It's raining, a lot and still, and I needed a little boost before undertaking my sermon, so I decided to read a chapter of Alexander McCall Smith. I found Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni headed to worship at the Anglican Cathedral with their orphaned foster children.
Preachers, have we all been there? We choose thematically compatible and theologically sound hymns, only to receive the reaction above: disapproval. And it is hard to recover from that disapproval. It is deeply felt and strongly held and seldom relinquished, no matter how tuneful or simple the hymn in question may be.
This week many of us will face the gulf in hymn preferences when we hold what is known as a "Hymn Sing." If organists are brave and flexible, congregants will shout out the numbers of the hymns they want to sing. I've not had one of these before, mostly because in my first call I had a musician who wanted more time to prepare and it simply hasn't arisen in my interim positions, where we have scheduled a patriotic sing-song at the beginning of the service closest to the 4th of July rather than a free-for-all Hymn Sing.
But my current organist is game, and so we will have one on Sunday to begin the service.
You will note that I am willing to sing the patriotic hymns. I have come to feel that since there is no other place we sing publically in groups, we may as well set some time aside for them, as long as the civic holiday does not push aside the reason we are gathered to worship.
Which is Jesus Christ, in case we'd forgotten.
I recently received a printed list of hymn suggestions, which I happened to recognize as the same list I received in a handwritten version when I arrived at 1FP. It came from a congregational survey several years ago, or so I am told. It includes what I consider to be the usual suspects. We've sung most of them over the past year, so I must admit it bothered me to be given the same list again as if I had ignored it. I love many of the hymns on the list. I choose among them regularly, in fact.
In this particular church, part of the tension comes between those who would prefer to use only the 1950s-era Pilgrim Hymnal and others who want to make use of the mid-1990s New Century Hymnal, both of which are in the pews of both churches I'm serving now. I've been critiqued for using both and either. I've been critiqued for going back and forth within the same service. Really, I've been critiqued for doing my job, which in my understanding is to choose hymns that support the total worship experience by illuminating the scriptures in yet another way.
I sang in a church choir for many years at Large Church, and perhaps that experience ruined me for other churches. The anthems and the hymns there expanded on and expressed further the themes of the lectionary. At Small Church, working with a young and cooperative musician, I helped choose music for the small choir that did the same thing.
I miss that.
I miss the spirit of cooperation and I miss the exploration of the meaning of our faith and our holy texts through the medium of music.
Yes, I like to sing "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee."
Heck, I even like to sing "Onward Christian Soldiers," or rather, I like to sing the tune, which is one of the most stirring ever written. *I* understand that it is a METAPHOR. The trouble is the foe in some cases is right within the church building. The trouble is being set up to feel like the foe, despite all best attempts to provide faithful leadership in the local church context.
Some of you know what I'm talking about, and I don't mean that you know the secrets of my situation, I mean you've been there, on the receiving end of "helpful" lists of suggestions that are in fact weaponized.
I will resist the temptation to reply with the dates on which the particular hymns have been sung in the past year.
"She did not approve of the day's choice of hymns, which were not known to her."
Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, or under the rain, in my case. We have these issues everywhere. We believe a piece of music or poetry that touches us will open God's word for others, when people want a cup of coffee or a report on the take from the bean supper or the chance to sing a song they know so well they don't even have to think about what the words mean.
This bothers me, because words mean a lot in my life, the words of poetry or hymns or, frankly, scripture. And I wonder what people actually hear. I wonder if they listen. I wonder if they care.
Before I begin to wrap myself in the mantle of John Adams, I will stop. Expect something about "1776" soon, though, because it's that season even if it's not that weather.
Yours on a rainy day,