"First and Last Stanzas"
In the organization of our church services, the sermon is of course the center, and every other accessory to the service should be so arranged as to heighten the effect of the message. But the full effect of the sermon must be measured by the response it finds in the heart and mind of the listener, and rarely is the service complete that does not give opportunity for the body of worshipers to express themselves in some way; for self-expression is a fundamental law of life.
Congregational singing is in many of our churches about the only opportunity for communal religious expression, since there seems to be a decreasing amount of time given for such time-honored customs as responsive reading of the Scriptures, testimony meetings, etc.; it is therefore with disappointment, not to say alarm, that one witnesses the frequently indifferent treatment accorded the congregations chief means for self-expression, —the hymns.
In many of our public religious exercises the religious song of the people is treated as a matter of minor consequence, something to fill up the hour, or an item to vary the program sufficiently to avoid monotony. It is recognized, of course, that not all types of public religious services should be treated the same; therefore, what is stated here must be understood as applying to the usual eleven o'clock Sabbath morning hour of worship; and since this is one of our services which especially carries with it the atmosphere of worship, everything possible should be done to protect and encourage the element of worship in every feature. How uncalled for is the practice of announcing a hymn, and limiting the congregation to the "first, second, and last," or the "first and last," or what always seems to the writer the climax of absurdity, "the first stanza only"!
It is certainly a case of misplaced emphasis when announcements and other accessories, including so-called "special music," are permitted to stifle the spirit of congregational worship by curtailing or omitting the congregational song or hymn. During a period of twenty-five years of active participation in all types of religious exercises, the writer has seen but few situations that warranted the curtailment or exclusion of the congregational hymn.
Where the service is in the nature of a revival, in which the congregation has had ample opportunity to express itself in song, the extra closing hymn may well be omitted; but as a rule it would be far better to shorten the sermon and the announcements, and to forgo "special music" or extend the hour of worship an extra three minutes, rather than omit the song by the entire body of worshipers.
La Grange, Ill.
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