I like to sing. I do not necessarily sing well. But I do like to sing.
On 19 August, as the congregation of Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church in New York City stood to sing hymns, I lowered my voice so that I could listen. Sometimes when I visit a congregation that happens because I do not know the song. But not on that morning.
Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church is a unique congregation. Of course, all congregations are unique. Each congregation has its gifts and strengths, gifts and strengths that combine to give the community its personality. There are similarities within denominations and across denominational lines. But no two congregations are identical.
On some Sundays, two worship services take place at Good Shepherd-Faith: one in Korean, one in English. It is possible, maybe even probable, that at least some individuals attend both services. They are held at different times and the community members know each other well. But some Sundays, two services occur.
Twice a month that changes. The community worships together. One service. Two languages. The bulletin contains the words of the service printed in Korean and printed in English. Some of those in attendance can understand, speak, and read both languages. But I cannot.
In some parts of the service, only one language is used aloud. One scripture lesson is read in Korean, one in English. A pastoral prayer is led in English, a second pastoral prayer is prayed in Korean. The sermon is preached in English. A Korean translation follows. That proves a bit of a challenge for the person who is translating when the preacher, no names please, tends to view a manuscript as something of a guide than a word-for-word record of what to say. The announcements follow this pattern. Made in English, they are then translated into Korean. In some parts of the service, one language is used at a time. But in other parts, particularly the hymns, both languages are used at the same time.
The lay leader announces the hymn. The community turns to the page in the Korean-English hymnal. The pianist begins and when the introduction ends, the singing begins. Some sing in English. Some in Korean. Some switch flawlessly between the two languages. Each person singing in the language she or he prefers. Hears may say this results in a chaotic cacophony. But for me, each song marks a Pentecost moment – a foretaste of when all peoples gather in that great choir and every tongue sings in every tongue.
And I lower my voice so that I can sing, listen, and smile all at the same time.
See you along the Trail.