This morning I read an article in the NY Times about a young boy who decided to join a church and brought his family back to worship. It's a puff piece, but a nice article about this boy's devotion and what sounds like a welcoming congregation and devoted parents. However, I found the complete omission of any mention of music to be the more interesting part of the article. What is this boy's favorite hymn, I wonder?
While practicing this morning, I was thinking of the story and the goals of church music. In the preface of his book Singing with Understanding, Ken Osbeck lays out four basic objectives for congregational singing:
1. To unify a congregation in worship, prayer, and praise.
2. To teach and reinforce spiritual truths.
3. To provide an outlet for expressions that are difficult to verbalize.
4. To create the proper mood for the message and the other activities of the service.
I hope that all these goals will be met this Sunday. We'll be singing one of the greatest hymns ever written, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (ELW 858). The text was written by Joachim Neander, a famed author of approximately 60 hymns in the mid 17th century. His texts are almost exclusively celebratory and optimistic, including two others in the ELW: "Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty" (533) and "All My Hope on God is Founded" (757).
The hymn we'll be singing celebrates life and joy, an outpouring of emotion that can only be sung. If we were to speak such words they might likely sound stilted, embarrassed, or ironic. But set to music, they allow our voices to unify and the tune to soar in prayer.
The first verse ends with a call to worship: "Let all who hear now to His temple draw near, joining in glad adoration!" Perhaps that's the kind of music and text (and attitude) that could attract a young man and his family back to church.