When was the last time you went home from church humming a line from the sermon? Not too recently, I’d bet. How about the last time you were talking to a friend and referenced something from your absolute “favorite sermon?” What?! You don’t have a favorite sermon?!
Let’s try this one: What is the best way to get rid of a sermon-earworm (an annoying, repetitive section of a sermon that keeps repeating itself in your head throughout the day)? You’ve never had a sermon-earworm?
Are you telling me that you don’t go home humming my sermons?
Of the hundreds of sermons you’ve heard over the years, you don’t have favorites?
You’ve never had a sermon-earworm keep you up at night?
Honestly, neither have I. Sermons simply don’t work that way. Neither, for the most part, do Sunday school lessons, or lectures, or even special presentations. Sure, they each have an important place in the life of the church, but there’s little doubt that none of them come close to affecting our hearts and souls the way music does.
It makes sense. Music changes us. The simple act of singing (or even humming) is a full-body activity. Sound waves resonate throughout our body cavities; they cause micro-movements in our bones and joints; they affect our muscles and lymphatic systems. Music can soothe or grate on our nerves; it can affect our emotions; it may even have an impact on the release of chemicals and hormones.
It’s no wonder that music elicits more opinions (and occasionally more controversy) than almost any other topic or activity in the life of the church. Changing a congregation’s music vocabulary (i.e. hymnal) can be divisive and immensely conflict-inducing. In the case of our transition to Lift up Your Hearts, however, I expect the opposite. A new hymnal can also be a breath of fresh air. Hymnals provide us with the language we use to express our hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs, and prayers. A new hymnal – like learning a new language – can give us the vocabulary we need to express ourselves in new ways.
Unlike sermons or lessons, music sticks with us and injects itself into our lives at the most unexpected times. It enables us to be angry, when words would seem too harsh. Hymns help us mourn when talking seems trite. Songs can breathe new life into our prayers, especially in those times when we feel like our spoken prayers are bouncing off the ceilings.
You’ll be learning a “new worship language” over the next few months, as we become familiar with Lift up Your Hearts. In many cases, it will be a familiar one. Most of the songs we’ve regularly sung from our previous hymnal are in the new one; many old favorites are back, and (thanks to the advances in modern paper-technology) there are also hundreds of new hymns and songs (literally, hundreds!) in Lift up Your Hearts even though it’s almost exactly the same size as the hymnal we were using. Here’s my promise: we’ll sing songs you love, ones you’ll learn to love, and a few that you’ll dislike and never love.
As we “break in” Lift up Your Hearts, I encourage you to be patient and inquisitive. Page through the introduction (paying particular attention to the hymnal’s organization laid out on the Contents page). Look up your favorite hymns (the index starts on page 1083) or tunes (tune index starting on page 1062). Check out the genre index starting on page 1051 – it’s interesting and educational. You may even find a new favorite setting of your favorite Bible verse(s) in the scripture index (starting on page 1070). If you’re a musician you’ll find the piano typesetting easy to read and the chords remarkably usable (unlike in many contemporary hymnals).
Many of the changes that take place in congregations are difficult and the desperate reaction to unexpected situations and uncontrollable realities. This change is joyful one – let’s have fun with it!
~written by editorial team member, Tim TenClay, for his church newsletter. Tim is the pastor at Pultneyville RCA, in Pultneyville, New York.