St. Paul's United Methodist Church has one of the great choirs in the city. I know this because I hear all the time from people who travel far and wide to be a part of a great choir. And they've landed at St. Paul's. There is a certain professionalism too- our choir takes itself quite seriously and performs at a high level. This has often led some members of the gathered body of Christ on a Sunday morning to look rather bewildered as they compare themselves to the pros.
Perhaps one of the funniest sights in my last year in worship at St. Paul's was a worshiper looking down at her hymnal. Clearly trying to read the music, or at the very minimum, the words, the worshiper merely shook her head as she attempted to follow along. It really typified the the challenge when you sing the United Methodist Hymnal. To paraphrase my father, an incredible singer, "sometimes you just get some odd 19th century song in there that nobody can sing!"
For me, then, the question becomes, who should be allowed to sing?
The answer, if we put on the mind of Christ, should be everybody.
Even if your singing voice by itself causes despair to those who hear you sing in the shower. Even if you identify as tone deaf. Even if you physically cannot sing. You can sing.
In the US, we are so focused on talent. Exceptionalism. We want to be the best at something. We want to stand out. We love celebrity and we celebrate talent. Missed in our belief in expertise is that music, like sports, is for everybody.
One of the most heartfelt expressions of this was the wheelchair soccer league that happened at a church I previously worked at. This league featured two people working together as one, one bound to a wheelchair, often specialized wheelchairs for somebody with cerebral palsy, for example. The large three foot diameter ball was more beach ball than soccer ball, but two teams competed every Saturday. Was this competitive? no. Was it sports? undeniably.
Singing together is also a sacred task. It binds us together, lifts our minds to another time, place, and space, and changes our disposition and orientation.
Singing together in a sacred space, however, has an even greater effect. The favorite phrase among Catholics, if you sing your prayers, you pray twice certainly applies. But even greater than that. singing together spiritual songs is an experience of fellowship, community, and dare I say it, heaven. There is a foretaste of God's heavenly banquet in our singing together.
So let's sing together, even if we don't think we can.
p.s. For fun, you should check out John Wesley's rules for singing that appear in the front of the United Methodist Hymnal