Why do we sing choir music in latin in an American church?

by vernsanders on May 6, 2011

This Is Not Your Grandparent’s Church, part 2

This month I’ve planned a series of posts that might be called “Tales from a Life.” Everything you read here has either happened to me, or occurred to me as a result of serving in some sort of music ministry position in a church since 1957…and yes, I am an official member of Geezers for Jesus…I even have a hat to prove it. I suppose this series of posts could also be called “Change Happens…Deal With It.”

I am fully aware that if you are reading this post, you probably fall into one of two categories: you’re thinking “Yes! He’s going to give me some ammunition…” or “Riiiight…this oughta be good…”. But I think that the question is not so much different than “Why do we have guest preachers?” or “Why do we have a Youth Sunday?” The answer is because the church is bigger than one person’s or one group’s point of view and experiences.

Let’s be clear: the title doesn’t say Why SHOULD we sing… but Why DO we sing choir music in latin. I’m not saying that every choir, in every church, in all of the US, should sing anthems in latin. And I’m not saying “all latin, all the time” (I got that from a pastor I know who described a particular church as “all rock ‘n roll, all the time”). What I am saying is that the pastor and/or the congregation of an American church doesn’t need to run screaming in the opposite direction if the choir (or its director) decides to do a piece in latin.

There are significant musical development benefits to the choir from singing in latin, but those are not, to my mind, germane in this discussion. And I agree wholeheartedly with my friend Doug Lawrence when he says that the American church needs to renew our thinking about transcendent worship. But I don’t want the conversation to seem self-serving, given the fact that I am a choir director with a doctoral degree in conducting who grew up in a liturgical church.

So here are the typical (and oftentimes unspoken) concerns that modern (and especially evangelical)  churches/pastors have about a piece in latin:

  • It is papist not theologically appropriate
  • I/People can’t understand the words
  • It is “old fashioned”
  • It seems “putting on a show” rather than contributing to worship

All of the above can be true. You could also say some or all could be true about speaking in tongues, inviting a foreign missionary with a heavy accent to preach, having an Easter egg hunt, a patriotic service on the Fourth of July, a teenager talking about a mission trip, or a grandparent sharing a testimony.

But wait a minute…don’t my examples in the previous paragraph make up part of the fabric of who a particular congregation is?

Doesn’t singing in latin (or German, or French, or Swahili [O Sifuni Mungu - trying to find a translation is difficult...but here is one (scroll to page 8)], or Korean, to name just a few) make up part of the fabric of who the church universal is?

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Ipod shuffle status: 2941 (Live Until I Die – Clay Walker)  of 7875

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