Hospitable Worship

by Abraham Cremeens

Have you ever been enjoying a meal with an old friend only to be interrupted mid-bite by someone passing by who knows your friend but not you? As they engage in a lengthy conversation, you sit and observe and toy nervously with the eggs and bacon on your plate.

Such a situation is not bad but does feel awkward. We’ve all been there. We’ve also been the ones who instigate the feeling of a third wheel in others.

Hospitality seeks to remove the awkward. It seeks to make everyone feel welcome, valued and a part of what is going on.

I’ve become more mindful of this as it relates to our gathering on Sunday mornings. There is so much about what we do that is family. We are a family. We do what families do. We have rhythms and inside language and general know-how. That isn’t bad. In fact, it can be a sign of great health. But it can also create awkwardness in guests if we are not careful. That is something to be mindful of and to think about.

One area of desired hospitality that has come to mind recently for me is related to the songs we sing. It came out of some very helpful conversations right here within our church family. It has to do with language, particularly well-aged pronouns and verbs – Thee, Thou, Thine, dost and the like.

Now, before you react, let me say that I understand these words are very sacred to many within our church family and hold significant meaning in a variety of ways. I’m not attacking their use or their usefulness. But they can create a sense of awkwardness in some of our guests.

So, I changed some of them. But there are some ground rules. Let me explain.

First, as it relates to our entire gathering, we seek to blend preferences and honor a variety of perspectives. Rather than create different styles of worship gatherings (contemporary or traditional), we aim for one blended opportunity. This means that there is a portion of our church family present on Sunday morning that worships well and finds it helpful to sing Thee and Thou and similar words. It connects them (and us as a whole) to our history and the foundation of worship that they (and we) have rested on for decades. Further, when many sing Thy or Thine there is a sacred elevation in their heart as they praise God, so much so that even this type of pronoun relating to him is special and holy. For this reason, I don’t touch the most beloved hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount.”

Second, it can’t be forced. Some songs simply cannot be updated because the poetic smoothness is tainted. I find that usually is the case if the title uses any of these pronouns or if a line ends with one. The title is usually sung within the hymn itself so a change often throws off an entire line and thus, the whole song. Or, if the end of a particular line is changed then the subsequent line will not fit.

However, even while mindful of these two ground rules, there are some songs that can be changed and allow us to be more hospitable to our guests who have no idea what such a word as dost even means. “Come Ye Sinners” has become “Come You Sinners.” Recently we introduced (though some were familiar with it) “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place.” In it were three occurrences of the word Thy. It is a lesser known hymn. There was no impact on the content. I changed them to Your. It served as an opportunity of hospitality to our guests.

I know you may not agree. That’s okay. But I hope that the next time you notice a change and double clutch, that you can defer your preference to others in the room and exercise hospitality while you worship.