This post goes out to my favorite Monday night and Sunday morning commitment: singing in the St. Andrew’s choir. Two lessons about singing in church were imparted to me very clearly at an early age. I attended Catholic school starting in 4th grade where we had regular masses as a school. My teacher that year was very insistent that we participate enthusiastically from the pews. After one mass where a number of us had not been singing, she advised us that we might have to answer to St. Peter about that choice when we got to heaven. We also had a prayer to St. Cecelia, patron saint of musicians, that included the phrase, “while we sing we doubly pray.” With that foundation and the example of my mom, a long-time choir member, perhaps it is little wonder that singing as worship makes me so happy. Singing a favorite hymn from the pews is one thing, but being in the choir adds yet another dimension.
To begin, there is the social aspect. Joining the choir along with Lissie and Hannah helped me feel like I immediately had a place in the community. This was especially important to me since this is not my church and it would be easy to feel disconnected. I met and spent time with a small group of people on a regular basis-a good recipe for building friendships. Next, there is the learning component. Most of the hymns we sing are not familiar to me at all-though there are a good number that have the same words, but a different tune from something I know. The stable of hymns for Catholic and Episcopal churches definitely overlaps, but not completely. Especially for special occasions, like the recent Epiphany Lessons and Carols service, we sing choral pieces with complex and beautiful arrangements. Hearing how the different parts fit together and learning how to sing in harmony is incredibly satisfying. With Nick’s leadership, I go from not being able to produce my notes and sometimes not even liking the piece to loving it, getting a flutter in my stomach at certain parts, and wanting us to sing it over and over again. Ask Hannah and Lissie about learning Locus Iste, or just check it out online. It’s beautiful and was a challenge to put together but a joy to sing in the end.
And that joy brings us to my conclusion: not only is singing at church an important component of group worship, a social outlet, and a brain-exercising learning experience, it is a nourishing form of prayer. We make something beautiful to offer to God. We give this gift to adorn our church services and bring people closer to the divine. Music can set an appropriate background, embody the joy of the resurrection, and bring people into community-and so much more. We can feel reverence, awe, rejoicing, sorrow, and redemption. And as individuals, words and phrases we have heard our whole lives can strike us in new ways.
I hope that this week you might listen closely to the music at whatever service you attend. Add your voice to the chorus as a gift to God, however good or bad you think it is. And think about joining the choir-you won’t regret it!