choir

Singing Our Theology

Choir illustration, Ron and Joe/ Shutterstock.com

Choir illustration, Ron and Joe/ Shutterstock.com

The deep, dark secret of the church is that the beliefs and convictions of Christians are often shaped far more by the hymns we sing than the theological tomes gathering dust on our bookshelves. Songs are avenues for praising God, but they are also tools for imparting knowledge. Singing is a theological exercise, so the words printed in hymnbooks or flashed on screens deserve attention and reflection.

“How Great Thou Art” has been sung in churches, automobiles, and probably the occasional shower since the late 19th century. Long used in traditional worship services, many contemporary artists are offering their own renditions of this classic and adapting it for more contemporary settings. Even Carrie Underwood (no relation) is getting into the act.

This is an ode to God’s majesty and power. It testifies to the beauty created by God’s hand and witnesses to the connection between the love behind God’s creative acts and the love poured out by Christ on the cross.

The famous opening line, “O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made” sets the stage. They also easily get stuck in your head playing on endless loop.

Creation – stars, thunder, forest, birds, majestic mountains, gentle breezes, and everything else – indicates the greatness of God. It provokes wonder among us humans, forcing us to acknowledge the subordinate relationship between creature and Creator. We cannot do what God has done; our accomplishments will always pale in comparison.

Holy Week Music Sets a High Bar, But One Church Rises to the Challenge

Cantata 79, J.S. Bach played by First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, in October 2013. Photo courtesy Jennifer Gay/RNS

Think Christmas, and carols come to mind: “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “The First Noel.” But think of the other great Christian season — Holy Week and Easter — and most people draw a musical blank.

That’s a shame, say church music experts, because the great trove of Holy Week music is firmly rooted in church, where, depending on location, tradition, and taste, believers hear everything from folk music to Gregorian chant, from classical requiem Masses to Passions by modern composers.

“The music written for Holy Week is some of the richest in our literature,” said David Ludwig, dean of artistic programs at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Creating Connections by Erasing Boundaries

discpicture / Shutterstock

Paper chain surrounding the globe. discpicture / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — I sat with my gospel choir colleagues, in a pew, while the host choir at Park Avenue Synagogue rehearsed a lovely Psalm setting in Hebrew.

Some sang the Hebrew text with ease, some with difficulty — a reminder that faith generally means learning a language other than one’s own.

After the synagogue choir sang in their other-language, we joined them to sing in our other-language: swaying to the beat, getting one’s body into the praise. They responded gladly, as our combined choirs rehearsed Richard Smallwood’s epic “Total Praise,” a setting of Psalm 121, which Christians and Jews share.

When two choirs from Park Avenue Christian Church and two choirs from Park Avenue Synagogue, plus some jazz musicians, performed Sunday, at a Psalms festival, we disrupted 2,000 years of animus between Christians and Jews. In the eyes of the creator God who made us all, we said, we are more alike than different, more connected than separated, more eager for shared faith than for separate and superior faith.

Gospel Great Marvin Winans to Lead Funeral for Whitney Houston

Grammy-winning Gospel singer Marvin Winans. Image via Getty Images.

Grammy-winning Gospel singer Marvin Winans. Image via Getty Images.

NEWARK, N.J. — Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy for Whitney Houston during her funeral Saturday (Feb.  18) at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the church pastor said Tuesday night.

Houston’s family rejected a public final farewell to the pop icon, choosing instead to hold a private, invitation-only funeral at New Hope, the singer’s childhood church, which seats about 1,500. The Rev. Joe A. Carter, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, said he will officiate the service, scheduled to begin at noon. Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange.

Winans, who also serves as the lead pastor at Detroit’s Perfecting Church, told the Detroit Free Press that he felt like he had lost a sibling when he learned the 48-year-old singer had died Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Houston’s mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, her cousin Dionne Warwick, and other family members gathered at Whigham Funeral Home in Newark well into the early morning hours Tuesday to shape plans for the service, funeral director Carolyn Whigham said.

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