The Pastor’s Remarks for Choir Recognition Sunday

Rev. Scott Summerville

Once a year we recognize our choirs. Last Sunday we recognized the Junior choir. Today we will recognize our other two choirs. You may be surprised to learn that we have a total of three choirs; perhaps you thought they were only two – the Junior and the Senior. Ah… you are forgetting the most important choir of all: it is you – the congregation.

We have a large number of visitors today, many of whom are probably not United Methodists. If you are not a Methodist, you may not know that the Methodist Church began as a singing church. Our denomination was founded by a man named John Wesley in England in the 1700s. He was assisted by his brother, Charles, who was one of the most gifted hymn writers in the history of the Christian church. Charles Wesley wrote the words to over 2,000 hymns, many of which are now sung all over the world in hundreds of denominations.

“Christ the Lord is risen today, alleluia…” – that’s Charles Wesley.
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free…” – Charles Wesley.
“Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down..” – Charles Wesley.
“O for a thousand tongues to sing, my great redeemer’s praise …” – Charles Wesley.

And what would Christmas be without: “Hark! the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…..” by CW himself?

The Wesley brothers understood that the most important musical instrument in the church will always be the human voice. They knew that cooking maybe the best way to a man’s heart, but music will always be the most direct route to the human soul. Actually Methodists have combined these two principles. Methodist churches are based on two things: singing and food. Today is just a typical day for us – we make music, and then we eat.

The Wesley brothers also understood the people need songs they can sing with their whole heart. So they picked up the popular tunes of the day and put words to them to glorify God. They took the tunes that people were singing in the taverns and gave them new words. The goal of the Wesleys was to reach human souls, to touch human hearts, to convey the love of God in Jesus Christ, and to heal wounded hearts. And the main instrument they used to do that was congregational singing.

Some of us grew up in churches that still have that Wesleyan heritage – where the congregation sings out its heart and soul. Some of us grew up in churches where the congregation sang quietly and politely, careful not to inject any strong emotion into the singing, and careful not to sing too loud.

Today I wish to honor you, the congregation, as the primary choir of this church.
I urge you sing with all your heart and soul, and if I may gently suggest – not to sing so politely and cautiously.

Please turn in your hymnals to page VII. Here we have John Wesley’s own words from 1761, reminding us of how Methodists should sing. I will draw attention to several points of instruction made by Mr. Wesley:

DIRECTIONS FOR SINGING

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

[You may have noticed that we will be singing a hymn at the end of the service with words that I altered considerably. I am allowed to do that because I am ordained, but the rest of you have to follow Mr. Wesley’s instructions.]

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.

Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

[You can’t sing with the congregation, if you are home in bed. Back in Wesley’s time people liked to sleep in on Sunday mornings as much as they do today. But Wesley knew that when we make a commitment to give the highest priority to our Sunday worship, we will seldom be disappointed. Even if we are weary, if we make the effort to join other souls in worship, we will be blessed and renewed.]

IV. Sing lustily and with a 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, than when you sung the songs of Satan…..

[It’s not often that in church we are encouraged to be doing anything lustily – but there you have it – sing with gusto – sing with the voice God gave you – don’t be ashamed of it!

Wesley could not abide moaning and droning and half-hearted singing.]

VI. … take care not to sing too 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.

[Good singing requires a good tempo to sustain its energy.]

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing.

__________________________

In a moment we are going to honor you, the congregation.

Your voices are the most important instrument in our worship.

I wish to say this … gently… we would do well to remember Mr. Wesley’s instructions for singing.
Sometimes, if I may say so, our congregational singing can be hesitant, polite, and quiet.
So remember: 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, than when you sung the songs of Satan…..”

Grace and peace to you.

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Here is the full list of John Wesley’s instructions:

DIRECTIONS FOR SINGING

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, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.
Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with a 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, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

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; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

VI. Sing in time. 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 too 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.

From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761

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