Wednesday, March 17, 2010

No mumbling the liturgy!

I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;
    see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

- Psalm 40.9-10, NRSV

I once visited a congregation which made frequent use of thoughtfully prepared congregational responses (often what people mean when they refer to a service as "liturgical"). I joined in reciting the responses in what I considered a regular voice, pitched for the size of the room and the number of people. As is often the case, many of the congregation spoke the lines almost under their breath. After the service, I was quietly admonished by one regular congregation member who informed me that he found my volume distracting. I realise that speaking together is a skill that can take some practice to work well, but I was somewhat at a loss at this response. Apparently, he wasn't commenting on my adopting an unusual rhythm or strange emphasis, merely the fact that others could hear what I said.

Communal responses, though often addressed to God in prayer, are just as frequently exhortations addressed to one another. I've always assumed that if we're going to use them (and I think they are excellent when done well, for all kinds of reasons), then we may as well not pussyfoot around. In such situations, I'm not just speaking to myself, or even to my neighbour, but am addressing (and hope to be addressed by) the congregation.

And so when the opportunity to speak of God's faithfulness and salvation amongst the congregation arises (whether in song, liturgical response, testimony, public prayer, scriptural reading or whatever), don't be shy. Open your lips and speak up!


byron smith said...

PS Maybe I am going deaf and am yelling all the time. If this is the case, can someone let me know gently? (though probably not too quietly or I might miss it...)

jessica smith said...

You are very loud, and you've always been loud. I remember being embarrassed at the start of knowing you, but I've grown to really like it and have got louder too. I like that now you have scriptural warrant for your position :-)

Mike W said...

maybe the liturgy needs to be mixed with some african american, pentecostal baptist encouragement and repetition from the service leader

'i said give thanks to the Lord for he is GOOD'

'can i get a magnificat in the house'

Anthony Douglas said...

Even if you are going deaf, surely there's a responsibility to ensure that the more audio-challenged of the congregation are encouraged too!

There is some irony in the fact that you, being rebuked because your words were audible, were lost for words!

PamBG said...

When I was at theology college, we Methodists sometimes went across the street to the Anglo-Catholic theology college where it was the custom at Morning Prayer (but not at Evening Prayer for reasons I don't understand) for the congregation to whisper our "bit" of the responsive Psalm readings. I could never fathom why that should be so but this post at least suggests a possibility to me.

Claire Shaw said...

My "loud" isn't as loud as yours, Byron, but I do try to use my normal voice in church. It helps me mean (and take pleasure in) what I'm saying. And for the record I used to enjoy being able to hear you in church!

Sarah said...

Hearing you boldly speak the liturgy at the New College Communions was genuinely always my favourite thing. I felt someone actually believed in what the words meant. It made me want to mean them too. I find it encouraging. The words are powerful, they should be shared in a powerful way too. So thank you.

Tom Barrett said...

Hey Byron

Totally with you on liturgising like we mean it. But I must admit that when you visited us at Haberfield the other year I found you... noticeable :)

(Not sure if that's the occasion you refer to).

Mikey I love your idea.
"I SAID this is the word of the LORD!"

Jeremy said...

I ran across a similar suggestion, but in the inverse context, a number of years back: a fellow Christian shared in a group context how she had rejoiced in the practice of singing "moderately" at her church (which was to sing in a moderate tone so that all voices could be heard). In my experience in sung worship, I've found that some participants relish the act of singing with such "gusto" that they can overwhelm the audible footprint of those with softer, or less trained voices - the harmony overwhelms the melody. As someone with both a trained voice and above-average lung capacity, I've since expanded my practice of singing to include the habit of listening for other voices. At least in the case of singing, a less direct avenue than the individual expression of enthusiasm is, I think, worth considering.

With that said, I'm completely agreed that a mumbled liturgy is a travesty, and it is nice to have a fellow celebrant who doesn't mumble.

PamBG said...

As someone with both a trained voice and above-average lung capacity, I've since expanded my practice of singing to include the habit of listening for other voices.

Which is, of course, precisely what is needed for choral singing.

Not to mention the fact that a good choral singer doesn't have to be a good soloist. The "trick" of being a good choral singer is knowing when to keep quiet.

Maybe this thought isn't as pertinent to the original post as it is to some situations in life. Most of us want to be the soloist.