Two of the questions I hear tossed about during this set-apart time are these: What are you enjoying about these days? What are you missing? My wife Linda and I chat about them frequently. We have no trouble coming up with answers. We give thanks for our comfortable home, with interesting things to look at out the windows and a large deck for relaxing and catching the sun. Our condo is filled with shelves and shelves of books, and we have quite a collection of writing paraphernalia. We are comfortable in each other’s company and also relish time working separately in our special spots in the house. Living in the middle of town, trips to the store for necessities can be done quickly, and we’re surrounded by sidewalks and trails for daily wandering. Linda has taken up riding her bike again, and I have become a jigsaw puzzle doer. Every Sunday at 10:00 AM we sit on our couch, joining our church community via a YouTube channel. On our personal level, it has been a pleasant time for the two of us.
It’s also easy to name what we’ve missed. Some significant activities were cancelled; a week-long writers conference for Linda, and four-day church conference for me. I couldn’t attend a women’s retreat in Leavenworth, and our plans for a five-day spiritual retreat at Pacific Palisades were postponed for a year.
We participated in a drive-by celebration for the youth in our church graduating from high school, and we watched a grandson’s graduation on Zoom (as each graduate entered the arena alone, for their singular moment of honoring.) The family reunion was cancelled, and we missed an out-of-state family wedding. Everything on the spring calendar was crossed off. We regret losing those big events, of course, but I’ve missed even more the small and ordinary. Movies with friends. Drinks together on the deck. “For real” book club and poetry club, instead of Zoom gatherings.
A third question is harder to answer, for it’s so much harder to imagine. What do you think will be the longer-term changes? Schools might become a hybrid of in-person and on-line learning. We, as patrons, may be leery of large, crowded gatherings. Hugs perhaps rare, handshakes a greeting style of the past.
I am curious—and concerned—about how our church gatherings may have to be adjusted. Passing the Peace will be replaced, as well as passing the collection plate. Sharing the communion cup and the bread won’t be safe. The hardest for me to imagine, though, is a ban on congregational singing and on choir numbers. The thought of a church service without singing breaks my heart.
I’ve sung in church choirs for seventy years! During the infrequent gaps in my choir time, I’ve still been singing my faith from my place in the pew. I sing in joy and adoration. In supplication. And, at times, in sorrow or anger.
Methodists have always been known as singers. Our hymnal opens with a list of directions for singing, written by our founder, John Wesley, in 1761. His advice, given in eight points, includes guidelines for singing the hymns exactly as written and following the tempo of the group. Point #4 is my all-time favorite of his instructions;
Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half asleep, but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard than when you sang the songs of Satan.
It’s a marvelous feeling to rise to your feet, throw back your shoulders, fill your lungs and “sing lustily.” Sadly, we now know what a dangerous activity that is in the midst of a pandemic.
On March 10, 2020, two weeks before a stay in place order was issued, the Skagit County Chorale held a two-and-a-half-hour practice. Sixty-one attended, they were careful to sit with some distance between one another, and no one shook hands or hugged. They did, though, sing, share some cookies, and helped one another fold up and stack the chairs. One person came feeling ill, but had no idea it was COVID-19. Within days, a number of choir members became ill. Ultimately, that one person infected 51 others, and two choir members died. The Center for Disease Control has named that choir rehearsal a “super spreader event”.
It will be a long while before choirs and congregations can, with good conscience, lift their voices, and I will mourn that silence.
A traditional Christian hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing, includes these verses:
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing . It sounds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing? No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Indeed! This is a time of tumult. I mourn the loss of my song.
Friend, what is it you are missing?
I miss singing with you Amory! Reading this, I cried, I laughed and said to Greg, get on Amory’s blog, this one is the best yet! As a United Methodist pastor, the hymns are central to my faith. The words, the call to go out and transform the world, the words that call my heart into the heart of God. All of it – is at the core of my faith. And you named it! Thank you Amory!
Thank you, Kathy. I literally cannot imagine worship without congregational singing. But, I’m committed to whatever it takes to get us through this pandemic. Staying home for now, eliminating singing for however we have to. But, I won’t like it.
Amen. Thank you Amory. While singing hymns with zoom congregation there is nothing like UMs singing shoulder to shoulder.
Thank you for reading, for responding. I have such warm, strong memories of Annual Conference with you boldly leading us all in “Beloved, Beloved!”
Ahhh. Yes. I ❤️❤️❤️❤️That song
I cried too, as I read this reflection. I do give thanks for the ability to listen to those with the gift of sharing music in online worship, but I will always mourn the loss of congregational singing.
Thanks for responding, Peter. It seems I tapped into a deep loss many of us are feeling.
With the Canadian border closed, we are missing our son. But we are well, he is well, and I’m thankful for that.
Laura, I try hard — every day — to keep in mind all that is well, despite the troubles. That’s how we get through, isn’t it?
Amory, this is beautiful. While the physical manifestation of Love is singing, you are describing to me the inner soul part, the being alive in your heart; the heart that sings. At least you still have that. No virus can take that away. Thank you. You’ve made me sing.
Lynn, I’ve a smile on my face. Love that my words “made you sing.” You’re right, of course. No virus, nothing, can take away the song in our hearts.
Dear Amory, This reply is tardy, because I wiped away tears the first time I read it, and only returned to it today. How we miss singing! Perhaps Congregationalists rival Methodists in their hymn-loving heritage … at least that’s my feeling. Like it was yesterday, I recall the musical magnet that drew me in four decades ago, and being conscripted (the right word!) into the First Cong choir. At the end of his recent fabulous, thousands-strong virtual choir performance, Eric Whittaker observed that there is simply nothing like it … filling your lungs, zeroing in on that first pitch, and then letting loose as part of a choir. (He said it better than I.) I will be humming “How Can I Keep …” the rest of today. Thank you!
Dick, what a gift to find your note today! Each Sunday, Linda and I sit side-by-side on the couch, participating in Garden Street’s service via YouTube. As the hymns are played, we raise our two voices. That’s better than nothing — but, not nearly enough. Congregational singing, singing with the choir. I mourn that loss. “How Can I Keep From Singing?”