I promise that this will be a difficult entry for me to write, and it may prove difficult to read, because we’re dealing with a subject that often proves easy to become about me and not about worship.
There’s little doubt to me or to those around me that the Good Lord gave me a fair amount of ability to sing. I don’t think there’s any way to go about hiding this ability in a worship situation—nor, in fact, do I think that we should. If we are truly called to “make a joyful noise unto the LORD”, we are to do so, indeed, joyfully, singing with all the ability we have, knowing that even the best among us only have those gifts due to the benificence of the Father, for whatever reasons amused Him as He made us. My gift may be to sing, and yours may be to comfort and grieve, but chances are that folks don’t come up to you after the service on Sunday morning to shake your hand and pat you on the back and talk about what a great comforter you are.
As you might surmise from all this, today was the first Sunday in which I was easily observable as a vocalist in my new congregation. Madison UMC is on Church Street in the Historic District, and our men’s ensemble is lovingly referred to as the Church Street Boys. [There is no truth to the rumor that First Baptist Madison’s men’s ensemble is named Old Baptists on the Block. We’re not sure who started that rumor, but we think it’s the non-denominational church on Sturdivant.] We performed two pieces in each service today, and I feel like we did a reasonable job with both works. Were there minor musical things that we should have done better? Oh, absolutely they were there, and the old choir hand in my head was mentally cracking the whip and screaming at us as we muffled vowels, swallowed consonants, and warbled and mushed around notes.
However, we did make a joyful noise unto the LORD that was fairly pleasing to the ear, and so began that timeless frustration of the special music participant—how do you deal with the accolades given to you after the service by your fellow worshippers? I have not, in my 27 years, ever come up with a reasonable solution. When one sings in almost any other situation in this life in front of others, these are situations where we vocalists desire recognition and adulation—we may seem demure, but the ego boost of nailing something is undoubtedly there. You want to be told that you’re good. [If this weren’t true, there would be no choral competitions, no all-district and -state choruses, nor any episodes of that insipid American Idol program.]
No matter how much one may feel like standing as a victorious prizefighter and showering in the applause after absolutely nailing a particular piece, this attitude does not befit the worshipper. If worship is truly returning to God the gifts that He has given to us for us to make Him known to the world, those who sing deserve no praise for simply doing their job. Yet praise is there, ready to be given: “Y’all sounded wonderful this morning!” “It sure is nice to hear y’all sing.” “I always enjoy hearing you sing!”
I’m always left stammering and stumbling through thanks and self-deprecatory responses to these greetings, because I truly don’t know how to respond. I feel that taking them wholly on face value is somehow disingenuous, as if doing so bespeaks a lack of reverence and humility. It seems to me that reverence and humility are essential to a proper worship setting, because our praises and glories are going to the God who is so ever deserving of them. It always feels to me as if accepting these praises somehow is an act of self-worship, something which we’re all certainly guilty of often enough.
I find that, as I reach this point, I have no ready answer to this conundrum. One would think that years of public singing in church would have brought me to a conclusion at some point, but it has not to date. I guess I’m offering this up out of frustration and false humility, a cry out to my fellow congregants for understanding. Of course, this very act is self-aggrandizing—Look at me! I don’t know how to take your adulation!—and I’m finally left with the feeling that I just need to hit the Publish button before all the lightning that’s been striking down on my fair city day decides to discharge through my head.