Faith, Music

The old songs

On this Good Friday, I’d like to repost a story from a few years ago. I’m now a member of the little church in this story, and we will observe this Good Friday just as described here.

I went to an evening church service last Friday, Good Friday. I’d never done that before.

My Christian heritage has its roots in Restoration Movement churches (Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Christian Churches). These churches’ original goal was to restore Christianity as practiced in New Testament times. They mostly ignore the liturgical calendar. The ultra-conservative Churches of Christ ignore it altogether; they don’t even observe Christmas and Easter. (The Bible, they reason, doesn’t explicitly authorize those holidays.) So while we’re all aware of Good Friday, it’s often not held up any higher than any other day.

West Park Christian ChurchMy Christian Church congregation hasn’t had a Good Friday service while I’ve been a member. Other congregations in our fellowship do, however, and one of them invited us to join them this year. West Park Christian Church has served its Westside Indianapolis community for more than 100 years. 1910s and 1920s neighborhood photos hanging inside the church show tidy new working-class homes; today the houses are dilapidated, the residents are poor, and the streets are unsafe after dark.

We began by walking the neighborhood. A couple men hoisted a large wooden cross onto their shoulders and we headed out, about a hundred of us, calling out greetings to the people sitting on their front porches and out in their front yards enjoying an unusually warm early-Spring evening. We stopped at the homes of several ailing church members and of community leaders to ask them out so we could pray with and for them. We stopped at the community center and at the neighborhood park and prayed over them, too. There’s no way this neighborhood doesn’t know about West Park Christian Church and what it stands for. This church is clearly in a ripe mission field. I envied them their opportunity to serve.

West Park Christian ChurchWhen we returned to the church we shared a pitch-in meal, and then we entered the sanctuary for an evening service. We sang, took communion, and heard a short message.

So many modern churches today have rock bands and sing nothing but upbeat praise songs. I understand why; it reaches so many younger people. I’m all for what’s effective. But while I was in the Church of Christ, we sang the old hymns and spirituals a cappella in four-part harmony and I really loved it. I came to have a deep affection for many of those old songs – It Is Well with My Soul, When My Love to Christ Grows Weak, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?, I Surrender All, When All of God’s Singers Get Home, and many others. I have missed them. We sang the old songs this Good Friday night. A pianist accompanied us through five or six songs, but after the first verse of Onward, Christian Soldiers, he stopped playing. Everybody was really singing, raising their voices to God, almost clamoring to be heard. I heard a few voices in the back singing the bass and tenor parts, emboldening me to do the same. Then the pianist played the opening notes of When I Survey The Wondrous Cross and, as we began to sing, again let his hands rest and our voices carry. After the first verse I was so moved by our blended voices lifting so powerfully to God on this day we specially gathered to observe Christ’s death that I began to cry.

The joyless work of selling our church building and planning to build a new one as we try to keep a financially challenged congregation afloat has taken me away from the real point of service. I was reminded of it on Good Friday night. We are to go bring the lost to God and turn our faces to Him in worship, giving him ourselves to use for His purposes. And it was the death of Christ on the cross that makes it all possible.

See a 1914 photo of West Park
Christian Church and its congregation here.

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7 thoughts on “The old songs

  1. Pingback: The old songs | Down the Road | Worship Leaders

  2. Our Tenebrae service (Thursday night) was held with the local Tongan Church, and the singing was superb! We also sang the old songs and slowly snuffed the candles to leave the church in darkness before we all left quietly to contemplate the meaning of Easter

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  3. I grew up as a Catholic so my experience of the liturgical calendar was obviously quite different from yours. I do have to say that looking back on it that reenacting through ritual so many events from the New Testament stories really makes those stories stick in your head. I imagine they were invented to educate in preliterate times.

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    • You’re probably right about that! I never thought about it that way.

      I was a Methodist for a few years and I found the liturgy to be a heavy weight and I didn’t enjoy it. I like the simple services in the Restoration Movement churches so much better.

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