I grew up between 8 Mile and 9 Mile in suburban Detroit. Strangely, I lived in a neighborhood with about seven households who worshipped with the Church of Christ. In case you are not familiar with the Church of Christ, most congregations of this tribe worship a cappella. Other than those seven households, there was one Lutheran family, and EVERYONE else I knew was Catholic. After I got out of high school, I met a Presbyterian.
My senior year in high school, our congregation was in a period of what seemed to me spiritual vigor, and my best friend, Beverly Birdwell Blair and I happily invited our public school friends to worship. When a handful of Catholic friends showed up, my anxiety spiked, especially when I thought about the singing. After all, it was Sunday night. The crowd boasted the usual ½ of Sunday morning, and the song leader, well, no boasting there. If I recall, possible selections, sweet and meaningful to me, consisted mostly of gospel music of which, I have heard critics assert, was not really gospel and not music either. I held my breath momentarily when the singing started. What would our friends think? They, accustomed to the majestic organ of St. Marks Catholic Church. In spite of the small crowd, teenaged song leader, and less than elegant music, we truly sensed a sweet spirit in the place. Heartfelt prayers and sermon uttered by men with Jackson County Tennessee accents, provided an audio and spiritual feast for our Polish and Italian pals.
Afterwards I felt rather sheepish about my trepidation. My friends response was so warm and reflective. They marveled at the sincerity, spontaneity, and the laity of it all.
I saw it as a treasure.
For weeks before my wedding, thirty years ago this August, I had a recurring bad dream. The dream always took place at the church. I stood in the second floor nursery, looking down from the enormous window up there, over the ceremony. The music turned out to be bizarre in some way. I don't know if what made it bizarre was the avocado green carpet and curtain, but an analyst might find at the root some psychospiritual infantile experience of singing a hymn along with an instrument and later hearing from church members the eternal danger of anything but a cappella. Adding to the psychological damage might have been the hermeneutics double-bind created by being told to obey all kinds of Old Testament examples, but to avoid at the possible cost of hell, clapping or use of the harp, lyre, and cymbal.
No interpretation of dreams took place, but I must admit, in my most conscious state, to experiencing waves of anxiety about the effect of the a cappella music on my wedding guests who came from very different traditions.
The guest I worried the most about, was Mrs. Dorsett. Mrs. Dorsett, in her early eighties, played the organ for a large Presbyterian Church in Detroit. She was an extraordinary music teacher. Among her credits, back in the late 30s and early 40s she was an adjunct music professor at Harding university who taught diction to none other than Dr. Kenneth Uncle Bud Davis. I do believe the factor of being a Presbyterian teaching at what was then a small church of Christ related college is the reason for the adjunct in her title.
As we contemplated the music for the ceremony, we would think of this fellow or that fellow who might perform, but each one we would consider, we would say, No, hes in the wedding. After saying this six times we decided to have the groomsmen sing. Each of them had been vocal performers in colleges with a strong tradition of great a cappella music. For the bridesmaids processional they sang O God our Help in Ages Past and for the bride (me!) they sang God of Our Fathers.
Weeks later Ken and I went to visit Mrs. Dorsett, music teacher and organist extraordinaire who asked us in a most formal tone and her Michigan accent, By the way, where did you find that mah-vel-ous' ensemble to perform for your wedding? She could hear better than she could see.
These two experiences lightened my load of self-consciousness about our tradition of a cappella singing, opening my eyes to the unique beauty of it. Knowing spirit-filled folks from many communions and hearing great Bible teaching released me to enjoy many other expressions of music in worship. I think the more we outgrow self-consciousness and the need to make our identity by boundary markers from other believers, the more we can confidently revel in the wonder of worship.