Congregational Singing

Congregational Singing—No. 1

The congregational hymn is an effective worship channel for the individual only as he takes a definite part in it by singing

 By DONALD F. Haynes, Pastor, Jackson, Tennessee

The congregational hymn is an effective worship channel for the individual only as he takes a definite part in it by singing. It is often the sole opportunity he has in the whole worship service to join audibly in the expression of love, praise, and thanks­giving to God. This article constitutes an attempt to find the reasons for the withdrawal of the individual from the congregational hymn. On learning those reasons we shall endeavor to offer a few suggestions for the improvement of the worship values of the hymn to the individual worshiper.

1. Lack of Understanding.—We Would list as number one among the reasons for the nonparticipation of the individual in the con­gregational hymn, the lack of understanding by our church leaders and officers regarding the importance of music in divine worship. This is displayed in several different ways. We list them as follows:

2. The inclusion of hymns in our hymnals which are secular in their origin, and hymns which, although written ostensibly to serve a sacred purpose, are characterized by a toe-agitating rhythm.

3. The habit into which some leaders have fallen of choosing their hymns carelessly, without any real study of the opportunity to have the sermon and the song work together side by side in the accomplishment of one pur­pose.

4. The careless way in which hymns are many times announced.

5. The example of some leaders, who, after inviting the people to stand for the singing of the hymn, themselves sit in their places on the platform. If there are further items to be planned for in the service, the time of the congregational hymn is looked upon by some as a good time to transact that business. The impression is unconsciously given by some that to sing in the congregational hymn is really beneath their dignity.

All these things work for inattention. Closer examination of these causes leads us to other observations.

We have all been forced witnesses to the spectacle of a leader hastily seizing a songbook and looking for a singable (not necessarily a suitable) hymn, and then hurrying into the pulpit and announcing, in an equally thought­less way, "Number 32," or whatever the num­ber may chance to be. At other times we have witnessed the lack of appreciation of the right­ful place of music in the service of worship by the way a musical number is announced. At the proper moment someone on the plat­form rises, looks around uncertainly, and says, "I understand that some special music has been arranged," and promptly sits down as if to escape the indignation of the assembled congregation. Or he may stand and say, "We will now have a duet," or simply, "A quartet will sing."

All this is not only discouraging to those who have spent much time in preparing the musical number, but is also helping the audi­ence to assume a merely tolerant attitude to­ward the efforts of the vocalist, instrumental­ist, or group, whereas an influence might have been exerted to make the music a definite act of worship for everyone present.

2. Failure to Introduce New Numbers.—As reason number two for lack of participa­tion in church music we would suggest the total absence in some churches of an effort to keep this part of the service fresh and new by introducing numbers now and then from the vast heritage of the less familiar hymns. We are content, it seems, to go on year after year using the same melodies over and over again, excusing this lack of initiative with the oft-repeated objection, -But the people do not know that hymn." And there it stands for another period of months.

3. Congregation not Trained.—As reason number three we would mention the lack of definite training of the congregation in the handling of their parts of the service. When the choir is to learn a new anthem, hours are spent in practicing, with the result that even­tually the anthem is mastered. When the au­dience is to learn a new hymn, too often they merely sina6 along down through the listed stanzas. The result is that many people are prejudiced against the hymn because of its being sung so poorly. The next time that hymn is announced, it will have to surmount this obstacle, in addition to its newness.

4. Too Many Interruptions.—Finally, rea­son number four resolves itself about our will­ingness to go on indefinitely allowing interrup­tions that sometimes mar the service of music, such as ushering the tardy spoilers of the service to their seats during a music number, allowing babies to continue to cry, permitting children to talk, the opening or closing of windows by ushers or deacons, walking about by church officers, conversation on the part of the deacons or those sitting on the rostrum. We would not think of doing these things dur­ing prayer. But they have become common during the musical part of the service.

Now, as we address ourselves to the solu­tion of these problems, we recognize at once the difficulty of our task. There are two posi­tions which we must reconcile. One is that the worshiper goes to church primarily to hear the sermon, and all else is mere adornment. The other extreme is that of the professional musician--that the music in the service is really that which makes it of value to the worshiper.

Here, then, are two widely divergent views concerning the purpose of public worship. One is that people come together in church to pray. The other is that they assemble for the purpose of being edified by the music. To these may be added a third, which, rightfully. should have the predominance, that people come too-ether to be blessed by the ministry of the Word. Only as we are able to blend these three purposes into one, shall we be able to make the worship service really efficacious in drawing souls into the fellowship of God.

In the concluding portion of this article, we give consideration to how these obstacles to congregational singing may be eliminated, and how we may secure fuller participation in this important part of the church service.

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 By DONALD F. Haynes, Pastor, Jackson, Tennessee

November 1940

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