Beauty and Orderliness in Worship

A few practices that are quite common, but that decidedly detract from the beauty and orderliness of group worship, might well be mentioned, not in the spirit of unkind criticism, but in the hope that these sugges­tions will be helpful.

By B. P. HOFFMAN, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

A few practices that are quite common, but that decidedly detract from the beauty and orderliness of group worship, might well be mentioned, not in the spirit of unkind criticism, but in the hope that these sugges­tions will be helpful to those who sincerely desire to improve the quality of our public services, and thus make them more fruitful toward winning and holding those who wor­ship in spirit and in truth.

In the first place, it is hardly possible to overemphasize that those who are to minister in song, as well as those who minister in the desk, should be carefully selected because they have a life and character that is consistent with the sacredness of the house of worship. This is decidedly not the place for honoring or displaying musical talent as such, and there must be nothing that would suggest a parading of skill, without the spirit of worship. Who has not observed the effect of having someone brought forward to sing or render an instrumental selection, who, on the completion of the part, walked out of the church, leaving the impression that he or she was not interested in what was to follow?

Where a musical number is to be given by those who are strangers to the congregation, it might be proper to introduce them at the same time the announcement is made, but it hardly seems in keeping with the spirit of the services to use such expressions as : "So-and-so will now favor us with ___ ," or "We will now be favored by —." Their part in the worship is no more of a favor than the prayers or the sermon. If any introduction is necessary, all that is in place is making known the identity, without attempts at com­pliment or flattery. In this connection, it might not be out of place to suggest that the utter­ance of "Amen" at the end of a musical selec­tion should come only as a sincere, prayerful concurrence with the sentiment of the words sung, and not as a gesture of applause for the skill exhibited.

The practice of having the chorister or some other person beat time in congregational sing­ing has been gaining ground in our churches of late, but the real need or desirability of this is very much questioned. , In the largest churches, the playing of the organ is found to be a sufficient guide for orderly singing by congregations of hundreds of worshipers. As a matter of fact, observation has shown that very few ever watch the one who is beating time. If anyone should feel the need of visible guidance, an occasional glance at the choir or song leader should be sufficient. Surely the bodily contortions sometimes seen—which might add interest to an informal community sing, or be necessary in a band or an or­chestra where many varied instruments and parts must be directed and kept in balance—do not lend dignity and composure in worship, and are not needed where an organ can be used to keep the singing in unison. In a num­ber of our churches, this manual leading of congregational singing has been eliminated without any loss, but rather with wholesome results.

Intrusions and Innovations

Another evil, which must be the fruit of the speed age into which we have come, is the practice of interrupting the singing of in­spiring hymns by someone who is seemingly impatient to have the service terminated, and calls out unceremoniously, "Last stanza!" or its equivalent. Many who are singing with sincere attention to the sentiment very properly resent such uncalled-for intrusion into their devotions. The best hymns are written with a continuity of thought from verse to verse, the breaking of which means a loss in the sense. Singing should be engaged in with as much thought and sincerity as praying. What minister would want his public prayer broken into by a shout from the audience to omit a portion of the petition?

If there is need for shortening the program, better leave out a hymn or other musical num­ber entirely. Or if a hymn is so written that a stanza can be omitted without loss, notifica­tion should be given before the singing begins. However, sufficient time can be found for the spiritual exercise and uplift that comes from thoughtful, unhurried singing of hymns in their entirety, if announcements, prayers, and sermons are kept within appropriate bounds of time.

The organist whose heart is in tune with the spirit of the service will be able to contribute much to the beauty and smoothness of its pro­cedure by having in readiness appropriate strains that can be played softly during mo­ments of transition from one part of the serv­ice to another. This, however, must not be overdone to the point that it attracts attention to itself, and thus detracts from the central worship theme. The growing tendency to play instrumental music during the audible prayer should be discouraged. When the con­gregation is led in prayer by one who is ad­dressing a petition to the Sovereign of the universe, whether in invocation, consecration of the offering, or in benediction, every other sound should cease. Be it done ever so well, any musical notes played at such a time are certain to distract attention from the prayer, and cause confusion of thought.

It will be seen that a well-coordinated music program in the church service will require planning and careful preparation. But if we expect the services to merit the attendance and support of our people, if we desire to make the services as fruitful as they might be in the preparation of souls for the hereafter, and if we desire to have heavenly intelligences re­joice in our worship, sincerity and carefulness should characterize our efforts, and we should not be content with mediocrity in our services.


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By B. P. HOFFMAN, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

October 1939

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