Here I am to sing

It’s late on a Sunday afternoon. I’m early, but not the first one there. I can make out two shadowy forms behind the glass doors – no doubt the rostered greeters. I pull into my customary spot close to the entrance, grab my guitar and leads, nod and smile at the greeters as I push through the doors and walk into the main auditorium. The chairs are in clusters around coffee tables to facilitate conversation. A small group of older ladies sits at one of the few occupied tables. They’re regulars, often here before things get started, presumably to show their support. Cynicism battles affection as I ponder whether they’re all out of options for things to do this afternoon or their enthusiasm simply burns brighter than the local youths’. A brief hello as I walk past, mentally filtering my set list for songs that might appeal to their age bracket.

More people drift in as I set up but I can tell it isn’t going to be a big night. Could be the rain, or it could be the day/nighter on TV. I stand at the mic, deliver my welcomes and introductions, and launch into the first song. The amplification on my voice drowns out anyone else but I can see a few lips moving and bodies swaying through the lights. I’m satisfied.

In the early days I preferred to engage with the lyrics but lately I struggle with familiarity-bred contempt. I’m in danger of becoming like a watered down cappuccino with far too much froth. Occasionally it comes too easily. Mistakes slip in – more from wandering concentration rather than challenging music. But people tend to prefer sing-along songs rather than dazzling musicianship. Besides, they only notice the big mistakes and I’ve mastered the quick recovery. Still, tonight there are a few songs that lift our communal spirits, and draw us along with their rhythm, melody and lyrical enchantment.

The night proceeds as usual – a group of disparate people in a small corner of the world, joining together in bread, wine and song to rise above the concerns of daily life – and I’m glad to use my gifts to help others find temporary emancipation from the mundane.

The lights come up with the final notes. People consider their options. Is it time to go home already? A few approach the stage to offer their thanks or their suggestions. I pack up as they speak, contributing nods and minimal prompts. In the past I’ve expected people to open up about their lives but time has taught me they just want to talk about the music.

I carry my gear out to the car. The job’s done and people are happy, but for how long? Time’s tenacious march will bring Monday’s reality with it and I know there are some who will rejoin Thoreau’s mass of men living lives of quiet desperation. Perhaps the effects of next Sunday night would be longer lasting as I repeat my act, albeit with different songs, at my local church. I reflect on this as I head home, the neon lights of the RSL club fading in my rear-view mirror.

MY HOPE —is that this story will raise some questions and spark your thinking. Perhaps you could re-read the article and think about what strikes you most. Is it the similarities between the club setting and your church service? Do you find this disturbing? Do our services mirror the world too closely? Do we rely too heavily on content rather than style to distinguish us? How much of your church’s activity on a Sunday is driven by culture? Do you find the similarities encouraging? For the average un-churched Australian, could these points of connection be useful in easing their discomfort in a church setting? Are there parallels to draw between “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Here I Am to Worship”, the cash normally fed to the pokies and a tithe, or the routine bottle of Chardonnay and a sip of communion wine?

Case Study (prac10): Here I am to sing. By Simon Kennedy. Simon —is, at the time of writing, the worship pastor at North East Baptist in Brisbane. He plays guitar and sings most weekends in pubs, clubs or corporate functions around South East Queensland. He often performs as a duo with John Gynther who was worship pastor at Rivers Baptist in Brisbane for three years.