Canticle of Christmas – In Defense of the Church Choir
After a lovely family Christmas gathering this year my father decided he wanted to watch a video of an old Christmas cantata from the church he ministered at for 29 years. I must admit there was a split second when I couldn’t believe we were going to put in an old VHS tape of a choir from years ago but we were all missing my mother and welcomed the opportunity to watch the joy on her face as she sang praises during her favorite time of year. I was immediately transported back to another time. A time where my mother was still with us lifting up her lovely voice to God. A time where my father could still walk as he jumped up on the platform to address his church. A time where a group of believers came together and embodied community. Where trusted friends stood near my mother, ready to help her if she lost her place due to her mind being effected from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. A time where a stool had been pulled up for a dear friend, waif thin and weak from cancer but still wanting to be part of the choir. A simpler and perhaps more joyous time. A time where community seemed to ring more true than what we call community today.
As I watched the video, I was amazed to realize how quickly things have changed in most churches in just a few years. The cantata we viewed took place in 2007. A mere 11 years ago. The choir was made up of various ages from teens to senior citizens. The cantata was performed 2 nights during the Christmas season. The choir rehearsed very hard for months and there was an attendance policy to be involved in the cantata. I pondered this as I watched the choir on the tape. It seems unthinkable now that a church would be able to get that many people to commit to something so time consuming especially during the Christmas season. The church building the cantata was performed at was completely packed. This thought led me to wonder what in the world we are all so busy with now as opposed to 11 years ago. The only answer I could come up with was texting and social media. This thought made me incredibly sad.
The community aspect of a church choir is lovely. Many people working together, sacrificing their time in order to perform something just a few times but something that will bless others. Blending their voices as one in worship. As I watched the video of the church cantata I could not help but actually feel the praise that went on in that room even through a very old amateur video tape. I can’t help but think that something very precious has been lost. We as a church have the tendency to be consumers and quite often nothing more. Often our churches run themselves like businesses and programming takes precedence over all else. And in fact it’s no secret that in recent years most people no longer even know how to sing. I not only learned to sing in a church choir but I learned discipline, how to listen, how to worship in my heart, humility, and how to be part of a community. I have been involved in many churches in my life and to my knowledge only one of them still has a church choir. In the past just about every church had a choir. I will never forget the sadness of some of the elderly folks in one of the churches I happened to attend years ago when the choir was cut out of the programming. Those people were broken hearted. For many of them it was their only act of service or way to be involved in a modernizing church where they felt they had no place. Does God hear our praise any less because there are no smoke machines or strobe lights? Why are some modern churches so afraid of a choir? I don’t know what the answer is . I’m not opposed to change, I just don’t think we have to lose everything in order to modernize. Sometimes something has “always been done” because it’s a good thing, a pure and noble thing. Church choirs may not be hip but they have a timeless purpose and beauty that has been lost. Maybe the church choir is one of those things that can be brought back.