June 2, 2019

2019 June2_choir

Easter 7 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


Today is Choir Appreciation Sunday, and with the exception of Pentecost, the Birthday of the Church, the Choir will next be with us on St Stephen’s Day on September 8. For 12 Sundays, [at the 10 o’clock service] we must struggle our own way through the hymns, and the Psalm will be spoken. This is not a summer hiatus from Sunday worship, though. We do hope and expect to see both members of the Choir and those who usually fill the pews to be with us over the summer.


This morning’s sermon focuses
on music in worship, hymns and
the Church Choir and Anglican
Choral Tradition.


These have absolutely nothing to do with the readings from the Lectionary [and nothing to do with the 8 o’clock service which has no music], so don’t be alarmed.


If you open the Hymnal and look at the Preface, it states at the end of the first paragraph:


“This hymnal is a response to the challenge of the Church’s mission to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to a changed and changing world.”


A little bit further down, it states:


The Commission was especially concerned that the hymnody affirm “the participation of all the Body of Christ the Church, while recognizing our diverse natures as children of God.”


Our music and our Choir here at St Stephen’s accomplish both of those, and this is how they do that.



Music in Christian worship is a
part of worship. It is not
performance; it is not
supplementary; it is not
superior: it is fully integrated
as worship.


Singing was part of the Early Church from the beginning, but was not formalized until the 4C after Christianity became legal under Emperor Constantine, and the construction of churches, basilicas and sanctuaries began. Surprisingly, the origin was not the synagogue, as was once thought, but in private houses, where Jewish family worship took place and where the early Christians met. Though, the singing of the Psalms is a liturgical practice that we Christians have dutifully continued.


One of the aspects of music that Christians drew from those outside the faith is the idea that different types of music affect the soul differently. For Plato, the words and the musical style affected the hearer. He is quoted as saying:


“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”


If you read the Director of Music’s article for The Witness in January, you will have realized her connection with how types of music affect the soul:


As Clare, our esteemed organist and pianist, and I were choosing settings for the Psalms for the upcoming seasons, I wanted to have the key of the chant reflect the emotion or spiritual state of each season.  Clare patiently played each of the chant setting in our hymnal as I sang through a psalm until we found the right sound to fit each season.  Here is the list of chants and definition of the key signatures we chose for you:


  • Chant S411 for Advent 1-4 is E-flat Major: The key of love, devotion, of intimate conversation with God.
  • Chant S415 for Christmas and Epiphany is D-major: The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, victory and rejoicing.
  • Chant S414 for Lent is C-minor: The declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All anguishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul.
  • Chant S412 for Easter is E-Major: Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure, full delight.

This association of music with mood has been viewed as both good and bad.


  • Christian moralists have ob¬jected to music in worship.
  • Some believed that music is at best a useless activity.
  • Others believed music to be conducive to depravity, for both performers and their audiences.
  • Some have labeled music for Church complex,
  • Others have shunned or banned music in worship because it can obscure the words of the liturgy.

But those attitudes were won over. Sir Elton John states that


“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”


The Rocketman is not known for his liturgical music, but he is definitely on to something. And what is clear in these objections is that music in worship is genuinely part of our worship.


The first known singing of biblical texts in worship were, of course, the Psalms. They were a liturgical resource more than they were a biblical resource for the pre-Christian Jews – referred to as “The Hymnbook of the 2nd Temple”. And consistent with Elton John’s notion that music has healing power, the Psalms give voice to the whole breadth of personal and religious experience “from praise to protest, from quiet confidence to urgent questions, from joyful celebration to the dark night of the soul.”


Part of our worship is to place our needs and concerns before God, which the Psalms – early Jewish hymnody – help us do. The words and feelings reiterate that music as worship is what our Choir is drawing us into.




The development of Christian hymns was not a simple path. There was no “Hymnal 82”. There wasn’t even a “Hymnal 1082” or “Hymnal 1582.”


We read in Mark 14:26 that a hymn was sung at the Last Supper, probably the Hallel, which is a Jewish prayer of Psalms 113–118. Shortly after Christianity became legal, the mass appeared in the Western Church with musical settings for the Introit, Gradual, Tract, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion.


That was liturgy or prayer. Hymns, on the other hand, more broadly help us learn our theology, not simply express it. In the development of the Creed, particularly in the deliberations over the nature of Jesus Christ, referred to as the Arian Controversy of the 4C, both the Arians and the Orthodox sang hymns to emphasize their particular beliefs on the nature of Christ. The Arians sang hymns through the streets, while St John Chrysostom organized Orthodox hymn-singing. My Early Church professor would sing in class Arius’ mantra “there was a time when Christ was not”.


Hymns that were not based on biblical texts started to emerge in the 4C, as well. The Eastern Church developed a tradition of short hymnic prayers, developing later into more com¬plex forms.


On the other side of the Empire, the Latin church produced the Te Deum (a praise to God) and ‘Of the father’s love begotten’ and ‘Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle’, all in the 4C. The Magnificat (the Song of Mary at the Annunciation), the Benedictus (the Song of Zechariah at the Circumcision of his son John the Baptist), and the Nunc Dimittis (the Song of Simeon at the Infant Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple) are still being used in Morning and Evening Prayer, the sung forms being Mattins and Evensong. The rise of the monasteries produced a great body of music for worship over a millennium.


But, as with many aspects of everyday life in the 16C, The Reformation messed up music for worship. The Puritans in Britain believed that only the Psalms were suited for singing, and as their influence rose into the 17C, the growth of worship music was stunted.


We all know what happened to solve the problem of the Puritans: the British simply shooed them to the North American Colonies, and many aspects of celebrating God’s good gifts began to flourish! Including Church music.


However, on the Continent, The Reformation opened the door to German hymns, spearheaded by none than Martin Luther, himself. It’s been said that apart from Bach, German hymnology has not since attained so high a standard.


Once Britain got rid of the Puritans, Isaac Watts, at the end of the 17C, ushered in a great era of hymn writing. He is credited with “confidently unit[ing] the orthodoxy of psalmody with the urgency of personal expression”. This beautiful musical, theological and emotional marriage is perfected in Watts’ ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’. Charles Wesley’s huge output built upon the work of Watts, which then made way for the Evangelical Revival and the hit, ‘Rock of Ages’. The Negro spirituals of the 19C and the mission hymns of Moody and Sankey were the big influences for us in the United States, but their charisma also reached over The Pond into England.


The main body of the Church of England remained suspicious of the emotionalism associated with these hymns, until hymn-writing was made respectable by Reginald Heber (‘Holy, holy, holy’) and Henry Hart Milman (‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’). Heber became a bishop, and Milman a cathedral dean, so their influence was hard to ignore! Finally, Archbishop of York, Vernon Harcourt, approved the use of a hymnal in 1820.


Why are we so concerned about hymnody and music in worship? Because, and precisely because


“Hymns are theology for all!


Apart from the Lord’s Prayer, hymns are the best-known and most widely practiced form of religious discourse. Hymns are used in worship throughout the world. They unite people and churches of different beliefs. Hymns and music are extremely powerful, and it is our Choir who leads us in this powerful force for the good of the Good News. When the music and words – theological words – words of our faith – fit together, and the results are sung with full heart and voice, the praise of God becomes, in Isaac Watts’s phrase, ‘duty and delight’.


But hymns are more than theology. It has been said:

[Hymns] are also records of the inner life, of the movement of the soul, of awe and wonder, of penitence, fear, joy, or peace. Like the psalms.


Hymns express theology and religious emotion with truth and feeling, and they speak to ordinary people in a way that sermons often cannot. That tells me that when our printed liturgy fails us, song breaches the gap.


[Would it be wrong to say that this is true for even you 8 o’clockers? How many of you can hum a tune of a hymn in your head when either your prayers fail you or you hear or see something that brings that hymn to you? I don’t believe you come to 8 o’clock because there’s no music. It’s just that, because you worship at 8am, there is no music but the music of your hearts.]


The worship of God was always the primary goal. That which is conveyed by our music – emotions, prayers and theology – is true worship, indeed.




A Choir is defined as


“A body of singers who provide musical leadership for congregational singing in the worship of the Church. The primary role of the Choir is to lead and support the congregation’s worship through singing, not to provide a musical performance.”


As early as the 4C, groups of Clerks in minor orders and of boys who sang for worship were established. In the Middle Ages the Choirs of cathedrals and monasteries were where music of any kind was taught. In the 12C came polyphony to supplement the liturgical plainchant, and lay singers in Church Choirs. Full development of Church Choirs, of course, paralleled the rise of Church music in the 16C to 18C.


The role of music and Choirs as a part of worship is now standard in most Christian denominations, from 3 or 4 making a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the way to skilled professionals. In fact, the role of choral musicians is so significant that Roman Catholic legislation in 1964 laid down that the placement of the Choir must be where it could best assist the people in singing, ensuring that the congregation was allowed to take part in the music.


Our own Musicologist helped me out here. Dr Kathryn Bumpass, who taught Musicology at Fresno State for many years, handed me what I’m about to share with you.


Our choral tradition is one of the glories of Anglicanism. It goes back as far as the late Medieval-early Renaissance period but takes on its basic shape during the time of the Reformation in England. Richard F. French summarizes it “as a confluence of medieval, Reformation and humanistic ideals.” Its main principles are:


  • Use of the English vernacular (as opposed to church Latin)
  • Clarity of the words
  • Use of texts primarily drawn from the Book of Common Prayer (1549)
  • The most important of these texts for musical setting have been:

          o  Venite, Te Deum, Benedictus for Morning Prayer
          o  Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for Evening Prayer
          o  Portions of the Communion service, and singing of Psalms in a distinctive Anglican chant

Subsequently, other musical forms were adopted, the most important of which was the English church anthem, a major composition from the early Reformation period onward. Anthems by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, Henry Purcell and George Frederic Handel, among others, are often heard as part of the service music for the Eucharist.


This choral tradition is beloved throughout the Anglican Communion, including places where vernacular music is also used. It is an elevated musical style and it requires well-rehearsed singing performed by committed singers. Dr Bumpass is astute to add: “It is both a form of musical study and an act of worship.”


I’ve already spoken about much of what would come under the heading of Choral Service. We here at St Stephen’s celebrate a choral Holy Eucharist. No, not all of the service is sung, but much of it is sung by the officiant, choir, and congregation. And just so it’s public, if I die while serving at St Stephen’s, I would like either the Morales Requiem or Mozart’s Requiem sung as a Choral Mass for my funeral.


Last Wednesday, our Choir joined those of St Peter’s Morro Bay, St Benedict’s Los Osos and St Barnabas’ Arroyo Grande for what is probably Anglicanism’s greatest gift to choral worship: Choral Evensong. Ever since the introduction of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, Evening Prayer has been sung in many Anglican cathedrals and other large churches, especially in England. Here in San Luis Obispo County, we continued that tradition to the delight of many. And, one will note, that it was the same Evening Prayer that one would say in the home, yet it was sung with a choir of about 40-strong, an organ, a piano and an oboe. Music in Church is our worship.


So, this sermon had nothing to do with today’s readings, right? Or did it?


  • In Acts: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Already, the Early Christians were responding to the challenge of the Church’s mission to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to a changed and changing world, and doing it with song.

So, we give thanks for our Choir at the end of the Choir Season. After next week’s Birthday of the Church celebration, we look forward to their return on St Stephen’s Day, and we do hope to see them in the pews in the weeks to come. With our Choir and the other musicians who join us, our worship is what we do together. Thus, like the final statement of the Preface to the Hymnal, our worship with our Choir is:


“of and for the people,
reflecting their involvement in its
creation and responding to the
desire for new songs with which
to praise God.”


I firmly believe that our Choir, with the years of dedication of the birdsong of our parishioners, the professionalism of our trained soloists, the talent and determination of the Church’s and our own Organist, and the creativity and expertise of our Director of Music, together they affirm the participation of this small part of the Body of Christ.


And as it states at the end of the Preface to The Hymnal 1982:


May God prosper
this handiwork!

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