Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas songs cross denominational lines

I was raised up early on in the Presbyterian Church, since Big Robert was one.  But when I was entering my teens, Miz Janice joined a movement to found an Episcopal Church in Leland, since she was one, so we went there until I headed for Ole Miss, where I divided time betwixt those denominations.

Betsy’s mother was a Methodist and her daddy was Catholic, so she also grew up dividing time betwixt two denominations. After we got married and I came home from the Navy, we visited around, but within five years decided on the Baptist Church, who did not mind a visiting Gentile singing in their choir until he made up his mind and joined their church two years later.

Howsomever, throughout all that denominational experience, probably the most valuable thing I learned was that Different Denominations Sing Different Songs.  They even mostly have different hymnals.
Except at Christmas time.

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Here during the month when we sing praises about the birth of our Savior, all denominations are pretty much in the same section of their hymnals, singing the timeless Christmas carols.  

Oh, some churches have favorites that are unfamiliar to others, but for the most part, we’re all doing Silent Night & Joy to the World & The First Noel & We Three Kings of Orey and Tar, and those others we probably learned in Sunday School and kindergarten. I bet God enjoys that, you know?

It’s probably in the Bible somewhere that every church must perform a Christmas Cantata, sometimes even joining forces with other churches across denominational lines, to lift their voices in praise for the Baby Jesus.  

Choir Directors around the world begin listening to possible arrangements for their Cantatas as early as July, or even arranging their own programs, particularly if their small church cannot afford the hundreds of dollars that a beautiful store-bought Cantata arrangement would require.

Yet Choir Directors who have been blessed with plentiful denominational experience sometimes take advantage of that to construct a worshipful arrangement of songs which they’ve learned in other venues, perhaps even…prison, in the case of some incorrigible Directors!

In the opinion of at least one Choir Director, it makes no never mind where the song came from, as long as it 1) praises Jesus or God, and 2) is worshipful to the Choir singing the song and to the congregation enjoying the Cantata.

That same Choir Director has the same requirement for being in his Choir: 1) that the singer or player uses his or her talent (Gift) to praise Jesus or God, and 2) simply worships as they share that talent (Gift) with the congregation.  

The Calvary Choir, where I lead the music, presented our Christmas Cantata on the evening of December 11th.  As Choir Director, I was somewhat hampered from my usual style on conducting by a recent hyperextended knee, which had required my perching atop a folding high stool for practices.  
(My son-in-law told me after watching me lead a Cantata for the first time a decade ago, “I didn’t realize that leading music was an aerobic exercise!”)

The Decorations Committee had a high manger scene on the altar in front of the podium that let me conceal the draped stool, in case I needed to perch to rest the knee during the Cantata. I did have to rest the knee, but also used it in another way.

Getting along toward the end of the hour-long performance, this Choir was really leaning into their worship – it wasn’t just songs anymore; they obviously were well into losing themselves in the worship mode.

Recognizing that and wanting to enjoy watching it even more, I let them get into the second verse of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” then I sat back upon my stool, and crossed my arms across my chest, just mirating over the music they were making, in the Spirit.

Later, one of the ladies sort of berated me: “What were you doing, just sitting there? Choir Directors are supposed to Direct, Boy!”

Gosh, I knew that.  I just lost myself in the praises they were singing.