I grew up in the Methodist church. I have a fond appreciation for the Doxology, the traditional version of the Apostles Creed, and the blue Methodist hymnal that pokes up out of it’s little pocket on the back of the pew. One day, years ago, while flipping through the hymnal, I ran across this:
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 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 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.
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; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one melodious sound.
VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not 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 among 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
I must admit, when I first read these, I burst out laughing. I get the feeling that John Wesley was a strong personality, one who told things like they were and didn’t sugar coat them. I think I would have liked him.
I confess that I have wanted to run screaming from congregational singing lately. However, I know that despite all my struggles, it is still important. Though worship should be something daily lived, that weekly ritual of lifting our voices to God is sacred and special. I think his rules address some of the issues I often have with congregational worship.
- Don’t try to out-sing the people around you. No one cares how well you can sing during worship time. (I have probably been guilty of this in the past. My sincere apologies.)
- Stop changing the songs to make it “yours”. No need to add extra syllables onto the melody line. Kind of like when people sing Amazing Grace and it takes them seventeen minutes to sing the first line. Keep it simple, diva. The congregation can’t keep up with your vocal aerobics.
- Stop singing like this is the last place you want to be. Put some energy into it. This is for God, after all. He might be kind of put out that you’re more excited to watch Modern Family than worship Him. (I’m totally trying to convince myself that this one does not apply to me at all and I’m failing miserably.)
- This is for God. NOT FOR YOU. So get over yourself. (Again… finger pointing straight at me… sigh.)