We were attending our church today, which is normal for my family on a Sunday. I sing in the church choir. These days, not all churches have one anymore, in this day of “modern praise and worship” with words and videos displayed on projection screens. Our church is dabbling in this, too, but so far the congregation still wants to have a traditional choir. Sitting in the choir loft also affords me a view of the room that is completely unblocked; you can see everything going on during the service.
Our church also has a handbell choir. This is actually fairly rare nowadays, especially in smaller churches. With our church running 150 attendees on Sunday morning, it is really surprising that we still have our own handbell choir, but we do. It’s made up of an eclectic mix of people. Some are older, retired from their jobs and careers, but still active. Other members are younger, with one or two still in college. There are also varying degrees of talent and training in this group. One or two members have degrees in music, others sing in the vocal choir, and one or two are almost tone deaf singers at best.
Imagine my surprise when I heard the group start playing to open the AM service. The music was simply beautiful! Everyone was playing at the right tempos, and with ten-plus members the full spectrum of bells is covered, from bass notes up nearly three octaves in the soprano range. While there may have been a missed note or two, they played with confidence, and hearing the notes ring, sustain, and reverberate in the worship sanctuary hinted at an angelic following that was just perhaps out of sight elsewhere in the hall. I saw one woman begin to smile as she watched the group, and after a few minutes her face lit up as she looked lovingly on as her son played the bells.
My wife plays piano here, and also sings solos from time to time. She sang today during the offering, though more often she plays the piano. I know I am supposed to be biased as her husband, but honestly, she is one of the best accompanists on piano I have ever heard. She has two music degrees, and even though our church is tiny in comparison to some, I would put her skill set up against any of the massive big-city churches in the state, and have heard a number of traveling conductors say the same thing. Her playing has a musicality that is hard to teach, and she has an awareness of what is going on with the director, other musicians, and even the audience that allows her to adjust her playing on the fly. Most of the better musicians at our church recognize her talent, but I don’t think the rest of the congregation has a clue. That is fine with her; she isn’t really performing for them anyway. I have to confess, when I am asked to play solo guitar at church I find excuses to have her back me up; I just sound better that way. Is that wrong?
One of the most amazing things I hear in the choir, though, is an older man who sits next to me who is partially deaf. I cannot sit next to him and listen for long without beginning to tear up. Yes, there are days when it is difficult for him to stay on pitch because of his hearing problems, and when he speaks you can hear a country accent dripping from his speech. But when he sings, he sings from the heart, and there is no question in my mind that he sings for his Lord, and he is glad he can do it. Somehow I know God must enjoy hearing him, too, in the same way as the mother enjoyed hearing her son play the bells. It is a blessing to sit next to this man, and helps me realize the proper mindset needed to be in church, worshipping and praising God. Lord, help me remember the real reason we go to church, and Who we are to sing to!