectations of us all the same – to gather together, to pray, to proclaim, to lift up our voices, to offer our gifts, no matter how small with earnestness, faith, and hope.
I will be filled with gladness to welcome our music director back to render a joyful noise unto the Lord, for music is truly an integral part of worship, and yet this brief interlude without her has perhaps given us the gift of hidden song and a new understanding of Robert Lowry’s lyrics:
My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the clear, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation…
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing?
Grace and Peace, Pastor Nadine
(photo credit: Roman Boed)