I read in another church’s bulletin recently a note to the congregation from the music ministry. It said:
“Regarding volume. During times of musical worship, every musician up front aims to provide accompaniment to the vocal worship of the congregation. To that end, we intend to set the volume at a level that meets two opposing criteria: The music must be loud enough for the congregation to follow the melody and sing confidently, but not so loud that no one can hear themselves or their fellow worshipers singing. We don’t always nail that sweet spot between too loud and too quiet perfectly, but our aim is to serve the congregation by encouraging them to lift up their voices to the LORD for the glory of God and the good of each other!”
This is true of our church as well. Did you know that we actually have a decibel meter for measuring volume in our auditorium? We don’t check everything all the time. But if a musical selection is going to be particularly loud (you know, one of those all the instruments, choirs, and the kitchen sink type presentations), we will check the volume. When we have evangelists and guest musicians, we almost always give the volume a check.
By the way . . . no matter how loud the choir song is with full organ, brass, and percussion, we are nowhere near the level of pain, and certainly not even close to the level of hearing damage. Part of the reason is that we use mostly acoustic instruments. Electronic instruments can get too loud pretty easily. Acoustic instruments blend into the sound of the other instruments. Even our organ, which is technically electronic, is designed to mimic an acoustic organ. The sound is a digital sampling. This means that the sound is the exact same sound you would hear from the pipe organ in a church in Germany. So it is acoustically designed to be full without being harmful to your ears.
Well. Now you know.
Our service started this week with a call to worship by the choir. They sang Dr. Michael Bryson’s “In the Storm” with string quartet. I love how that song imitates the mood of the text. When the text is fearful, the music is frenetic, with surprising shifting meters. When the text is comforting, the music is steady and calm.
“Wonderful Peace” is an unusual hymn to open a church service. But I wanted to use the third stanza later in the service.
After Pastor Mike’s prayer, there was a short Reader’s Theater on the life of Adoniram Judson. Pastor Mike sent the staff an article on the life of this amazing missionary. And I responded with, “Hey! I have a Reader’s Theater of that exact story that would be easy to put together.” Pastor Mike responded: “Let’s do it on Youth Sunday.” And so that’s how it came to be. And why. Pastor Mike wanted his people to know of God’s servant who sacrificed so much for souls in Burma (now Myanmar). Pastor Endean and Stephen and Melissa Shumate did a great job communicating the spiritual truth of the script.
The theme of the story was that Judson was at rest in God’s will, even when he was in a death prison in Burma. The last line is: “Never forget that happiness does not depend on your circumstances; happiness depends on the state of your soul.” THEN we sang the third stanza of “Wonderful Peace”—“I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace, Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control.”
The music went seamlessly from “Wonderful Peace” to a setting of “Jesus Paid It All” for congregation, piano, and strings. The key was lowered to make it easier for most folks to sing. The harmonies were different to create a different mood for the text. And there were interludes between the stanzas. But the congregation sang all four stanzas and choruses just as if they were singing the tune from the hymnal. The setting was written by a friend of mine who makes his church music available for free download. We benefited from his generosity today.
After two stanzas of “Search Me, O God,” Pastor Mike led us in the Lord’s Supper. The string quartet played two simple hymns (one for the bread, one for the juice) that were “just right.” Lovely music. Profound truths in the texts. Just right for this service. I will tell you a bit about “how the sausage is made.” This is not to distract from the spiritual impact of the service today. It is to let you know that God uses humans to accomplish His will.
After some quick and . . . umm . . . “direct” exchanges, we discovered at 9:05 (service starts at 9:15) that the string quartet didn’t have their music for the Lord’s Supper. It wasn’t just that one of them lost it. None of them had either song. So the pianist had to run to my computer, log into his Gmail account, find the e-mail he sent me weeks ago, and print off copies. The good news is that we made it with three minutes to spare. The bad news is that all of us were flustered. Just before a service intended to be introspective, quiet, and calm, my heart rate elevated!
And this is how it is in ministry sometimes. We don’t like it. We plan our best so that it doesn’t happen. But occasionally we who keep the trains running on time sometimes end up sacrificing our personal “moment” so that others can have their “moment.” In the end, it worked out just fine. The men played well. The congregation focused on the Lord. And apologies were made even before the end of the service.
Pastor Mike preached from the first part of Romans 15.
The order of service said that the offertory was a congregational song. But I forgot that Stephen Ramsey was playing the offertory. He played a piano solo of a great setting of “A Shelter in the Time of Storm.” So the service began and ended with storms.