Asking the clergy: Why is singing a part of religious services?

By Jim Merritt Special to Newsday


Whether you have been blessed with the voice of an angel, or sound more like a Muppet croaking on a lily pad, it’s likely you’ll be encouraged to sing along when you attend a worship service. This week’s clergy discuss why — no matter how your voice strikes the human ear — your singing is pleasing to the Almighty.
Rabbi Ben Herman

Jericho Jewish Center

Song is an important part of any form of worship. In Judaism it goes back to biblical times, with the words of the Psalmist “Sing unto God a new song, for God has done marvelous things.” (Psalm 98:1) We acknowledge God’s role in creating the world and sustaining us through our singing to him. Whenever God did a wonder for our people, we sang a song of praise, an example being Shirat Hayam, the song the Israelites sang after God split the Red Sea. Not only is this song read as part of the Torah reading cycle, but we stand for its recitation and sing parts of it alongside the Torah reader. Our people always praised God through song, whether it was Moses, Miriam, King David, the Levites in temple worship, the rabbis who wrote great liturgical poems and odes to our creator or the cantors who write modern compositions to praise God. Singing is what brings the service to life, enabling prayer to enter into the essence of a person’s being, to touch one’s soul. Song also enables the entire prayer community to participate in the service. Those who do not read Hebrew can connect through the power of song. The prayer leader is responsible for creating this participatory and communal feeling, adding spirituality and warmth to the service through song. There is nothing better than having a service where everyone participates by praising God with one voice. This is what the Psalmist says in his final verse, “Let every breath [soul] praise God, Hallelujah!” (Psalm 150:6)
The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.

Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City

We sing because it is part of our praise and worship experience in church. Just like praying, singing is honoring and blessing God, collectively, with our voices. It brings us together. Fellowship is found through song. When the choir sings, if we know the song, we can sing along (even if some of us are melodically challenged). You become part of a dynamic congregational worship experience where you are part of something bigger than yourself. In a real sense, singing the anthems and the hymns particularly, reminds us in a very visceral way of the biblical Scripture that these hymns are based on. When we sing “Amazing Grace,” for instance, it was built on someone’s life and experience, but it also is rooted in the Scriptures. It tells a story to which we can relate. Songs resonate with us because they relate a theology. “It Is Well With My Soul” is another example of this. The lyrics hearken back to the Scriptures, a belief and faith that we know and can truly feel. Even if you went to a church, and you didn’t remember the message from the preacher, most likely you would remember a song because its lyrics resonated with you. Our songs then are mini-sermons offering encouragement and hope. When you go to an installation or ordination service of a minister or a reverend, they are given a Bible and a hymnbook because they work together. Songs are vital to the church.

The Rev. Ron Stelzer
Pastor, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Centereach

Worshipful singing is the natural response of a creature to its creator and savior. Angels sang God’s praises as they witnessed the creation. When God delivered his people from Egyptian slavery, Moses and Miriam led the musical tribute: “Sing unto the Lord, Who has triumphed; horses and their riders He has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1, 21) David’s music had a spiritually therapeutic and even exorcistic effect on King Saul. In my congregation, my philosophy is that the Bible is our standard, so its music from beginning to end should be a part of our experience as well. In fact, congregational singing is a strong part of the Lutheran tradition, introduced by Martin Luther. One of the three main divisions of the Old Testament Scriptures is the hymnbook called the “Psalms.” New Testament history barely begins, and Mary is singing her “Magnificat.” Before leaving the Upper Room for Gethsemane, Jesus and his disciples sing a hymn. Early Christians are commanded to speak to each other “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19) The Book of Revelation says heaven will be filled with a new song no man can learn but the redeemed of the Lord. Congregational singing brings all this good news of the Gospel and to God’s goodness to us.

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