A big day at 1st Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas a couple weeks back … THE day, really … not just for Christians, but for all people … Easter Day, Resurrection Sunday, Empty Tomb Day, whatever.
It was also a day of added significance for me, in a small personal way … it’s the one time I have the courage to go up front and sing in public. As I have noted before, little remains of the fine tenor voice I carried into high school. If maturity had replaced it with an equally fine baritone, I wouldn’t have minded so much … but, alas, such was not the case. I still sing in public, but only that one time each year, and in the particular circumstances we have at 1st Prez that day … when I am surrounded by a large choir, accompanied by chamber orchestra and organ, and singing for a packed house of people feeling more than the usual level of Christian charity and forgiveness.
On that day, a notice in the church bulletin announces that, “Those who have sung the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ and would like to join with the choir in this great anthem, please come to the chancel during the singing of the closing hymn” … so I do.
I do the best I can with the voice I have … or maybe it’s not the voice I usually have. I remember a quote by Edward Hoagland that I have shared before, about positive expressions of mob behavior … “It manifests itself, for instance, in the extraordinary quality that singing by a congregation acquires,” he once wrote. “The humdrum and unlovely voices gradually merge into a sweet, uniquely pristine note, a note angelic-sounding, hardly believable. Looking about, one can’t see who in particular might have such a voice. Everybody in the pew has an expression as if he were about to sneeze, and squawks just a little. It is a note created only when hundreds sing … it needs them all. No single person is responsible, any more than any individual in a mob lends that its bestiality.”
Maybe that’s why I am no longer mindful of my voice, or that lump in my throat – not the result of stage fright but, rather of exhilaration. What can I say? For me, it is a tear-maker as I near the end, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords …” It is a wonderful moment. It IS “a great anthem.” And even as I mangle this note or that, I didn’t care … I am part of making a genuinely joyful noise, nonetheless.
Easter comes just a week or so before the anniversary of the that night in 1742, in Dublin, Ireland, when George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio premiered. It’s presentation has grown over the centuries, particularly in the expansion of the musical accompaniment. It’s reputation and popularity has grown, as well, especially the Hallelujah Chorus. At the moment, historians say that England’s King George II probably did not stand during the performance of the chorus … but the tradition of standing continues to this day, and was observed by all in the pews at 1st Prez-Midland on Easter Sunday, followed by a long and enthusiastic ovation ….
YES, that’s right, Presbyterians were clapping and cheering in church!!! For one precious and all-too-brief moment, we were of one voice, one mind and one spirit.
And that made the moment all-the-more precious to me. You see, 1st Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas is not so much a building or an organization as it is a family … and like all families, there are times of sharing and times of bickering, times of accord and times of discord. Lately, the discord has become more pronounced. We are part of the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. Actions by that denomination’s General Assembly have been in the news over the last several months, as have the reactions of the denomination’s individual congregations. Those reactions run the full range from enthusiastic acceptance to outraged rejection, and everything in between.
Right now, we’re somewhere in between. Several weeks back, our congregation voted to enter into the ‘discernment process’ with Tres Rios Presbytery (our regional council of PCUSA congregations in western Texas). For now, a team from our congregation will discuss agreements and disagreements, problems and solutions with a team from the Presbytery. When all is said and done, we could be facing another vote by our congregation, deciding upon reconciliation, disaffiliation or something in between. While they discuss these matters at the official level, we in the congregation discuss them among ourselves at the unofficial level … how we feel, what path we might take, the consequences of taking one path or another, and the issues that – through the thoughts and actions of others – have brought us to this point.
Please keep our church family in your thoughts and your prayers … that as we consider and discuss, debate and – yes – argue, we will keep in mind that we are brothers and sisters and that, for our occasional bickering, within us all are shared memories of precious moments in which we have stood up as one, sung as one, and offered praise – to God and one another – as one.
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