A while ago, I was visiting my Grandma’s church. She goes to a United Methodist church. When I visit other churches, I like to go through hymnals, bulletins, etc. and see what they say about where they’re coming from. I was delighted to come upon some comments from John Wesley in the beginning of the hymnal, because I think they’re fairly well on-point for how we should sing in worship to this day:
1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find a blessing.
2. 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 sung the songs of Satan.
3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
5. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim to pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing; and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
I’ve excluded his first two from this list because he also exhorts readers to learn hymns in a specific way and try to unlearn other ways (presumably to help with unity in singing). These comments are from Wesley’s Select Hymns (1761), according to multiple sources I found. However, I was unable to track down a copy to browse online to ensure this is the correct citation and I apologize if I have incorrectly cited it.
As I said, I believe these instructions are just as good for today as they were in 1761. Too often, I go to a church and very few people are singing apart from those in the choir. Hey, my voice is not that great, but if I follow the directions above, my average-quality voice will lend itself alongside some better singers and together we’ll make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Just a thought! Let’s all sing along to those words which sing praises to our God.
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Thank you, JW, for the post. Wesley is amazing. For more on John Wesley and his movement, please visit the website for the book series about Francis Asbury, the young protege of John Wesley. The Asbury Triptych Series is a trilogy about the Methodist movement in England and America as experienced by the young preacher and missionary to America, Francis Asbury. The website for the book series is http://www.francisasburytriptych.com. Again, thank you for the article. The Wesley quotes on singing are actually incorporated into a funny scene in the book, Black Country. Have fun.
Thanks, I thought so too! Now I don’t feel so embarrassed at my own singing either.