“Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs!”
― Martin Luther
Whenever my wife and I go out of town, we look for a church in which to worship. It is usually a Lutheran church, if at all possible. Knowing that we will be out of town on a weekend, the first thing I do is go to our ELCA website to find a church nearest where I will be. If the church I find has a website, I go there to learn more about the congregation to determine if that is where I want to worship. I base that on several things, none of which, by the way, have to do with the size of the church. While it would be nice to worship in a larger gathering, where two or three are gathered is also suitable for us.
What is most important to me in worship is music. I love to sing. One of the things that sets us apart as Lutherans is our love for congregational singing. The blessed Martin Luther called music, “a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.” In that respect, I must have been predestined to be a Lutheran because singing is essential to my happiness and well-being.
So I would offer this advice to any church based on my most recent experience. If you have any way of notifying visitors of what to expect at your service, please do so. For example, if your early worship is strictly spoken, that is, without music, please by all means let a potential visitor know ahead of time. I was never so disappointed as when I visited a church on Pentecost Sunday, fully expecting to belt out a hymn or two about the Holy Spirit, and not singing one syllable of anything.
I happened to be away from home officiating a family wedding. That’s what most pastors do when a family member asks you to officiate his or her wedding. I was asked a year ago and immediately said yes, not realizing the wedding would be taking place over Pentecost weekend. Even though I am reluctant to be out of the pulpit for festival days, this wedding was important enough for me to make an exception. And I would still have Sunday to worship somewhere, even though I would not be preaching or presiding.
Even after a wonderful night of fun and merriment full of dancing and delight, I was looking forward to an even more spirited worship at a liturgical church that I was convinced would be full of the Spirit. In retrospect, I guess we should have waited until the late service. There was a musician listed in the bulletin, but the organ went untouched during the liturgy and no mention was made as to why there was no music. It cast a pall over the entire worship. I was never so disheartened.
I try to avoid being publicly critical of other churches because I would obviously not like to see my church publicly excoriated by others who may have visited one of our liturgies and found it lacking. But this situation was indefensible. Unless the service is specifically listed as a “Service of the Word,” there should be singing – even a Capella.
So in the future I will check my calendar carefully in order to avoid a repeat of this occurrence. And I hope readers will not find my comments too harsh or belittling or persnickety, but rather an honest appraisal of a disappointing encounter fraught with unfulfilled expectations.