Why Don’t We Sing in Church (ECUSA version)?

I love to sing. I even love to sing the songs in the Episcopal Church Hymnal which I have been assured by an imminent musician is not the best hymnal ever. I love to sing loud, to attempt the alto on some, to—almost—get the spirit.

Which usually leads to the folks sitting near me starting to glance back to see who’s singing so…loud. And then they mention it during the peace. “Was that you I could hear?” Some of them say it was nice or compliment my voice. But some just look vaguely shocked that anyone is singing so…loudly.

It’s the weirdest thing. I was raised a Baptist. In the Baptist church, everybody sang. And people got the spirit. You know, they danced, and clapped, and shouted. I was never comfortable with that. I never, not once, in over 35 years “got the spirit.” I was a quiet worshipper, comparatively speaking.

Then I became an Episcopalian. And compared to my current pew mates, I’m a holy roller. And all I do is sing loud. Although sometimes I get why no one else is attempting the hymns. At a previous church, we were all convinced that our organist/choir director would not be happy until we’d sung every song in the hymnal. Some of them are hard; and some of them are just plain ugly. But we slogged on, getting at least one surprise each week.

Lord knows, we all know a lot of the hymns and service music (I hope I never have to sing “The Church’s One Foundation” ever again). But my fellow parishioners, if they are singing, are singing only to themselves. No gusto. No spirit. Even when we know the tune, and agree with the words, we are not making a very joyful noise.

So if you want to sing loud, come stand by me!

Michelle J  Walker is a practicing Episcopalian who only plays a Presbyterian Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5.

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149 responses to “Why Don’t We Sing in Church (ECUSA version)?”

  1. I have the same experience in my Presbyterian church! When it comes to singing the hymns, my soul lets loose and I sing loud and with spirit! And the folks in front of me always turn around and comment (they usually invite me to join the choir, so i think that’s a good thing!) Singing has always been a form of prayer for me; it’s one of the central ways I offer thanks and praise to my Creator.

    I also tend to sway back and forth when I sing, which surely must startle those sitting behind me too!

  2. IF United Methodists are, as my friend Sue says, singing softly, then they are giving up one of the best parts of their own heritage. The spiritual formation and theological teaching of Methodists was largely accomplished by singing.

  3. Wow, I feel like kindred spirits. I was raised in an American Baptist church that sung many hymns and gospel songs that were sung with gusto. We usually sang every verse of a hymn and to this day, I still love many of these songs which evoke a richness of relationship with God. Then I spent about 5.5 years in a Charismatic church, and there a great emphasis is put on worship so the musical portion of the service can last an hour. Imagine my surprise when I landed in an evangelical church where people complain if we sing 5 songs (gasp!). The worship patterns in various churches is interesting to observe, but no matter, we should be making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

  4. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my noisy little spot in the pews. And in my day job I work with Presbyterians who are much the same. Except when we sing those praise songs with the drums. There’s a whole subset of folks who normally mumble who really belt those out.

    And Pat, at a previous church there was constant whining about how many verses we were going to sing. Our choir director pointed out that the full hymn tells the full story. Didn’t make a bit of difference.

  5. I am fortunate to be part of a Presbyterian church where congregational singing is alive and well. I suspect that this is because of a wonderful woman who was the organist/choir director for over 50 years, and many of the members of the congregation grew up being influenced by her. I was not fortunate to have known her, but each Sunday as I stand to sing the hymns from the choir, I look out over a congregation where most every worshiper is singing, a tribute to the lasting influence one person can have in people’s lives. It’s a great experience and inspiration!