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Do you hear the people sing?

On a Saturday evening in August our son Christopher invited me to go with him to watch the Charlotte Football Club (CLTFC) play Los Angeles at Bank of America stadium in downtown Charlotte.

Notice I did not write we went to watch the Carolina Panthers play an NFL team. No, this is the more global use of the term football, i.e, soccer.

It had been another warm day in Charlotte as a crowd of 35,000 plus began to fill the stadium. Christopher has been an avid soccer fan for many years; on the other hand, I’m a novice. I still have a bit of trouble understanding the soccer penalty for offsides.

In spite of its differences with other sports, there is one opening ritual soccer shares: the singing of the national anthem. The announcer invited everyone to stand, place your hand over your heart and sing The Star-Spangled Banner. On the jumbotron we could see a 20-something singer as she began to sing: “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light ….”

And then, she did something extraordinary.

She pointed the mic away from herself and toward the crowd, inviting them to sing.

And they did.

With no leader. No accompaniment.

The crowd sang the national anthem a cappella.

And I sang. And listened.

And blinked back tears.

When was the last time you could hear the people sing in worship?

When was the last time we created a space to highlight

the voices of the congregation?

Let me offer these suggestions as fall begins

and as worship attendance (hopefully) picks up.

1. Once a month this year, plan to sing a verse or perhaps an entire hymn without accompaniment. This needs to be something familiar, something your people love to sing. Be sure it’s in a comfortable key for the average singer. Regardless of your primary worship style (liturgical, traditional, contemporary), let the focus be on the voices of the people and let the organ or the worship band be silent.

2. Think creatively about ways to feature the congregation and to encourage their engagement. The Celebrating Grace website offers a rich array of resources to enliven congregational singing. If you don’t visit this website regularly, explore these links:

3. Plan a Hymn Festival Sunday to highlight the voice of the congregation. On the last Sunday of October in 2017, Wilshire celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a hymn festival in morning worship. Our pastor offered three brief reflections on hymns and hymn singing instead of a typical sermon. We chose hymns our people could sing well. What a high and holy day! All Saints Sunday or Pentecost Sunday would also be significant days to plan a hymn festival. Or what about Low Sunday? Perhaps a hymn festival will boost attendance on the Sunday following Easter.

4. Invite your best writers to reflect on hymns they love. One year at Wilshire I enlisted 12 writers in our congregations to write a monthly article for our church newsletter. The series was called “Hymns We Love.” This title was borrowed from a long-running radio show in Dallas produced by Wilshire member, Norvell Slater. Create some writers' guidelines; offer two or three questions to shape the content. But let them share their story about how the words of a specific hymn deepen their spiritual journey.

5. Plan an “A Cappella Sunday” this year. This is a brilliant idea promoted by the Center for Congregational Song. Click on the button below to go to the CCS resource planning page. The resource guide suggests doing this on the first Sunday of Lent. And if you don’t know Brian Hehn, the director of CCS, take a look at the video when Brian joined Polyphony on a Zoom call.

As you think about preparing for worship this year, plan to create days and ways so we can hear the singing voices of the people clearly in worship.

The engagement of the people and the enlivening of worship is just waiting for us to let the people sing.

Doug Haney

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