Monday, 5 May 2014

Church attendance manual (2): singing

Each Christian tradition has its own special attitudes towards singing. When attending a service, it is vital to understand these attitudes in order to avoid the dreaded liturgical faux pas. Mistakes where singing are concerned can incur grave ecclesiastical penalties. The visitor who sings like a Pentecostal during a Presbyterian service will run the risk of being escorted from the premises and given a referral to a clinical psychologist; while the one who sings like a Presbyterian during a Pentecostal service will be regarded as an infidel and may therefore become a target of Friendship Evangelism; this can lead in turn to ten pin bowling, dating, and then eventually marriage and who knows what else. Such misfortunes can easily be avoided if one takes care to observe the following liturgical rules:

Presbyterian
What to do: Let your singing be tempered by a manly soberness and austerity, as if you were respectfully singing somebody else's national anthem. Let your lips remain thin, your body erect, and your hands at your side where everyone can see them.
What to think: As a matter of fact, I'm not 100% certain of the doctrinal correctness of this verse. I'd better mumble the words just to be on the safe side.

Pentecostal
What to do: Let your depth of feeling be inversely proportional to the depth of meaning in the lyrics. Too much meaning = boring. "I'm coming back to the heart of worship" = very intense. The singing must also be done with the aid of an exceptionally talented band.
What to think: I'm not thinking, I'm worshipping.

Evangelical
What to do: You should sing all the Pentecostal songs, but sing them as if you were a Presbyterian. This means you get the best of both worlds: you can sing songs that don't mean anything while feeling nothing at the same time.
What to think: I thank you, God, that we are not like those Pentecostals. (Especially the part about the talented band.)

Roman Catholic
What to do: Don't even bother opening the hymn book.
What to think: Hymns? You can't expect Vatican II to be right about everything.

Anglican
What to do: Same as above.
What to think: On second thought, I should probably open my hymn book.

Orthodox
What to do: Same as above. Except that there is no hymn book. And no hymns really.
What to think: Is this another hymn? I wish there were some kind of hymn book. I guess I'll just keep belting out "Kyrie eleison" every twenty seconds and hope for the best.

African American church
What to do: Sing! Sing like your life depended on it! Sing till your heart cracks and your eyeballs sweat and your great grandmother taps her bony foot in the grave.
What to think: Anything worth singing once is worth singing forty times over. 

Quaker
What to do: Same as above. (Just kidding. Don't even think about it.)
What to think: Think whatever you like, as long as you keep it very Zen.

Fresh Expressions
What to think: Singing is a culturally relative and outdated form of religious expression. We don't do that kind of thing around here because we wouldn't want to create unnecessary obstacles or to make anybody feel uncomfortable.
What to do: Put the latest Matt Redman album on your iPod and listen to it very prayerfully on the way to church. But never tell a soul. (If anyone asks, tell them it's U2.)

Progressive
What to think: Same as above.
What to do: Step 1: Change the lyrics to remove all references to God. Step 2: Resume singing like a Presbyterian.

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