About a block and a half from my condo there’s a tiny little one room church that rents space out of a building that also houses a convenience store and a hair salon. Sometimes I go on a little walk on Sunday mornings, and I often see people entering the church – smiling young families mostly, trailing young children and dressed to the nines in bright, beautiful colors and speaking with the French-inflected English common in Uptown that marks the members of the church as first generation immigrants from Africa.
The church is a protestant variety of some sort; I think the word “Victory” might feature in the name. Last Sunday as I neared the church I saw two families rushing to get in, and as Mom held the door for her two young children, out poured music that immediately whisked me back to the church I grew up in – someone was playing an electronic keyboard, and someone else was leading from a mic this very old hymn:
Oh for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise
The glories of my God and King
The triumphs of His grace.
The writer John Wesley probably wrote more hymns than anyone else to ever live; Wikipedia says over 6,000. I have to wonder what Wesley would say about a group of African immigrants in Uptown, Chicago in 2014 belting out one of those old verses he wrote in London in the 18th century. Music built on faith has such staying power, and it also has a power to transcend cultures. Growing up, conventional wisdom held that “The church pew is the most segregated place in America.” True enough. But whatever the type of pew, in the diaspora of Christendom much of the music emerges from a shared canon of these old classics.
For all the similarities, it’s interesting that, like virtually everything else in Christendom, musical styles are so fraught for congregations. Do you need your music to be contemporary? 30 years old? 300? 800? In Bach’s time he wrote a new song every week for his congregations. No stodgy, tired old hymns for his people! Whatever the Christian brand, people definitely have very, very strong opinions about their playlists.
I guess I think that overall, the stronger the opinion the less likely the noise coming from the opinion holder on Sunday mornings is to be joyful.
Thanks for reading.