Patrick O'Hannigan at The Paragraph Farmer presents a Catholic's point of view on this kind of music. When I came to his take on how praise music came to be, I knew I had to blog about it:
They simply wanted to "reach people where they're at," and figured that grand old hymns had to go, if for no other reason than that they harkened back to the days of what singer/songwriter John Prine called "stained glass in every window, [and] hearing aids in every pew."
I wish some church music ministers had been at the church meeting we attended this weekend. Although not large by mainstream Christian standards (I'm guessing around 250-300 people attended), there were folks with wheelchairs and hearing aids, yes-- but there were also couples with infants; mothers toting toddlers; schoolchildren with their parents, grandparents, cousins and friends; teenagers congregating in various pews; and even young unmarried adults-- some, college students, others young working folks.
And they were singing loud. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't shouting or poor quality noise. It was a unified swell of song that rung to the ceiling and out through the cracks in the doors. And I am not talking about a few strategically placed well-trained singers. Even the little children and old folks were getting after it. These folks are trained, all right-- in a strong congregational hymnsinging tradition that has not been altered for centuries. This is an environment where you can really get into the spirit and sing out, and you don't need to worry about dwarfing another part, or embarrassing yourself with a missed note. There was no quenching of the spirit in this congregation.
And let this feeble body fail, And let it faint and die
My soul shall quit this mournful vale
And soar to worlds on high
Shall join the disembodied saints
And find its long-sought rest
That only bliss for which it pants
In the Redeemer's breast.
And I'll sing hallelujah!
And you'll sing hallelujah!
And we'll all sing hallelujah!
When we arrive at home!
I just cannot quantify and classify the experience of sitting in a churchhouse with hundreds of likeminded people who all know the same hymns in four-part harmony and join their hearts in worship to the true and living God. Glorious. And the sound system was only used for the preaching. If they had had mikes on the congregational singing, the roof would probably have caved in.
I have friends who think we are odd for going to so many church meetings. After all, there is no nursery, no children's church, no Veggie Tales. The kids sit with us during each service, or else sit with their friends (in a nearby pew, within thumping distance, you understand), or with other older members they have become attached to (sometimes relatives, sometimes not). We attend three church services per day at these meetings (except the first night and on Sunday), and the sermons are an hour long (longer if there are two preachers).
All I can say is come and see. There is a spiritual quality to the worship and a love in the fellowship that cannot be explained in conversation, or even a blog post. Powerful. Even the children drink it in, though they may not understand every word. We could not stay for the evening service last night, and our girls were disappointed. Despite long hours of sitting still and paying attention, they enjoy these meetings.
I love to see the Lord below
His church displays Hi Grace;
But upper worlds His glory know,
And view Him face to face.
I love to worship at His feet,
Though sin annoy me there;
But saints exalted near His feet
Have no assaults to fear.
I love to meet Him in His courts,
And taste His heavenly love;
But still His visits seem too short,
Or I too soon remove.
O Lord, I love Thy service now;
Thy church displays Thy power;
But soon in heaven I'll to Thee bow,
And praise Thee evermore.