I grew up in the Methodist church and have a ritual I follow before almost every service I attend. I sit in the pew and immediately reach for the hymnal.
One of the first pages of the United Methodist Hymnal is John Wesley’s Directions for Singing. Though written in the 18th century, they still provide great guidance to Methodist congregations everywhere, as well as a bit of humor relief. In fact, I remember several years ago a lay leader poking fun at a few of them when the preacher was away on vacation.
Allow me to break these rules down for you.
I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here (So even if the projector screen reads “Hark the Herald Angles Sing”, that’s what we sing? AWESOME!!! Is it almost Christmas?), without altering or mending them at all (This includes all unwritten runs that American Idol contestants add); and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can (Unless you think your way sounds better).
III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you (Does laryngitis count as a weakness or weariness? What about those that are tone deaf?). If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.
(Essentially, sing out strong…)
V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony (This needs to be explained to the child that always hogs the mic when the children sing. Admit it, you know there’s one in every church); but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
VI. Sing in time (ahem). Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing to slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
In reality, the majority of John Wesley’s directions have very good points that are still applicable 3 centuries later, but there’s a reason I’m sharing these rules with you…
Adam and I have spent the last few months attending a church we have grown to love. It’s accepting, friendly, genuine, and thought-provoking. Plus, it helps that it feels like a small town church, which made it even more appealing to both of us rural Arkansans. We love the community outreach and mission work it does, though we have yet to get involved and we’ve found a Sunday School class that we truly enjoy. I’m actually surprised that we felt so at home at the first church we “auditioned”, but I’m also very thankful.
Every week we’ve meet new people and feel more accepted than the last. This past Sunday, proved this more than ever before…
You see, Adam and I were sitting behind this sweet elderly couple whose husband sang in the church choir. Before the pastor began his sermon, all those in the choir and serving in worship came and sat with the rest of the congregation – which meant that when it was time to sing the final hymn, Adam was singing directly behind a choir member.
The final hymn that Sunday was “Standing on the Promises”. It’s a classic hymn, best known for its chorus – which I warned Adam to control himself during prior to the song even beginning. Let’s just say that he sang lustily and with good courage.
And nowhere near half dead.
We’ll also say that he had a head-bop going on in the middle of the chorus…
After the service ended, the couple in front of us turned and invited him to join the choir.
Full disclosure? They asked me to join as well, until I told them about my voice teacher going MIA after one lesson in middle school. True story. Hand to God. Ask my mom.
So, I got off the hook fairly quickly.
Adam was polite, told them he’d consider joining and confirmed that he could sing bass.
Too bad they didn’t ask how well he could sing bass.
We left the sanctuary and laughed about it in the car on the way to lunch with our Sunday School class; and haven’t thought much about it since.
Today, we received an email from the Music Ministries Director. In it, she tells us that she was sorry she didn’t get to meet us after church and hoped we are enjoying our worship and fellowship at the church. Then she tells us that she “watched Adam, as he very energetically sang the bass part in the final hymn” and extended a personal invitation for him to join the choir. She also said she spoke with the sweet couple it front of us who confirmed that Adam had indeed sung.
Truth is, Adam does sing, but it’s not often he’s in tune. He also isn’t the best at keeping time – a clear violation of directive number 6 above. I’m sure that the choir would accept Adam with open arms and I’m sure they’d never tell him he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket to his face. But secretly, I believe that they would regret extending an invitation to him.