I am delighted and thrilled that the legacy of Adventism is rich, distinctive and undoubtedly rooted in a culture that still dots the Christian landscape. On the morning before leaving for an eight-day itinerary to lend support to ministry and mission, my family and I had worship – we sang hymn #76 (O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go) from the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (SDAH). Interestingly, it was selected by my daughter, while still in sleep mode at worship. Somewhat shocked by her rare choice, I recall asking her to repeat the number although I am acquainted with the song.
As I travelled that day, the song was on my mind and I contemplated on the 19th century songwriter’s, George Matheson, skilled use of imagery corresponding to Love, Light, Joy and the Cross. With all its implications, I found myself meditating on the words of that song all through the days’ travel and into the night’s evangelistic campaign on Tortola with Dr. Henry Peters.
Preachers and worship leaders should understand the powerful effect a certain melody can have upon individuals who are listening and how differently those individuals may respond because of experiences, temperaments, cultures, and propensities. Regarding propensity, for instance, neither my daughter nor my wife gave a second thought to the song which excited me that morning—an excitement that increased as an incident loomed in my memory.
While on another itinerary, in 2018, I visited one church where I was asked to participate in the worship service. In response to the request, I chose the SDAH #533 (O for a Faith) as the hymn of meditation. This stanza really resonates with me:
O for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by many a foe;
That will not tremble on the brink of poverty,
Of poverty or woe;
Of poverty or woe.
The worship coordinator was unfamiliar with the hymn, as were other worshippers. Finally, an aged sister, who was a long-serving member, indicated her familiarity but, sadly, was unable to lead the singing. By the time we got to the platform to begin the worship service, we had settled on SDAH #527 (From Every Stormy Wind). As the preacher for the service, I felt that the song would have enhanced the message and have always been comforted by the stanza:
From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
‘Tis found beneath the mercy seat.
Unfortunately, the musician did not know the song and waited for it to be started in a cappella style to identify the accompanying key. I am sure that my experience is not exclusive and that others can relate. For me, the selected hymn does not stand on its own – it should be an essential part of the preacher’s message. At times, some in the congregation may know the selected hymn but the music ministry loses its intended impact for a lack of full engagement.
During my eight-day itinerary in mid-October, 2019, I visited evangelistic campaigns around the North Caribbean Conference (NCC), offering support to ministry and collaborating with colleagues engaged in saving souls.
During the Tortola campaign, I listened to Sister Margaret Peters, NCC Bible Worker and wife of the evangelist, sing the appeal, “Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?” I stood beside Evangelist Peters and witnessed the emotional outburst of attendees as they were overwhelmed by the lyrics of such a beautiful song. One stanza was personally intense:
You have longed for sweet peace
And for favour to increase
[You] have earnestly, so fervently, oh, oh you really prayed
Oh yes you have
But you cannot find rest
Nor be perfectly blessed
Until all on the altar, until it’s laid.
The song of appeal for the St. Maarten campaign was SDAH #229 (All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name). It’s a powerful piece when voices and instruments are harmonized—and on the Sabbath of my visit, with over 700 attendees under the tent, the rendition was glorious! They had “fun” with the song, and one could tell that every line was” hitting a spiritual spot”. “All heaven broke loose” as the congregation came to the final dramatic refrain, “And crown Him Lord of all!”
The uplifting emotional experience caused the congregants to repeatedly exclaim, “Amen.” Singing transcends cultural boundaries and I watched the glow on the faces of attendees who sang in Spanish and French, as their voices were united with those who sang in English. (Later that day when a smaller group sought to sing the same song during a cultural display, the effect was less potent.) Congregational singing, when done in unison, has a powerful effect on both the preacher and the audience. I’d never heard such passionate singing! It choked me up and I had to step away to pull myself together. You could feel God’s living power under that tent. Something happens when we sing praise songs with the right spirit – they are as effective at church services as at evangelistic settings. We need to sing praise songs with greater passion. Our Seventh-day Adventist musicians should compose new melodies with themes such as: Grace, the Second Coming, the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection, the Sabbath, and other doctrines we hold dear. They could be serious songs, resonating songs, and songs that encourage a thankful response to the Creator.
The psychology of singing is evident – it solidifies people, creates unity, strengthens resolve, brings comfort, deepens assurance and enhances hope. People admit to singing for the “rush” it gives, the goose-bumps it creates, and the confidence it produces. There is something intriguing about a space filled with adults and children making harmonious sounds for community and interpersonal connection.