When in Our Music God Is Glorified
When in Our Music God Is Glorified
Let us consider hymn sings. Worshipers seem to favor them. They provide an occasion to make up for the deficiency of whoever it is who selects the hymns for congregational singing. Old warhorses are favored. Like "The Old Rugged Cross." Or "In the Garden." The so-called good old hymns, which have been described as neither very good nor very old by a church music director whom I respect.
When the program in worship this morning (Sunday, September 28th) promised a hymn sing, I wasn't exactly hot to trot or gargling to sing.
But what to my wondering ears should sound? Nothing less than a five halo worship experience.
I feel the need to explain. The venue for the hymn sing was the church on which Barbara and I have more or less settled for Sunday worship when I am not out gallivanting in search of five haloes somewhere else. This church, the United Methodist Church of Hartford, rises on Farmington Avenue in the West End eight minutes by car from our home.
The need to explain arises from the inference which might be drawn, one that is not implied, that the other Sundays, the non-hymn sing Sundays don't measure up and qualify for Critical Christian's assessment. To the contrary, our settling at UMCofH, to be the recipient of our presence and our presents, is all the testimony needed to tell anyone interested what is our estimate of the worship on the corner of Farmington and Whitney. I did review the church three years ago (see July 5 2005 Review of UMC of Hartford), and gave a hopeful four haloes. I stand by that assessment even if there still is no A/C.
But back to the hymn sing, which I am happy to report was tasteful, joyful, worshipful, and worthy of emulation. See for yourself:
The architect and presenter of the program is Scott Lamlein, once in not-too-distant history the organist and music director at the Hartford Church, when he was a student at the Hartt School of Music. He presently serves as music director of First UCC of Bristol CT; but his day job is as a webmaster (www.northfortyroad.com), of, you guessed it, North Forty Road Web Design. Scott may be computer savvy, but he certainly has his eye on something needful in Christian churches: literate, professional, engaging, and (dare I say it?) uplifting to the spirit programs of hymns.
Concora (Connecticut Choral Artists), under the direction of Rick Coffey, has also presented programs combining music and readings in an atmosphere of worship. I was profoundly moved by their program at Center Church, Hartford, in commemoration of Kristallnacht a year ago this November.
Scott's service this Sunday was more modest but just as moving. He did virtuoso turns at the organ console and at the grand piano; he sang a cappella solos; and led the congregation in a doxological round. The music was interspersed with readings. The one from Martin Luther particularly pleased this preacher's heart. While boosting music as integral to worship, Luther named it the second greatest art, after (which is where I took the greatest pleasure) theology.
The theme of the service was, clear to see, the Wondrous Love of God, as celebrated in songs ordered according to the chronology of Jesus' life. The Wesleys were paid their due, as befits a hymn-sing in a Methodist Church. The Easter carol selected for the crowning hymn, "Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise," to the Welsh tune Llanfair, is the one I like even better than "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" for the biggest salute to Jesus on Resurrection Morning.
Yes, I confess, that the five haloes are the consequence of finding another Christian professional whose spiritual sensibility is akin to my own. After the service I sought Scott out, to congratulate him, and to note that often musicians and preachers strive for effect instead of authenticity, working on the emotions without appealing to the mind. Sentiment, yes; sentimentality, no. Scott agreed, but added that the professional must employ all of the tools (e.g., gesture, tonal and rhythmic variation, eye-contact, etc.) at his disposal to put across a song or a sermon. Amen to that!
I also asked Scott if he had developed any other thematic hymn sings. No, he hadn't, but he is working on it. If he wants some ideas, he could consult with Critical Christian.