Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 18, 2007


Methodists love to sing and some even sing on Sunday nights


          “Sometimes the singing is so good that I get a lump in my throat and I am unable to sing. So I just wave my hand and enjoy it.”

          That is how a good friend describes the congregation’s singing in his church on Sunday nights. He has been the song leader for the evening services for 20 years. He is not tired even though he is now 75 years old. In fact, he loves it. I doubt they could run him off if they tried.

          Sunday nights have been important in that church for over half a century. I spent my teen years in that church and I can still remember how much we enjoyed singing on Sunday nights. The crowd was never as big as the one on Sunday morning but it was still good.

          Many churches save money on Sunday night. They never turn on the lights. The doors are closed. To worship there you must come during daylight hours.

          Since television became popular Sunday night worship services have steadily declined. Many pastors prefer a dark church on Sunday night. They hate having to preach again to a smaller crowd.

          I know the feeling. You preach your heart out on Sunday morning and occasionally your parishioners tell you what a great preacher you are. You receive their compliments smiling graciously. But all the time you are thinking, “I have to be back here preaching again in less than six hours and you will be home in your easy chair watching 60 Minutes.”

          It was during those moments that I decided I was a mighty good preacher. I was so good some of my dear parishioners did not need to hear but one or two of my sermons a month. That helped me do a most important thing: not take myself too seriously.

          My song leader friend never worries about the attendance. What matters is that the people who come truly enjoy singing together. They love singing praise to God. Some of them, my friend says, even “sing parts,” and that adds a beautiful harmony to the sound.

          Garrison Keillor has made a living poking fun at people. He knows how to make pious church folks squirm. But I love what Keillor once said about us Methodists:

          “We make fun of Methodists for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them.

If you were to ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Methodistless place, to sing along on the chorus of ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore,’ they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Methodists, they'd smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road!

          “Many Methodists are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Methodists to sing in harmony. We are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.

          “I do believe this: People, these Methodists, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!

          “Methodists believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud. Methodists like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas. 

          “Methodists usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins. Methodists believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate. Methodists think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.

          “Methodists drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.

Methodists feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall. Methodists believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.”

          Keillor is right. Methodists do love to sing. Of course it helps if you have a song leader who cares about you and knows how to help you have fun expressing your faith in song. The Sunday night crowd in my home church is blessed and I think they all know it. + + + +